Confessions of a Single Mom With Cancer Entry #18

About a week before surgery, a friend of mine said to me, “You haven’t posted anything in a while. I miss your confessions. What’s going on?” So I thought about why I hadn’t written anything in almost a month and I had to confess this to her:

 
#18. I can’t do it all.

 
I know the world would like women to believe that they can. I’ve even tried to convince myself of it for many years. But the truth is, there are times when we really need to focus on something and other things suffer. For me, I’ve been really focused on my health and not just treatments and meds and procedures, but my health – I finally got my act together in regards to healthy eating, working out, reducing stress and while doing it I discovered why so many of us don’t. We don’t have time and if we make time, something else loses. For me, it was my quiet writing time.

 
At the end of the day, after I’ve come home from work, cooked dinner, done homework, spent some time with the girls, cleaned up at least one of the rooms in the house and put them to bed, I pretty much have one hour before I can no longer keep my eyes open. In the past several months that had been my confession time. But as I prepared for my surgery, it became very important for me to get more physically active to improve my recovery. It was necessary for me to lose some of the weight I had gained during treatments but more importantly to get moving again so that my joints weren’t as sore and achy (side effect of the maintenance drugs). So that hour was spent on the treadmill and juicing for the next day.

 
And it was worth it. I had a little guilt at first about not writing, but I started seeing the benefits of my new focus and frankly, just stopped beating myself up. I knew I could pick up and start writing again at anytime, but our health will not always be there. I think about all those times I made excuses to not work out or to eat things I shouldn’t and on top of feeling bad about my choices, the little voice in my head would start in on me, making me feel even worse.

 
But I realize now, something has to suffer. There are only 24 hours in a day and that’s not changing anytime soon. So it goes back to choices. Most women I know who workout to the point of being triathletes don’t work or don’t have kids or aren’t married. There’s only so much one person can do. Before I was willing to admit that, when I was trying to do it all, MORE than one thing was suffering. I was stressed, so I’d yell at the kids more, I’d make unhealthy eating choices, I’d go to work events that weren’t necessary, and I’d feel guilty about all of it.

 
This trying to do it all, ‘my life is so busy’ stuff is for the birds. So many of us wear it like a badge. Busy is not the answer to How are you! Good, happy, tired, excited, sad, anxious, peaceful, even stressed – those are answers to how you are. Busy is a description that people use 1)because they are, 2)because they want to seem important, or 3) because it’s what everyone else is saying. Once being busy becomes how I actually FEEL, I think it’s reaching a tipping point and not in the good, Malcolm Gladwell way!

 
I saw a sign the other day that said, “Do more of what you love.” At first I thought, yes, that would be nice. But then, I thought, wait, what will I NOT do? If I could, not work and do more of what I love or if I could, not work out and do more of what I love, then I’d have to suffer the consequences of not doing those other things.

Then I realized, I came in on the middle of the conversation. Do more of what you love is preceded by doing a lot of other things first, so that I can do more of what I love. I work out and sacrifice other things so that I can BE HERE with my children because I love being with them and want to see them grow up. I work so that we can go on vacations, share experiences, and create memories because I love doing that with them. I do a lot of things so that I can do more of what I love and that’s what I balance. I don’t do it all. I can’t do it all, not all at once. But my life is filled with give and take.

 
I’m working on NOT beating myself up when I make a choice not to do something or let a certain area of my life lapse. I’m trying to make those choices consciously, recognizing and accepting the downstream effects of it. I know this is going to be very difficult for me. Doing it ALL has been a way of life for me for so long, but it wasn’t a good, healthy life, and that’s what I want – MORE than anything.

Confessions of a Single Mom With Cancer Entry #17

 

It’s Valentine’s Day.

The day dreaded by so many single women. I probably used to be one of them. Then I had kids and it became about school parties, red shirts and class Valentine’s. When I think about it now, I think it’s nice to have a day that forces the expression of love because so many people have a hard time doing that every other day. But maybe that’s because a lot more people are like me, even at my age I have to confess:

#17. I didn’t understand love.

The expression of love not love itself I think is what I didn’t understand until now.

