I Am Parenting With Terminal Cancer
By Inga Kruse
Photo © LayO/Twenty20
Feb 24, 2020
I have been living with terminal cancer for almost six years.
On the day my doctor told me my brain and spine were riddled with tumours, I felt my life being violently snatched away. The cancer ravaged my body without so much as a subtle advance indicator. Suddenly it was just there, and fatal.
My first thought was of my two young children. They were aged 10 and 13 and I was torn to pieces when I pictured how hard their future would be without their mother. How could I leave them? Would they be mad at me? Would they be able to cope with all that life brings them without the guidance of the Mommy who loves them?
A mother with terminal cancer — who has sadly, since passed — came to terms with what she'd like custody to look like. Read it here.
Nothing brought on hot tears more than picturing these scenes.
When I fully absorbed the bleak picture of what was happening to me, it felt like a hard and violent upending of my life. This diagnosis was scary, unfair and enraging. It was also an opportunity to change everything. Nothing brings vital focus more sharply than being told you have an expiry date. We all have them theoretically, but stage four cancer is a very clear and present threat.
I remember the moment when I had finished reeling from the shock and started thinking about what I was going to do with what time I had left. I had no idea of what my life would look like or when the end would come, but I knew I had to use the days I had left wisely.
The experience I have had on this journey has been one of terror, sadness and great love. It is a clarifying bolt of electricity that truly allows for the shedding of the unimportant minutia of life and opens your heart.
"One message that we have had to gently communicate is that they will be OK."
When I regained focus, there was no question that my children were my first priority. I have an incredibly supportive husband, and we made a plan. He would take care of me and keep me strong so I could fully engage with my children. We were a team. If I only had so much time with them, we had to figure out what they would need from me with the time I had left.
Resilience. We would focus on parenting through a filter: How will this moment contribute to their resilience after I am gone?
We struggled with many issues. How much to tell our kids, the emotional acting out of frightened children and the fact that I have been exhausted fighting my disease. They have both been living with a cloud of uncertainty and a sick mother for almost half their lives. It wears on us all.
I have been trying to impart what I have found to be important in my life to them. Sometimes items of great importance about how to be a good life partner, and the wisdom of choosing a kind one. Other times we talk about cautionary tales of mistakes I made in hopes they won’t make them too. We talk about banking, career, driving, cooking and how to plan a trip. We make them do increasingly responsible chores and have made sure they had jobs every summer. Most importantly we trust their decisions, and they rise to the occasion.
One message that we have had to gently communicate is that they will be OK. We believe it, and hopefully they do, too.
They have been so strong and living normal lives despite it all. They laugh at mom’s life lessons, and they ignore the tragedy of why I am teaching them a particular wisdom.
Almost six years out from my initial diagnosis, I was able to take my daughter to university and help her pick out essentials for her dorm room. This was a milestone I never thought I would reach. My vulnerable younger child needed me when I was diagnosed, and does even more so now — resilience does not come easy for him as it does for his sister.
How do you talk to kids about a terminal diagnosis? Read about how one mother approached it here.
All I can hope for is that when I must leave my little family behind, that they have enough mettle to carry on the fulsome lives that I wish for them.
The most valuable gift I can give my children — that they can carry their entire lives — is that their mother loved them fiercely and believed in them, so they would believe in themselves.
For as long as I can, I hug them constantly. There is a tacit understanding tinged with sadness as to why. If they can remember the warmth of my hugs forever, then I have given them what they will need to make beautiful lives, even without me.
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