Parenting With Cancer: Life Doesn't Stop by Melanie Masterson

Some days I still need to lock myself in our room and be alone and not deal with our reality – but that rarely lasts, and my middle daughter is now very close to being able to pick the lock...



          When people ask me what the hardest part of my cancer diagnosis was I tell them it was dealing with my children. Even more than the fear of dying – although really the two can't be separated.

There were times when I couldn't handle being around anyone – especially my children. Would that be considered irony? The fact that I was fighting so hard to get better so I could keep being their mother, but at the same time I could barely stand to be around them? At the time of my diagnosis I had seven broken ribs. I could barely move and I had to keep telling my two-year old that no, I couldn't pick her up and carry her anymore (no matter how much I still wanted to do exactly that, and sometimes secretly did). 

Let's back it up a bit. 

Summer of 2015 my back hurts constantly.

I jump up from the computer one day when the baby monitor screams at me, and the upper part of my back seizes right up.

It's painful, and no amount of stretching, yoga or chiropractor visits is doing anything to make it better. And then my ribs start breaking. That's really painful. A multitude of tests (and months) later and I'm diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It's in my chest bones, my spine and some bones in my head too. Getting the diagnosis was both a relief after months of pain, and the most terrifying thing I have ever had to face. 

Even before we received the diagnosis I was so sick that my middle daughter would come into my room to check on me and ask, “Mommy, are you going to die?” What a burden for a five-year-old to bear. Also, how does one answer that honestly? I would, of course, say no – but I would think: maybe. 



The thing is, life doesn't stop with a cancer diagnosis. Everything seems to change but at the same time it stays the same. Your perspective about a lot of things changes. Your looks definitely change as your hair falls out and you either: lose weight from the stress of it all and the chemo, or you gain weight from the drugs. Most women lose their boobs (although not always with a de novo Stage IV diagnosis; I didn't).

But the essentials stay the same – especially in a family. Children still want – and need - things to be as normal as possible.

They still want stories and after school treats. 

They still want to have friends over, have birthday parties, and harass you for a puppy on a daily basis.

They still wake up in the middle of the night vomiting all over their sheets. I remember sitting at my computer writing one night, and my seven-year-old daughter coming into my room and vomiting right at my feet. (Even sick and asleep, a child's mom-radar never falters.)

Kids still – unfortunately - come home from school with lice. Ugh. Don't even get me started about the lice incident last year. I spent months making sure all the lice was gone from my daughter's long, beautiful hair. (She was devastated and has worn her hair in a braid ever since.) At least I was bald and didn't have to worry about getting any in my hair.

And as much as all that stuff drove me nuts, it also grounded me. I honestly laughed when my daughter came in and vomited at my feet. (And then I tweeted about it). I laughed at the lice incident (and then tweeted about that too) because really, if you don't laugh you are going to cry and I had so many other things to cry about. It was like the universe was sending me a message saying, “You're still the mom and while you are here we are going to make sure you never forget it.” As if I could. I have three young daughters, it has been less than a year since my diagnosis, and I am still navigating this new normal.  We all are.

Some days I’m better at being the mom than others.

Some days I still need to lock myself in our room and be alone and not deal with our reality – but that rarely lasts, and my middle daughter is now very close to being able to pick the lock. 

I'm feeling pretty good these days, all things considered. But that will change too. In the meantime I will keep finding the humor in my situation. At least no one is currently asking me if I'm going to die. I still don't know how to answer that question.

PARENTING WITH CANCER: LIFE DOESN'T STOP first appeared in Issue 4: Parenting With Cancer, September 2016.

Melanie Masterson

Diagnosed at age 39. IDC, Stage IV. ER+.

Melanie lives in a small city of a million people on the Canadian prairies. Where she lives it is usually winter for eight months of the year, so a good sense of humour is required. A writer, reader, wife, and momma to three young girls, Melanie can usually be found writing fictional stories that she hasn't show anyone yet. With degrees in English Literature and Journalism, Melanie has been blogging for the past 17 years and admits that reading and writing are pretty much her only hobbies. Currently she is working on her Stage IV cancer literary bucket list and plans to drag her family to all sorts of literary places across the globe while her health permits.