I was released from the hospital two days ago after my major reconstructive surgery- a year, a double mastectomy, 4 chemo treatments, 33 radiation sessions and a lot of sleepless nights in the making. They wheeled me into surgery at 7am and I woke up asking the tech when I saw the clock, was it really almost 8pm?? That’s when the blurred memories start. I spent 2 days in ICU in a similar blurred, in and out state. My blood level and oxygen were low. My blood pressure was maintaining at 78/46. The nurses were working on me constantly, different doctors were in and out. They gave me oxygen as they started discussing with my family the potential need to ‘give me a little blood’. I was actually ‘asleep’ during most of this or at least that’s what it felt like. I was so groggy. I just kept making sure my sister was in the room. Because she loves me more than I love me and it’s her expression that told me, I’d never really understood love.

We want people smiling at us, showering us with gifts. Valentine’s loving us. But my sister’s expression was tired, stressed, intense, concerned. Zero smiles. In my flashes in those days when our eyes would meet, that’s what I would see. But what I was really seeing was her expression of love for me. Deep, soul connected, can’t live without her, going to do anything for her love.

I’ve been blessed through crisis to discover true love. Expressed in so many ways big and small. People who truly love you can’t help but express it and not with a box of chocolates but by:

Coming to the hospital at 5am just to see you for 5 minutes before they wheel you back.

Keeping your kids even when one is an impossible tween who loves her mom so much it hurts her and her fear translates into attitude

No less than 100 text messages between your girlfriends. Sending well wishes, begging for updates, lifting you up in prayer.

Your mom leaning over in the middle of the night to touch your hand to make sure it’s still warm.

Your sister never ever acting like doing even one thing is a burden to her. From emptying your blood drains to doing all the grocery shopping to taking forever just to pick the perfect Valentine’s Day cards for you to give your kids.

Pushing the nurse aside who’s asking you questions like do you know where you are, who’s the POTUS to make sure you’re still with it and asking who was your favorite character when you were little who always wore purple – to make sure YOU were still with HER.

That’s the kind of love I wish upon each and everyone of you this Valentine’s Day. It supersedes romantic love. But I pray the one you’re romantic with loves you that way and vice verse.

I’ve always said if I could just find a man who loves me like my sisters and that was before all this, so I know it’s a tall order. But I also know it’s not impossible and after all this, I finally know it’s not only what I desire. It’s what I deserve. That’s love. I get it now.

Confessions of a Single Mom With Cancer Entry #16

I’ve said it before but being diagnosed with cancer makes you very reflective on how you’ve lived and are living your life. When I started looking back, I had to admit:

16. I have some regrets.

It’s hard to say that because it carries such a negative weight with it. But if you’ve lived at all, I’d bet you can say this.

I have some big regrets and some small ones. Some of them are things I wish I would have done, some are things I wish I wouldn’t have done or done differently. All of them come from choices and decisions I made. They are things like:

I wish I hadn’t been so anxious to start working and would have gone to live in California or overseas right after college.

I wish I would have married young and for love.

I wish I would have pursued singing more seriously.

I wish my kids were growing up in a more traditional family structure.

I wish I would have finished my masters.

That’s just a sampling. There are others. But when I start thinking about these things I look back on them and realize the flip side of any of these situations would have had consequences and likely a different set of regrets. I understand that the grass is not greener on the other side. It’s just different. I also know that many of the choices I did make had wonderful results that I may have missed out on if I had done things differently.

Some of my regrets were really just flat out mistakes – bad choices or decisions. But everyone agrees we can learn a lot from our mistakes. As I’ve become more willingly to be vulnerable, I think I’m learning a lot from my regrets too. But if we focus on them too much, they can create sorrow. They can also create envy. This state of reflection has sometimes created more envy in me than I had before cancer. Not wondering why I got cancer instead of someone else, but wanting to have some things in my life that I haven’t yet, before it’s too late. So I have to work on not coveting now, more than before. I have to work on being faithful that those things will come.

I can’t aspire to the idea of living life without regrets. I have them. But, I’ve decided what I can do is try to live going FORWARD not creating new regrets.

This means facing some of my old choices and trying to be sure I don’t repeat them. It means really acknowledging what I want and not accepting anything short of that. It means taking counsel with people I know love me, even when I’m afraid they won’t agree with me. It means taking more risks. It means following through. It means believing in myself and a great plan for my life….without the burden of NEW regrets.

So, yeh, I have some regrets, and I think that’s ok.

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #13

I have been single for what feels like a very long time. I’m actually really good at being single. I have a full life with work and wonderful friends. I don’t feel lonely because my oldest daughter is always with me. But I have to admit,

13. Having cancer single sucks.

Before the cancer, I have to admit I was really quite settled with being single. I don’t date much and I’ve stopped trying to figure out why. I’m comfortable with my life and honestly dating really wasn’t much fun. Dating takes me away from my kids and friends who I already know I enjoy spending my time with.

