My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


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Mommy Mondays: Do You Let Them See You Cry?

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Let me tell you a little bit about the way I parent.  I talk about feelings.  A lot.  When my son, Oliver is laughing, I acknowledge that he is happy or that something is silly.  When he hits me, I tell him that I notice that he’s angry (although hitting is not allowed).  And when he cries, I hold him close and let him know that I know that he feels sad.  I never tell him not to cry.  I just ask him to let me know when he is done and that I’ll wait until he is.  Crying is a normal reaction to sadness, anger and frustration in our household.  It’s a human reaction and we treat it as such.

It’s been my position since the beginning of this whole cancer business to be as upfront and honest with Oliver as possible.  While he is too young to understand cancer and what it means, he perceptive and observant and knows instantly when something is different.  It’s amazing how he questions everything in his world, making sure it is all as it should be or he will find out the reason why it’s not.

When I had my mastectomy, I didn’t hide my wound or scar from him.  He watched me change my drains, clean my wounds, he has seen me in pain.  When chemo took my hair, I didn’t hide it with a hat, pretending nothing was different.  I slowly introduced my new look to him, letting him know that this was the new me, the new mommy for a while.  When I started wearing compression sleeve and bandaging my arm due to lymphedema, I let him know that I was having problems with my arm.  Honesty and openness have been my policy, while making sure that all information was developmentally appropriate.

I don’t know if I have always gotten it right.  What is the right way to explain the side effects of cancer to a toddler anyway?  I just know that I have always tried my best.  But the one area where I have faltered and questioned my choices is when I have cried.  Which has been a lot, especially lately.  For whatever reason, I have been okay with Oliver seeing my physical wounds but I feel the need to protect him from my emotional ones.  I don’t want him to see me cry.

There are times when Oliver has caught me crying.  He’ll come up to me and say, “Mommy, you are crying?”  This would be a perfect opportunity to let him know that mommies get sad too and cry sometimes.  That it’s ok and human.  But that’s not what I have done.  I quickly wipe my tears and swallow my sadness.  “No, mommy is not crying.  Mommy is happy!”  “You are happy?”  “Yes, you make me happy.”  And he does.  That’s not a lie.  But life has made it hard to smile in this last year.  I’ve had to cry a lot.

What am I afraid of?  Why can’t I cry in front of Oliver?  First of all, I don’t want to scare him.  I think that seeing a parent cry can be frightening for a child.  We are supposed to be a pillar of strength.  In control.  Crying can represent a break in that control, of things falling apart.  Secondly, sometimes I cry a lot.  I don’t want him to know me as someone who is sad all the time.  I don’t want him to begin blaming himself for my sadness.  But mostly I want to protect him.  I want to protect him from all that is evil and dark and broken in this world.  And right now, I am broken.  I’m slowly picking up the broken pieces of my life after a traumatizing year and gluing them back together into a new, imperfect me.  But as I glue those pieces back into place, you can still see the cracks from where I shattered.  It is from those cracks that I am vulnerable.

Is it wrong to let him see my vulnerabilities?  I believe in my heart that the answer is no.  I think it is important for Oliver to see that I am human.  I think it’s important to trust him with my feelings so that he knows that he isn’t alone in his.  I want him to always let me know what is on his mind but I think that trust comes with a mutual respect and sharing.  And yet….  And yet, I don’t know if I can do it.  I don’t know if I can share this crippling sadness, pain and fear with him.  I don’t want him to ever have to know.

Do you cry in front of your children?  Are there people you feel comfortable crying in front of and other you won’t let see you cry?

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That Time I Lost My Shit At The Cancer Center

If you have never been through cancer treatment and chemotherapy, you would think that 4 weeks is a long time to heal.  Four weeks in cancerland is nothing.  Well, not nothing.  It’s enough time for my white blood cells to bounce back and protect me without daily shots of Neupogen.  It’s enough time for my hemoglobin to return to normal so I don’t feel like I’m going to pass out once I reach the top stair of the train station.  It’s enough time for you to heal just enough for the next phase to begin: radiation.

Radiation, in many ways, was much easier than chemotherapy.  There weren’t many side effects.  I would get tired but I’m always tired.  I work, raise a two year old and get cancer treatment.  Any of those things can be causing my fatigue.  In other ways, it was much more challenging.  Having to be there five days a week meant that I would have less time at home with my son, more commuting on the subways and in traffic (if I was driving), less time to do my work, cook, clean…  Personal time?  What personal time?  Just thinking about it stressed me out.

They did not love me, down in radiation.  I do not think they were used to the full time working mom who did not have an open schedule.  I booked my appointments weeks in advance since each day I’m in a different place at a different time.  The woman on the phone who booked my appointments was very kind but I could tell, as each day I would give her a new window of free time, she would get a little annoyed.

