Advice for Moms Going Through Chemo from a Mom That Beat Cancer

Author: Murphy Stidham

March 28, 2018

 

Team SML’s Murphy Stidham wanted to know just how does a mom still “does it all” when she’s battling cancer.

Truth is, she can’t. And, she shouldn’t.

It’s just not possible. Mothers need to rely on someone else when they’re gearing up for the battle of their lives, so here are some tips and some real, heartfelt insight as to what to expect and prepare for from one mom to another who is going through cancer treatment.

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My interview with Gabrielle O’Toole, breast cancer survivor and mother of two boys…

1) When you first found out, did you think you were going to be able to maintain your regular lifestyle?

Of course, you want to think that you can maintain your normal routine. But, you find after you hear the word “cancer”,  life isn’t normal anymore. You and your family create the new normal. I think anyone who’s been through the cancer journey would say it’s one of the hardest challenges you will ever endure. I also have to say it was one of the most empowering challenges I have ever been through.

2) What is the best advice you can give a mom who is about to undergo cancer treatment and still want to be there for her children?

We are the caregivers of our family. We make sure everyone in the family is taken care of, and we orchestrate the day to day routine. The best advice I can give to moms going through treatment is that you need to temporarily hand over the reins, and let your significant other (or someone else) takeover. It’s hard for moms to do that. I was very blessed. My husband became Mr. Mom AND Dad. I will never forget one night when I woke up. I had a chemo treatment  two days prior, and I was having my “bad chemo day”. I was in a haze.  I thought I was taking an afternoon nap and woke up 6 hours later. The house was quiet. My boys were sleeping in their beds. The kitchen was clean, and the dishes were put away. I found my husband in our guest room (I pile my clean clothes on that bed until I can get to it!) folding mounds of laundry. He looked up at me and smiled and said, “I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted!” You learn to appreciate your partner all the more. You can be there for your children, but it’s different.

We had lots of nights where we would pile up in bed and watch our favorite movie or read their favorite books.  My kids were very young…. 4 and 6 years old. We got great advice from their pediatrician and their teachers like try not to use the word cancer. Our kids were too young to process what was going on. Also, if our child went to school and said, “My Mommy has cancer…”, an older child might hear that and say something that might scare them. We told them that I just had a boo boo on my chest, and I needed to rest.

3) Did you have anything in particular (a regimen or daily tactic) that helped you get through the tough days?

Yes, my husband started the “mental health day.” It was always the day after my chemo, which was on Fridays. I wouldn’t start feeling bad until Saturday. Our kids were in school, so we would get lunch, and then we would go to a movie in the middle of the day. It was a chance to escape, relax, forget, and laugh. We always picked a comedy. We still have “mental health days”!

4) If your kids wanted to do something, but you didn’t have the energy, how did you handle it?

My kids were young when I was diagnosed. So, they had lots of energy (they still do). There were many times that I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. On those days, my husband would take over or our friends and neighbors helped out. I would just tell them that Mommy needed to take it easy. They loved playing with their school friends and neighbors. We always had night time to read and hang out. It’s so important to have your support group. They help the whole family, and that helps you to heal. It takes a village to raise kids, and that village was never more important to us.

5) What would you say to a mom who has young kids and still wants to be “Super Mom” during this battle?

I would tell her that the most important thing you need to do is to get well. Your family needs you in the long run. So in the meantime, let your significant other, family, friends, and neighbors help you. It’s so hard for moms to let go. It’s in our DNA to take charge and lead the charge. I know how hard it is. This is not the time to be Super Mom. This is the time to let all the people who love you and your family take charge.

6) What is the importance of having a caregiver? How did yours help you?

Everyone needs a caregiver at this time.  Your husband, partner, best friend, mother or sibling… whoever that person is, you need them. My husband was mine. He was my rock. He did all the research on the different treatments, and he would be the one to ask the doctors the tough questions. He made me feel at peace. I truly believe it is harder on the caretaker. They are the ones that have to wait in countless waiting rooms for hours while you are in surgery peacefully asleep. The have to put on the brave face for you every day. They have to answer dozens of questions  every day from well-intentioned people on the status of your health. A short visit to the grocery store turned into an hour because he saw someone from our church who wanted the latest update. On top of that, he had work and he had to take over the duties at home.

7) What does “celebrating survivorship” mean to you now? And what did seeing survivors do for your mentality/morale back when you were in the middle of fighting cancer?

I don’t know if I necessarily celebrate survivorship. I think my husband and I celebrate life. We love to have family and friends over on the weekends for cook outs and to watch college football. We always have a full house. We love to travel and be on the go. But, we still love our quiet, “mental health days”, too.

Meeting and talking with other survivors was an important part of me finding peace and calm. They had been through this battle and won. The advice and the counsel I got from them was invaluable. They helped prepare me better than the doctors could. I met a woman at a conference who happened to mention she had gone through breast cancer. I had been diagnosed that morning. I told her I was just diagnosed. She became my cancer soul sister. She was a total stranger, but she would be with me every step of the way. The week before my mastectomy, she sent me a list of everything I needed to get before the surgery…. Large, comfortable hoodies that zipped up because you can’t lift your arms for weeks after the surgery, large safety pins to pin the drains to your clothing so they don’t hang and get caught up, and little pillows to put under your arms because you are sore.

I hit my five year mark this year. I know how lucky I am.  I try to pass on the same list and advice when I meet a woman who is starting her journey.

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