families and breast cancer

Three Broken Hearts

When my son was born, I would stand over his crib every night and tell him that if he needed anything during the night, he should let his mom know. When my daughter was born, I could not tell her the same thing in good conscience, as I knew I would not be the one waking up with her at night. Being diagnosed with breast cancer four weeks before my daughter’s birth meant that I had to rely on others to wake up in the middle of the night to tend to her, so I could heal myself. While this sounds like one of the few “plus sides” of cancer, if there are any (and believe me, I know it was), it was very hard for me to reconcile being her mother with handing over her care to others, as it seemed to me that this meant that in some ways I was not her mother or not a very good one, at least.

In the early days after my daughter was born, I would lie awake in bed at night, listening on the baby monitor to Juddine, our baby nurse, tend to my girl. Although I trusted Juddine, I would be wracked with guilt and worry, overcome with fear that this beautiful baby girl that I brought into this world would not recognize me as her mother ( especially as I was unable to breastfeed her due to the double mastectomy I was scheduled for three weeks after her birth).

I made all my treatment decisions around my children, including holding off on treatment so my daughter could be born full-term and getting my reconstruction done above the muscle, so I could carry my children as soon as possible after my surgery. I also chose the most aggressive course of treatment to maximize my chances of being there for my children for a long time. Every ounce of energy I had left was devoted to them at the expense of my career, my appearance and my devoted husband, but I always wondered whether it was enough. Yet the doctors were clear that my job was to rest and recover, so I could be there for my children in the future. Consequently, I forced myself to remain in bed every night, scrupulously watching Juddine and Lyla on the monitor.

In the mornings, I would jump out of bed at 5 am, as soon as I heard my son’s cries from his room, eager to tend to him with the burst of energy I felt in the morning before the chemo fatigue set in during the afternoons. My son was young. He did not realize that mama taking an afternoon nap might be considered strange, but in the morning, I could truly be the energetic mother that he deserved. By 8 am, when our nanny Taneisha arrived, I was often very tired from the 3 hours I had spent with my toddler and ready to go lie down. It was painful for me to admit this, so I would sneak away as my son was greeting my nanny, leaving my family clueless as to my disappearance.

As time went on, I would often chat with Juddine about her two young girls that she had left in Jamaica with their father in order to be a baby nurse in the U.S., so that she could send money home to support her family. It was clear to me that being unable to be with her daughters was breaking her heart. I was also aware that Taneisha did not have any biological children of her own (although my children are in many ways as much a product of her as of my husband and I). As I watched Taneisha and Juddine with my babies, I realized that my heart was not the only broken one in my home, but mothering my children had a positive effect on all of us. While my illness had broken my heart by forcing me to put the brakes on motherhood, it had made me appreciate that I was not the only one who had endured hardship.

With time, I began to embrace the old adage that it takes a village and to realize my privilege (both financially and in terms of my wonderful husband and extended family) in having a village that would allow me the space and time I needed to heal. I may not have been able to be everything my children needed every day, but the most important thing was that my children experienced love from all the people around them. And with that realization, I began to turn the monitor off at night, so that I could sleep soundly, knowing that my baby was in good hands. – Jenny Leon

Are you a parent who has been diagnosed with breast cancer? Click here for resources to help.

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Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer: Finding Hope, Support, and Community
50 Carroll Street Toronto, Ontario Canada M4M 3G3
Phone: 416 220 0700
Registered Charity #: 892176116RR0001

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