What I realized during this cancer deal, is that it’s really more about having someone who is there for you without you even having to ask or make arrangements for them to be. That someone who has to drop everything for you and is there to share all of the ups and downs of this experience. I read stories of women whose husbands went to every appointment with them. That’s when I get envious. I remember one time when I had asked a friend to drive me to an appointment because I’d be under light anesthesia and wasn’t supposed to drive home. Everything was set but then an emergency came up at work and my friend couldn’t get away. Did he feel terrible? Yes. Was I able to find another ride? Yes. But that’s when it really hit me. With your husband, the only emergency that matters when you have cancer is YOU having cancer!

I know for some people, even though they are married, their spouse didn’t drop everything for them. I believe that would probably suck more than doing it single. But I’ve been married and divorced. When I say I’d rather not have had to face this single, I’m not implying that I want just any random man by my side. I have made jokes that if you get diagnosed with cancer and you are SINGLE with no sisters, get on Match.com immediately, find someone and get married, but I’m kidding. I do realize it needs to be the right someone.

But that’s just it. Finding the right someone may take a little work. As comfortable as I am being single, I don’t put any energy into NOT being single. I purposely don’t make eye contact sometimes with men in public settings. I don’t seek single girlfriends who may want to go out to places where there might actually be single men. I don’t remind people who say they actually have someone they want to introduce me to to DO IT. I was almost glad I had a full year pass during cancer to not have to try to get a date or do anything to change my single status because I haven’t had much success.

I know now, that I actually want to try, need to try. I want to go out on some dates and I’m willing to accept the fact that many of them will go no where. But it’s time for me to realize that it’s just a part of the process. Is it harder at 42 than 22? Yes. But I should consider it an opportunity. An opportunity to find my someone who has to drop everything.

When I was younger, dating had a different purpose. I was looking for – a good husband, good dad, someone to grow with. I still am looking for those things in a person. But now, I want a best friend – someone who can make me laugh, be there when I cry, talk with me for hours or sit in comfortable silence. He will never replace my girlfriends or my sisters and sometimes I’ll still prefer them in certain situations over him. But he will be there, whether I called him, asked him to or not. That’s what I needed. That’s what I want.

I don’t believe in the Disney fairy tale. I don’t think any of us really do, but a girl can dream, right. I do believe that I have a part in this and that it’s time to do my part. So I’m going to try harder not to be single. I’m going to start making eye contact. Asking friends to set me up. Flirt a little. It definitely can’t hurt. It almost sounds like fun. Almost.

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #12

Last year, at the end of the school year, our crossing guard was very emotional. He’d tell any parent that would listen that he remembered his little girl walking to that same elementary school and how she was graduating from high school in just a couple of weeks. He said he never understood those parents who couldn’t wait until their children would be out of the house. But I have to confess,

12. I was looking forward to being an empty nester.

Now let’s be clear. I have a long way to go until that day gets here! But when he said it, I realized I really was one of those people. The kind he couldn’t understand.

I blame a lot of my feeling that way on being single. There’s a part of me that sometimes thinks it would just be easier on everyone for me to wait, until my mid 50’s when the girls are both off to college, to date. Because of that, I kind of make THAT the next phase of my life and it’s one I look forward to.

That was me. I was making plans. Where I would live, what I would do, the kind of car I would drive – all when the girls were gone.

But during this year I recognized that sometimes looking forward to something makes you miss what you’re actually experiencing. Not only was I diminishing the value of the moments I was sharing with my girls. I was postponing my own happiness to a certain degree. Not only in the dating area, but even in things as simple as the kind of car I drive. I believe in putting my kids needs above mine, but I shouldn’t be completely ignoring my own wants or putting them on hold for a decade to accommodate my kids.

And they’ve never asked me to do that – put my life on hold. Maybe they’re too young to even know how. But, they deserve a mom who is living her best life RIGHT now. I don’t want to teach them to put off their own happiness because of made up obstacles or to be a martyr. I want them to dream big and live big. Putting off my own dreams won’t teach them that.

I think if I’m really honest with myself, I was also acting like they were somewhat of an interruption to my life. Not because I didn’t love them or feel blessed to have them, but because I had SO much to do – primarily work.  But also other things like community service, networking, etc. I used to tell people all the time – If you think you’re too selfish to have kids, you’re right! Kids change everything and they take so much of your focus that even when you always wanted them and love them dearly, it can sometimes seem like they’re getting in the way of other things you’d like to do.

