January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. As you may know, I am a survivor of advanced stage cervical cancer. This experience flipped my life (including motherhood) completely upside down. Once the surgeries, chemo, and radiation were over, I expected to fall back into the same life I’d known before. Yes, I was that naive. I didn’t anticipate the feelings of isolation, side effects of treatment, and all-around identity crisis I would and still often face. As part of my journey as an advocate, I’ve discussed how cancer affects motherhood with many support groups and survivors.
Here are a few insights into the lives of several Survivor Moms:
- You might not know what to say, but saying nothing just might be the worst thing you can do. I know it might make you uncomfortable, but avoiding me is very hurtful.
- Sometimes I may not feel well, and it might be hard for me to make plans and keep them. I may not want to tell you the gory details, but cancer treatments can really take a toll on your body, even years later.
- I want my children’s lives to be as normal as possible while and after I am going through treatment. Please invite them to play and have fun with you and your children. It can be something simple, and it is so very appreciated!
- I want you to appreciate and take care of your health. You must advocate for the best care possible. Speak up if you feel that something is wrong or is not being taken seriously. Make sure you get your regular check ups, well-woman exams, pap smears, HPV tests and consider the HPV vaccine. I’m not trying to annoy you. I just never want to see you or your children face this.
- I’m still working on my “new normal.” Cancer brings financial, emotional, and physical hardships that may leave survivors with a completely new reality that can be very challenging. It isn’t “over” after the chemo ends.
- My children need friendships now more than ever. Their lives have been affected by a very challenging experience.
- I may often feel isolated and lonely. Sometimes it might feel like no one around me understands what this is like. I do have moments when I am afraid that I won’t survive this. Just listening and letting me share how I feel is priceless.
- Please don’t be judgmental or blame me for my cancer. I deserve respect and understanding the same way a pink ribbon wearing patient does. No one deserves cancer, and no cancer is an “easy” cancer.
- If I lost my fertility, hearing about and seeing new babies may be difficult. I love you and I’m so happy for you, but sometimes I mourn the baby I can never have. It wasn’t my choice to become infertile.
- I have a unique perspective on life that makes me a wonderful friend. I value my days as a mom and am very aware of the fragility of life. I also value my friendships and would be the first person by your side in any kind of crisis.