Breast Cancer, A Mother’s Day Gift and My Definition of Super Motherhood

Mother’s Day makes me ponder all the things that mothers do that makes them deserving of their own day of celebration and honor. This year, the thing that makes me deserving and honorable, the best thing I ever did for my children was battle and survive Triple Negative Breast Cancer, one of the most aggressive and recurring sub-types of breast cancer. When I was diagnosed at 38, my son was 4 and my daughter was 19 months. This diagnosis forced me to reexamine my definition of motherhood and my role as a mother.

18 months later, this is my first Mother’s Day post diagnosis that I’m not planning for chemo on Tuesday or scheduling a pre-operative physical for my next surgery. I’m not struggling to walk a city block or throw a ball with my kids. I’m not (generally) too exhausted to read a book, watch a movie or play a board game with my kids in the evenings after work. And, I can peel an orange for their snack. I can do these and many things that were daunting and impossible tasks, on Mother’s Day last year, while I was battling cancer, on chemo and recovering from multiple surgeries.

One of the worst times of my life, a sometimes helpless and lonely time, was a time that I abandoned my quasi-normal routine and huddled with my medical team to give myself some good odds for a good quality of life and some more Mother’s Days with my children and my husband. But, it also made me refocus my hopes for motherhood, the ways I want to challenge, encourage and support my kids – being their role model – the legacy I want to leave for them. And, I want to be sure that I leave an indelible imprint on their hearts and their souls.

What’s the best way to do this? There have been times when I got caught up in the “supermom” hype, questioning and second-guessing every decision that didn’t conform to the socially and politically “acceptable” norms. Reading any number of published articles on motherhood can only compound this with the unrealistic picture of the perfect PTA mother, whose perfectly shaped brownies greet the breastfed kids upon their arrival from school; whose kids always have matching socks, lunch with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut into perfect geometric, or better, animal shapes; who can play the piano, violin, harp; speak English, French and Spanish (sign language too); are asleep in their own bed at 7:30pm every night; can tell time on a non-digital watch and head their own Political Action Committee, all by the age of 4. Any deviation can prompt self doubt and questioning “am I a good mother”. Ahhhh, the pressure.

But, I can say unequivocally that I’m a great mom who has given her children a great gift, the gift of my time. Time to watch my son learn how to read. Time to listen to my daughter sing throughout the house. Time to walk beside them as they ride their bikes to the playground near our home. Time to hold their hands when they are frightened in a new environment. Time to be a guide and help them learn how to play nicely in the sandbox. Time to discipline when they blatantly do wrong. Time to kiss the boo-boo when they fall. Time to hug when they are disappointed. Time to protect them, time to expose them to new things, time to love them unconditionally every second, every minute, every hour of every day. Time to watch them blossom in God’s garden and be proud.

Their socks may not always match, they may never master multiple languages, instruments or get to every soccer, basketball or swim practice on time and with the right equipment. I surely don’t meet the standard of the archetypal supermom, but I am super and I am mom. My precious son and daughter have told me so and they are arguably the only ones who should be judging.

As mothers we are all, at one time or another, battling and surviving something. It may be the demanding job that didn’t deliver the work life balance it promised, but the paycheck keeps the family afloat in a depressed economy. It may be the huge socio-economic disparity that distances you from the other families at your child’s school, but the school provides them with an enriching academic and social environment. It may be a chronic ailment that keeps you from attending every recital, but allows you to be a great one-on-one coach at home. There are many choices, often difficult, hand wringing choices that we make to provide what we have determined is the best for our children. At one point or another, we may all be conflicted, concerned, unsure and scared.

And, especially if you find yourself in the unenviable situation of being a mom battling breast cancer. Be proud of yourself for having the courage (no matter how fleeting) to battle and the capacity to nurture your children no matter how limited your physical strength. Fight for yourself. Fight for your children. If their normal changes, let them show you how resilient and adaptable they can be.

Before me, my mother battled breast cancer for most of my childhood. I don’t resent her because I couldn’t go to a popular summer camp that she had planned for me after third grade, but I hold priceless memories of that summer and the time I had spending it with my mother, sister, grandmother, cousins, aunts and uncles that summer after her first mastectomy. I didn’t fall behind in elementary school because chemo drained my mother’s energy and she was too tired to check my homework every night. I did well in school and went on to get two degrees. I don’t remember mommy making me geometric shaped sandwiches or registering me for every extracurricular activity. But, I do remember her patience as I bounced from piano to flute and back to piano, never becoming truly great at either one. I remember her unconditional support, her applause and smiles, words of praise after my recitals. I remember her laughter and the comfort of her hugs. I remember her handwriting on encouraging notes. I remember her love. I remember that the best gift she ever gave me was her fighting spirit. She epitomized the definition of supermom, a real supermom, they way I’m patterning myself now.

I have a strong family history of breast cancer and death from the disease before age 50. I am in remission. I have no idea what my journey holds, but I pray that I defy my family’s odds. A lot of times, my faith is shaky and I don’t know what to hold on to. But, I need just reach out and hold onto my babies and get lost in their embrace to get some grounding. As time passes, I may not remember all the words on a mother’s day card they give me, but I’ll always remember the pedestal that they place me on. I’ll always be supermom to them and any moment I have with them, every moment I have with them, is my Mother’s Day gift.

So, on this second Sunday in May, 2010, write and live your own definition of super motherhood. It’s the best mother’s day gift that you can give yourself and your children. You earned it. You deserve it.

(Dedicated to my beautiful mom, an unassuming and humble pioneer who inspired me to walk my own path.)