My priorities were mixed up. I was sacrificing time with my kids going to events for work or other things because I felt it was important and I needed to. And yes, sometimes I liked all the running around, but nowadays I miss my kids, even when I’m at work and they’re at school. I WANT to lean into their homework and do flash cards for tests with them. I want to SOAK up every minute I can with them, even when they’re driving me crazy. I feel like being with them now is a gift, not a responsibility. So I’m trying to be more deliberate about what I do when I could be with the girls. Things that rejuvenate me and make me better – like time with my girlfriends or maybe even a date that seems to have some potential, I’ll do it. Dinners where no one will even remember who was there or what was talked about, I’ll pass.

My perspective is so different. Not only because of what we went through but because of the real possibility that I may not have as much time with them as I’d always assumed. And if that is the case, I want to make the most of what I do have with them now. NEVER once have I thought about how upset I’d be to never get that 2nd chance at love or the convertible or the penthouse apartment, cause that’s not what I’d miss.

I’m excited that I have a second chance to really enjoy my kids and lean into the short 18 years they’ll live in my home. I know I’ll still be mom after that (living in a penthouse, driving a convertible!), but there’s nothing like THESE years, when you’re the most important person to them. I’m trying to appreciate hearing MOM, MOM, MOM, MOM, MOM – more everyday.

 

 

 

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #4

I spend a lot of time telling my kids what to do. It’s second nature. I don’t even notice it. I’m sure it’s what we all do but the more I think about it the more I started worrying that it’s all I do. The truth is:

#4. I’m missing the bigger picture.

Let’s take a look at all the things I nag (discipline, correct, redirect) my kids about during the day.

What they eat

What they don’t eat

How they eat (smacking, too much food, too fast)

Watching too much tv

Not reading

Doing their homework

Cleaning their rooms

Using their manners

Being nice to each other

Sharing

Being respectful to me

Brushing their teeth

Getting to bed on time

Being careful

Covering their mouths when they cough

Washing their hands

Not forgetting their lunch

Being on time

That’s a pretty good list from today! I really am not a nag. That’s just regular parenting, right? We lead them. Teach them. Show them the way. But, I wonder if on their side, it just feels like they can’t do anything right.

Well, I’m sitting here today, the last day of school in the strangest year the girls and I ever could have imagined. Actually, we couldn’t have imagined it. My 10 year old says it’s been ‘this’ way since Thanksgiving. And she’s right. Our world was turned completely upside down when we returned from Houston after Thanksgiving and I got the call – it was cancer. And ‘this’ way is the cancer way, which has been a crazy roller coaster ride. One that as a kid was probably really hard to be on, cause as a mom in a totally new situation, sometimes I didn’t know when or how much information to give them. I didn’t know what they could handle or understand. I didn’t know what they needed to know or deserved to know. How would they trust and feel secure in me when I didn’t have all the answers? The one who guides, directs, tells them what to do constantly.

And I made some mistakes along the way. I gave them premature information about my treatment plan and it then changed drastically. I would come home from doctors appointments and say it went fine, even though every appointment seemed to bring to light a new development and often new concerns. Finally one day, my daughter said, ‘You said your appointment went fine when the doctor told you it was cancer’. She was right.

So I had to learn a new way to guide them. I had to be transparent in ways that seemed beyond their years. I had to be honest with them about what I did know and what I didn’t know. I had to be vulnerable with them. All while still being mom and running down my nag list – make your bed, clean your room, do your homework, be nice to your sister – many times shouted from where I laid in my bed- bald.

And guess what? They survived this school year. This crazy, upside down, topsy-turvy, unpredictable school year. Grades were fine. Behavioral stuff – fine. 2nd and 5th grade- here we come!

But truthfully, they did so much more than survive. They changed the list. The things they do everyday- changed. And in my new situation instead of directing, I watched them:

Have faith

Trust

Believe

Stay positive

Encourage me

Support each other

Love harder

Show appreciation

Develop compassion

Share their story

Grow stronger

Express their feelings

I realize now that so many of our days had been strung together by orders barked by me from the list of things I felt like they needed to do to be, I don’t know – good? And they are important. Many are things that have to get done. But they aren’t the most important. My kids were showing me so much more about who they were as people and I was missing it. Blinded by the nag list. But I’m not anymore.