A different lens

As I was laying in bed cuddling with Savannah Grace tonight like we always do after we read their stories and say our prayers, she turns over and in the same breathe that has just asked me “Mom, why do Bella and Ethan always talk about poop?” and “Why did God make the sun yellow?” she says “Mommy, are me and Faithy and Bella going to get cancer, just like you?” and I, taken aback, reply “Well honey, I don’t know, but let’s pray that you don’t.” I guess she was satisfied with that answer as she took my hand in hers, rolled over, and fell right to sleep next to me as she always does. Sometimes I forget that she was just three when I was diagnosed with cancer and being the middle child, I think she felt it the most. Bella was only 18 months old, and she actually only remembers mom as “mom with cancer”. Just two months ago she said to me in her cute little voice “Mommy, you have hair! And it’s long!” I forget that for Bella she has only known me with no hair. She, too, had barely any hair since she was born so maybe she just thought it was normal! And for her to see me with hair now is a big difference. And Faith was almost 6 years old, and she was in full day kindergarten here, so she was gone for most of the time when I was always in treatment or at my doctor’s appointments. Her life was interrupted the least by all of this cancer stuff (for lack of a better term!) But I know that she keeps a lot in and does not say it much but is still affected by what she hears and sees, just not the same way as her sister was. Savannah Grace, however. was at a tender age, just starting to figure out the world and sorting out reality from fantasy. I am sure it was too much for her mind to grasp that mom was sick, but she understood more than we give her credit for I bet.

Last weekend I became terribly ill with what was a stomach virus, typical of what goes around at this time of year. For most people it is no big deal, and you can recover on your own in a few days. The three times I have had this over the last couple of years it is a big deal for me and my body. Because of my cancer drugs that I have been on and am still on my body’s immune system and digestive system is not quite as strong as everyone else’s. As much as I like to believe I am invincible sometimes, I realize that I am not! I had to go to the ER for fluids and care, and it takes me longer to recover from these bouts of things. Before Chris took me the other day Savannah Grace was in the room and he said “I am going to take mommy to the hospital and Norni is going to stay with you.” And she immediately replied “but you’re not staying over night, right? You won’t sleep there?” We quickly reassured her that we would be back, and then I remembered that last year, right about this time, I had gone in for my double mastectomy and when I did the countdown on the calendar crossing out how many days mommy would be gone for we crossed out five, as this is what we were told and expected. Well, twelve days and nights later I came home. I did not realize what an impact this had on her until every single night after I got home she creeped into our bedroom and crawled into our bed, ever so gently, to cuddle and sleep next to me. Never in her four years had she ever done this before, and although I could not sleep well with her there I continued to allow her to do this for 3 solid months, until finally we told her that she would have to stay in her room again at night. I forget sometimes that our girls have seen and experienced things with their mama that praise God not many children have had too. And as much as I like to believe that they are fine and not bothered by it, cancer does have an impact on the family. Not just on Chris or myself, or my parents and in-laws or siblings, or children or family, but everyone. She has had to tell her friends “not to hug my mommy too tight because of her boo boos” after my surgeries. She was the one who hated my hair falling out the most, and although I cringe when thinking about it she said “mommy, I don’t love you without hair. I want you to have hair like my friends mommies.” Although this broke my heart when she said it to me at the tender age of 3 1/2 I had to remember that that was simply how she felt, and it was okay. I tried hard not to take it personally, but it still made my heart sad, even though I know she didn’t truly mean it. When my eyebrows and eyelashes fell out she told me then that I “looked like a boy” and now she just loves when I put on make-up and mascara to show off my lashes! It is funny how all of these little things are just little, but to a child whose mommy is sick they are not all that little. They must represent some sort of security and comfort, and for Savannah Grace that is reassuring.

