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When my boys were placed in my arms after the planned (Liam in 2013) and emergency c-sections (Malcolm in 2015) my heart swelled and grew. I had no idea how much love I could have for someone I’d just met and yet, it happened both times. Ever since then, I’ve had the privilege of thinking about them before anything else and putting them before myself every day.
So, when I heard in March of 2017 that I had breast cancer in the midst of tandem nursing my boys, while I mourned at having to wean them abruptly, I knew that I had to in order to stay with them. When I heard in June of 2017 that I was actually Stage IV and my breast cancer had metastasized to all of my bones, my very first thought was that I wanted to be with them as long as possible. The years I’d had with them was suddenly not enough and every moment became fraught with meaning.
Since that fateful day in June, I’ve had almost two years to be with my Boys and work through so many emotions and fear and anticipation. Anticipation of all those days and experiences they will have without me. I watch my own mother help me with caring for them and my heart breaks for all that I will miss. When I can bear that thought again, I’ve tried to turn my attention towards pieces of me that I can leave behind for them.
This is my list thus far …
- I take lots of pictures of me and the boys. Yes, this means I take a lot of selfies and I don’t always like how I look in the pictures. I also schedule photo shoots whenever I can for holidays and just because. Capturing how happy my kiddos are is amazingly gratifying. I’ve also back up the pictures in about 5 different ways just in case.
- I found an amazing non profit who helped me create a video for my Boys. The non profit is Thru My Eyes. It’s out of New York but the process of making the video was so very special and I know that my boys will treasure it. There are several non profits that do this and I think it is extremely important to leave all kinds of difference types of memories behind.
- I found a company that makes bears out of old clothes. Each of my boys has a bear made out of clothes I memorialized in pictures with them and I recorded a special song I sing to them so that they can hear my voice whenever they want. I can barely carry a tune but they don’t know that, they just love to sing with mommy.
- I ordered memory boxes for my Boys and my husband and I’m slowly filling them up with keepsakes and letters and books. Books that I hope may help as they begin life without me.
- I started writing letters to my boys on their birthdays when they were born. I’ve now expanded that project to write them letters for important birthdays, their weddings, graduation, etc. It can be slow writing these since it’s hard to think of everything I’d want to say to them but I keep at it.
- I found a variety of cards for a variety of experiences and circumstances and am slowly making sure they have those to open.
- With my parent’s help, I’m trying to memorialize all of the traditions and meaning behind each of the family items my boys and nieces will get when I pass.
- We moved from Orlando to Miami to live with my parents. My sister moved from New York to Miami to be with me and my boys. I am intentionally surrounding them with people (especially women) who know and look/sound like me. Women who will be able to help them remember me but also won’t let them want for love and nurturing.
- I’ve planned my funeral and we’re in the process of paying for it and ensuring that my family will only have to show up to celebrate my life.
Each of these things I’ve listed above are how I am trying to prepare for leaving my Boys. I’m already experienced two thirds of the median survival time with them and while I hope for many more years, I also cannot help but prepare for the worst, that I only have another year or two with them. I don’t know precisely how to cram a lifetime of my presence with them into that time but I am working to make sure that my voice will be available to them in good times and in bad times.
The hardest thing about my diagnosis and knowing that I am terminal, is knowing that I will hurt my Boys in the most profound way a mother can ever hurt a child, by leaving them. My own memories only go back so far and there are days when I look at my 3 year old and wonder if he will remember me at all. If I dwell on that, it’s hard to do anything at all. By focusing on what I can do, now, I can keep working at what I can do to mitigate the loss.
I would be remiss if I end without mentioning my precious husband. He has uprooted his life and work and comfort zone to support me in what I want and need. His selflessness has allowed me to structure a new life that is supportive and helpful to me as I navigate our new normal. He is an amazing father and I know that he will do everything he can to make sure our boys grow up to be men and to make sure they don’t forget.
I cannot end this post without mentioning April Stearns and her wonderful magazine, Wildfire. She is an ally to us living with stage IV metastatic breast cancer and her publications highlights and celebrates the amazing men and women who have not allowed this disease to end what is special about them. Check her out!