To my own credit, I called to book my appointment with the radiation oncologist 2 1/2 to 3 months before I was due to get the treatment.  I told them that my work for the spring was booking up and that, if I needed to be at the hospital daily, I would need to schedule as early as possible so I would know what work I could accept, what I should turn down and also, to arrange child care.  “We don’t book that far in advance.  The oncologist won’t see you until you’ve finished chemo.”  “You don’t understand!  I work and have a two year old.  I need to plan ahead.  If you don’t book me now, I probably won’t be able to be flexible.  You understand that, right?”  She said she would speak to the doctor and call me back the next day.  I never got a return phone call.

Flash forward three months later and low and behold, booking appointments was tough.  Not only were they fairly booked, they were just getting rid of their early morning and late night hours.  Imagine!  In New York City!  Having to go to the hospital for treatment five days a week but they are only open during business hours!  I don’t know why, but I took this as a personal offense.

No, I did not like radiation treatment at all.

But I went.  I went at my scheduled times and, unless the MTA had it in for me that day, I was on time, if not early.  One day, the day I had gotten the results of my genetic testing (I did not get much sleep the night before and even though the results were good, it was an emotional day) I got to the cancer center 15 minutes early for my treatment.  To celebrate the good results of my genetic testing, I had gone out for wine and oysters right before.  After about ten minutes of waiting in the waiting room, because I’m a cheap date, I put my head down and dozed off.  45 minutes later I woke up.  They hadn’t called me in.

I walked up to the receptionist’s desk.  “Hi, my appointment was 45 minutes ago and I’m still waiting.  Do you know how much longer it’s going to be?”  She called to the back where the radiation machines were to inquire about the wait.  She hung up.  “It’s going to be at least another half hour.”  Her face was blank.  Unapologetic.  Frozen.

“Excuse me?”

“Your machine is backed up.  It’s going to be a while.”

“But I have to pick up my son.  I was supposed to be in 45 minutes ago.”

Blank stare.

“What am I supposed to do?”  The tears started to form.

Blank stare.

“I’m not asking a rhetorical question!!!!!  I have a two year old at home, I have to let the sitter go, but I’m told that skipping radiation is a dangerous thing so I need you to TELL. ME. WHAT. TO. DO!!!!”

Blank stare.

I started hysterical crying.  “What am I supposed to do?!?  Can’t you put me on another machine?”

“No.  And those are backed up, too.  We can’t just take someone off the table.”

“I understand that but, what am I supposed to do now?  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO!!!!!!!

I started freaking out.  A very nice old lady, who was just as upset about the situation as I was started yelling, “Give her my spot!  Give her my spot!  She has a child at home!  Can’t you get her in?”  It was very sweet but she had a different machine than me.

I sat back down in my chair, angry, resentful of the situation and helpless.  What was I supposed to do?  I really didn’t know.

Finally, the chief of radiation came out to talk to me (that should give you a clue as to the scene I must have been making).  I told her everything.  I told her how I tried to schedule these appointments months ago just to avoid this very situation.  I told her that I was assured that if my machine was running late, I would get a phone call so that I could make arrangements.  I told her that it was not fair that, with the cut in hours, the wait and my time on the table, I was being asked to choose between my finances, my health and my family.  “Which would  you choose?”  I asked her.  “Which would you choose?”

I was sobbing uncontrollably at this point.  She was very calm and patient with me.  She was doing her best to calm me down but all I wanted to hear was some sort of solution.  That wasn’t what was happening.  “We let you know when you make the appointment that you should leave an hour.”  “It’s been an HOUR AND A HALF AND YOU STILL HAVEN’T LET ME IN!!!!”  She couldn’t argue that.  She just apologized.  She gave me her card and told me to call her if there was a day that I was coming in where my schedule was tight or I needed to go home to my son.

15 minutes later, I was on the table.  I got home over an hour late, exhausted from my ordeal.

I have been through so much since my diagnosis.  I’ve cried.  I’ve yelled.  I’ve laughed.  But through it all, I think I’ve kept it pretty much together, considering the circumstances.  This was the first, and hopefully the only time where I really and truly lost it.  Uncontrollably.  The kind where you hear your voice and it’s like an out of body experience.  You hear yourself yelling.  You feel the vibrations in your chest.  But it’s outside of you.  Outside your control.

Part of me felt a little guilty for letting my emotions get the better of me rather than just finding a way to deal with the situation.  The other part of me feels like I was due for this kind of freak out.  That it’s strange that it hadn’t happened before.  Things have gone wrong in this process of having cancer.  But this was the first time I felt threatened and disrespected and that sent me into a rage faster than a bolt of lightening to the ground.

The next day, I came in at 10 am for my appointment.  “Hi, my name is Carrie and I have a 10:00 appointment.”  Suddenly, the door opens.  “Carrie!  Right this way!”  A man I had’t met, with a big smile on his face stretched out his arm, welcoming me inside.  As if they were waiting for me to come in.

There was this one time I lost my shit at the cancer center.  It totally paid off.