We often wonder how much to tell our children, how much to share with them and how much do they even understand? Chris and I prayed about it and decided because they were all so young we would not share the gravity of the disease, but just that mommy had cancer and we would pray to Jesus and believe that she would get better. And that is the innocent child-like faith that they all had. They never ever doubted that I would get better, as Chris and I always led them to believe that I would. Some would not agree with us on this but we felt that we were begging for a miracle and believing in one, and until God told us otherwise we would just keep sharing that with them. If and when the time came where we felt it was not going to be God’s will for me to be healed here on this earth then we would talk to them, but not until then. And praise God we have not had too. So their innocent faith never waivered, but Savannah Grace did ask me several times “Mommy, when are you going to be all better?” and to that I simply responded the truth: that I did not know but that we would pray it would be soon.

Savannah Grace noticed every single time that I left because she was not in school yet and I had never left her before any of this. I was with her (by default as a stay-at-home mommy!) all of the time. So this was a big change for a little child- doctors twice a week, 8 and 10 hour weekly chemotherapy days, people coming in to watch her and her sisters. others cooking and cleaning for us, getting the girls dressed and giving them baths-doing all of the things that I could not do because I was either not there or feeling too sick to do any of them. Even though the people were all family and friends that we and the kids love and cherish, it was still not mommy. I will forever be grateful for all of the love and care and help we were extended, and no one will ever truly know how much this carried us and meant to us, especially taking care of our children whom we could not always be there to take care of. But it was still not mom, or mom and dad, and it makes a difference to children.

I realize more now than ever what an incredible gift I have been given to have been able to stay home with our girls for eight years. God granted us this opportunity and Chris allowed me to follow my desire and encouraged me to do so to stay home and raise our children, even though I had just finished grad school! There were days that I thought would never end, with babies crying and nursing all night and sleep deprivation that was real. And post-partum that set in and I truly thought of just running away, with three little ones 4 1/2 and under! A couple of times Chris said to me as I would leave to “escape” at night to go to the grocery store: ‘You’re coming back Hon, right???” I look back now at this and laugh, as my “baby” is now eight and my youngest “baby” already 3 1/2. How can the time be going so quickly? Why can’t I just stop it and cherish these beautiful moments forever? Even with the yelling and the bickering that they do all the time now!- I will still miss it. And I have been given the gift of seeing this though a different lens than most. I have been forced to miss things that I would not have chosen too because of this cancer, but I have also been blessed by the opportunity to really see. I am working again now a bit, but after being sick again last week I realize that my purpose here is not to get out and earn some spending money and be away from my girls; it is to love them and raise them and cherish them every time that I can. Chris reminded me that God was telling me to slow down after I got sick the first time, and now having these small set-backs reminds me of that once again. My pastor spoke this morning of praying that God move us and teach us “as gently as possible but as firm as necessary.” No one wants to learn from pain and struggle, but it is usually through this that we learn the most. And so I am praying now that Jesus takes all of the harder things that my children have seen and gone though and uses them for good. That they may be more compassionate people with loving and giving hearts. That they may appreciate all of the little things that are really the big things that we are blessed with every day. That they may develop and empathy that can only come from feeling some of the things they have felt. I know that “God uses all things for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” And I ask that you please pray for them with us, as we see how cancer does have an effect on them and I am sure in many ways that will even come out later in life. But pray that God carries them, now and always, and that their faith be unshakable. And that they follow the plan God has carefully chosen for their little lives and brings glory to Him. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for this.

That being said, I do have my scans at the end of next month. I know I will continue to have these forever but Chris and I always get a bit more anxious around “scan-time.” We continue to trust in Him every day, but some days, on the selfish days, that fear can creep in a bit more. We think “what would we ever do now if I had to go back to weekly chemo or radiation and feeling sick all of the time?” The thought overwhelms me, but then I am reassured that I would do it. I would not want to do it, but God would give me the strength just like He did before to do it and He would be with me. But selfishly I do not ever want to have to do that again! So please keep us in prayer that His miracle in me be continued, and we can once again proclaim that there is no explanation except for the love and mercy of our Great God!
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, love and blessings to you. April (: