A Real Mom’s Journey

19 Oct

I am so honored to have my friend, Nola Agha, as our guest blogger today.  Last year, she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. She had just moved across the country, had two small children, had just started a new job, and her husband had started a new job when she was diagnosed.

Until Nola was diagnosed, I had never had anyone close to me go through cancer and was completely unaware of how debilitating the treatments are and how important it is to be surrounded with people who can help and support you and your family for even the smallest of tasks. I learned so much about courage and strength through Nola’s posts that she shared with her friends.

I know her story will enlighten you and encourage you to reach out to someone in need.

As a mom, I spend a lot of time (well, most of my time) making breakfast, making lunch, driving to school, doing art, playing games, making dinner, doing baths, reading books, washing clothes, sewing Halloween costumes, and the list goes on and on.  All moms and dads know what kind of energy is needed to make it through a day.

So imagine my shock and surprise last November when a sore breast, then mammogram, then biopsy resulted in a Stage III breast cancer diagnosis.  I spent the first few weeks in shock, horror, and sadness trying to wrap my head around what the future meant: will I die? will I live? will my children have a mother? will my husband be a single father? how do we plan for the future? how do I get better? Once the shock passed I mentally grounded myself in a positive attitude.  I was going to do everything possible to live and I was not going to die.  That was my stance and I never wavered from it.

While the diagnosis was a shock, the treatment can best be described as a marathon.  Weeks and weeks of physically and mentally debilitating treatments left me unable to care for myself or my children.  At one point I was taking 33 different medicines.  And since they left me mentally fuzzy, weak, and mostly incoherent, it took a very well-organized spreadsheet to help my caregivers figure out when I needed to take which medicines.

Although I struggled daily with the physical pain of treatment I also struggled daily with the guilt of a mother.  I couldn’t stand up long enough to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Dinner was out of the question.  Bone pain made it impossible to get down on the floor to play with trains or dolls.  My children, now so accustomed to hearing me say I wasn’t feeling good enough to play, asked me questions like, “Mommy, will you ever be able to play again?”  It broke my heart. My daughter, just 2, didn’t know her ABC’s, couldn’t count to 10, and every day my guilt grew as I realized she was being short-changed in her mental development.

While doctors can now do amazing things to save a person’s life, there is little they can do to help with the daily reality of life with kids.  Some days I would see 2 or 3 different doctors.  None allowed children into their offices (due to the needles, chemicals, and other nastiness) never mind the fact that I needed assistance to get myself to the car, someone to drive me, and there was no way I could have gotten two kids dressed and buckled up.  So every day I had to figure out who was taking care of the kids, who could help, and how to use my waning energy to explain my absence to two crying and sad little kids.  My heart broke every day.

Any debilitating disease challenges you mentally, physically, and emotionally.  While we often focus on someone’s physical status, it’s easy to forget the challenges they face in the rest of their life.  If you know a parent with cancer, or any other major illness, perhaps this gives you a better understanding of what they might be going through and ways that you can help.

Life turned upside down and I endured every possible form of suffering in treating this awful disease.  But ten months later, I am officially cancer-free.  To celebrate my return to health I signed up for a fundraising hike to the top of a local mountain.  In preparation for it, I looked back and tried to quantify all that I had been through.  Here is my list:

1 breast removed (so far)

1 time I fainted

2 times I almost fainted

2 days spent in the hospital post-surgery

3 surgeons – breast, plastic, and ob-gyn

4 cycles of dose dense adrimycin-cytoxan

5 visits to the physical therapist (so far)

5 months of chemo

7 hours spent in surgery

7 positive lymph nodes

8 different creams I tried to heal the radiation burn

9 scars (so far)

12 cycles of taxol

13 visits to the lymphedema specialist

19 lymph nodes removed

27 pills I take daily (26 are vitamins and supplements)

27 visits to radiation

36 visits to the acupuncturist (so far)

63 sticks with a needle (so far)

90 minutes each day I spend taking my homeopathic anti-cancer remedy

127 hospital gowns (so far)

165 people who follow my cancer-update blog

$661,531.06 Cost of my treatment to date

Being alive, having the support of hundreds of friends and family across the globe, and being able to shout my thanksgiving from a mountain top…priceless

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