Mother’s Day has discomforted me for years. Post-cancer, my family issues are more complex.
I never had a burning desire to have children. I was too busy with school and my career but I thought one day I might change my mind, especially as I got older. When cancer came, I wondered whether that burning desire might show up. It didn’t. I was too depressed to focus on but enduring each day. My post-cancer journey led to a number of heart-wrenching life changes. I lost my job, left my husband and my home, took care of my dad through a heart attack and triple bypass surgery, and now have been diagnosed with PTSD triggered by my cancer experience.
Now with a new partner I understand that not wanting children was partly about my husband. If things had been different with my husband, if I had been with my new partner earlier, or not had cancer, I would have tried to have children. It is too late. I am too old. I am too menopausal from Tamoxifen and chemotherapy. My OBGYN says it would be a “miracle” if I got pregnant. In fact, I am considering a prophylactic bilateral oophorectomy because of my uncertain BRCA1 status.
I cannot talk about my feelings with my own mother. My mother is alive, but in many ways I haven’t had a real mother in least a decade. In fact, now in therapy, I realize another reason why I didn’t truly consider having children was because she instilled in me the message that her own children – myself and my brother – seriously hampered her career achievements. Children or career; I internalized that message. In 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and received a lumpectomy and 15 radiation treatments. She does not – or perhaps does not want to – understand how her 100% curable stage zero cancer is comparable to my stage 1-2 cancer, treated with the ‘deluxe package’ as I call it: lumpectomy, SNB, 19 weeks of chemo and 50 shots of Neupogen, 37 radiation treatments, cording and lymphedema, 10 years of Tamoxifen, and now PTSD. Why “can’t you get over it” she asked one day, “like I have?” The hurt, misunderstanding, and perhaps denial, those words convey is immense.
I have other sources of comfort thankfully, including my new partner who also didn’t discover he wanted children until it was too late. I visit a lot my friend’s adorable three-year old little girl and look upon her as my niece. Looking at her smiling face reminds me how simple things and being in the moment can bring joy. I enjoy spending time with my almost adult god-daughter who is a funny, smart, and mature young woman. I have always thought of her as ‘my own.’ Perhaps ironically, my father can be the most understanding. My father, who wanted children so badly, he tells me that nothing else mattered in his life, and who, with his own history of mental health challenges, supports me in my struggle back to happiness.