Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #9

Maybe my mom was right. As I get older the more I start having this thought and I had it today over something I really wasn’t willing to agree with. My mom always says we (me and my sisters – in my mom’s mind we are like one being) don’t tell our kids ‘NO’ enough. Now in general, I don’t agree with her. My kids ask for 101 things every day, so I have to say no to them often. However, I had an experience with my 10 year old today that made me come to this thought.

9. I work too hard to ensure my kids aren’t disappointed.

I know that sounds CRAZY. I have spent the past 10 years trying to ensure my 2 daughters didn’t experience disappointment. Definitely not from me or frankly anyone else who they believe loves them. I’ve been afraid that being disappointed would make them feel a deep sadness, making them feel unsure or insecure. It also just felt like failure on my part. Disappointing the girls by not being able to be some where or doing something for them, within reason, seemed like one of those things that separated the good parents from the bad.

Then, the cancer thing happened. Being diagnosed in December meant the beginning part of 2015 was going to be challenging. It also meant that we had 1/2 a school year left to tackle.  And all of a sudden, there were disappointments, several of them. Trying to be mom, keep up at work, and endure the chemo and radiation treatments resulted in disappointments. I couldn’t do it all. There were doctors appointments and treatments I couldn’t miss. Because of my immune system, there were places I couldn’t go. And there were days, I just didn’t feel up to doing anything.  I missed a parent-teacher conference, science fair, field day, the end of school performance, class parties, open house, church programs and solos.

I wasn’t there and I knew that was disappointing for the girls. Especially because, I’m ALWAYS there. I jump through all kinds of hoops to be there for my kids. I know most parents do, but honestly as a single working mom this is when I feel the stress of that title. I have competing priorities between work and home. I can’t be in 2 places at once and sometimes I don’t have a choice but if there’s a way, I will make it happen. And up until now, I pretty much always have.

When it happened the first time, there was crying, and begging me to go. I was really sad because I knew they were disappointed. It got better as the months continued. Everyone acclimated to the new reality – which was mom can’t go, go, go! But there was always sadness.

Then today, I experienced something for the first time. I had to tell my 10 year old I couldn’t be at her end of camp performance. She said, I really want you to be there. She was sad, but then she got over it. QUICKLY. No crying, no pouting, no begging. Even after the program, I asked her how it went and she said, I wish you could have been there but it was great.

Now to give you some background, last year (BC – before cancer) she attended this same camp. Last year’s program was at the same time as our company board meeting and my boss made it clear, he wanted me there. My daughter also made it clear she wanted me at her performance. I was determined to do both. The camp was nearly 45 minutes from my office. I figured I could get there but I’d have to get back and maybe even leave early. I called on one of my best friends for help to meet me out there in case I needed to leave and to bring my daughter home since I’d be back at work. I made the haul out there and back just in time to see her dance and do my part at the board meeting. I made it happen, but it was stressful and a little crazy for sure and what I discovered today – UNNECESSARY.

Because she survived me not being there. She still was excited about her performance. She still smiled and did her best. She was still proud of herself, even if I wasn’t there to see how great she did. She lived through the disappointment.

Before cancer, I honestly think none of us believed we could survive me disappointing them. But in a way, I think it makes them stronger. I think it helps them understand that people who love you are going to disappoint you, sometimes it’s out of their control, but even when it’s not, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. I think it helps them be more realistic. They pretty much believe I have a MAGIC WAND and can do anything and everything. Finally they know, I don’t and no matter how badly I want to, sometimes, I can’t.

It’s freeing in a way for me. I was driving myself crazy and beating myself up for the things I couldn’t do, WAY too much. Being FORCED into this situation of disappointing them, was the only way I was going to see how this change in my behavior could be beneficial for all of us.

As I start thinking about what our life looks like once all the treatments and surgeries are done, I know I want to have the ability and flexibility to do more with my girls, to be there for them, and make them a priority, but I also know that we’re all going to be ok even when I can’t.

 

 

 

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #8

This confession could get me in trouble. And, I don’t know if this is something that is going to eventually wear off or if it is here to stay. But it’s real.

8. I’m tired of acting like I care about things I don’t really care about.

I know that might sound harsh, but the more I’m reengaged in the real world, my old world, the more I feel like this. See during chemo, I wasn’t out much. I had to protect my immune system, so even though I worked throughout, I wasn’t in nearly as many meetings or discussions with people. I was hardly allowed in public, so I wasn’t really engaged in a lot of random conversations. But now that I’m past the immune risk phase, I’m venturing out more and my schedule at work is beginning to look like it used to – back to back meetings, all day! And with all that interaction comes this reality check.

I remember having this feeling once before – like the things that used to seem important to me felt less important. That was when my dad died of lung cancer. My dad died on December 10, 1999, right before Y2K. That morning, I was on my way to Chicago from Texas with my sister to see him because we knew he was really sick, but he passed away before we got there. Like I said, it was December, so I stayed quite a while, spent the holidays there and didn’t come home until the new year. When I got back and returned to work, I remember thinking how silly and trivial things seemed to me. I’d sit in meetings and internally shake my head as others passionately debated the words to use in a communication or the event location or paper for an invite. Anything. Everything. It all seemed less important. It felt that way because at that point, I realized how precious life was and that it wasn’t promised. I understood that people and relationships, love and commitment were important. But this stuff? Not so much. It was hard. I remember wondering then if it would pass….and it did.

The feeling I have now is similar – but different. Now, it’s not just the loss of someone else that is making me feel this. In some strange way, I think it’s somewhat of a loss of myself. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you lose something. Something within you. For some people, this is bad – they may lose hope, dreams, excitement, trust. But for me, I lost my desire to fake it. I want everything to be real. I want everything to be alive. I know some things you just have to do, but I’ve lost my flair for the perfunctory. Webster’s definition of perfunctory – used to describe something that is done without energy or enthusiasm because of habit or because it is expected.

I don’t want to do things out of habit. I want to do things out of love, excitement, passion, compassion, caring. I don’t want to do things because it’s expected. I want to do the unexpected. Surprise someone with a kind word, or smile. From the simple to the grand, I guess I want to live more vividly. And something about acting like I care about things that I don’t doesn’t feel right, good or vivid.

It feels perfunctory – from the Latin perfungi – to get through with. And that’s exactly what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to just get through with life or any part of it. I don’t want to feel that about work, about things I do with the girls, about time I spend with friends. That to me is not living. Not anymore.

Every moment actually does feel more important to me now. So even if it’s just a meeting or small talk or whatever, it feels like a moment I’ve been given back. A moment I should make the most of. I want to give 100% to each moment. So, I no longer accept the idea that you just have to do somethings. I no longer agree to just do things because I’m supposed to or it’s expected of me. I spent the first 42 years of my life doing that and I was really good at it. It’s now time to see if I’m good at this instead. This truly living life to its fullest and not wasting a single moment way.

Because even though I got over this feeling 15 years ago, I was right back then. Life is precious, unpredictable and not promised and that is NOT lost on me.

 

 

 

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #7

There’s this strange pressure you feel after the cancer diagnosis to figure yourself and your life out. I’m sure it’s probably universal, especially if you have a pretty good prognosis from the beginning. You immediately start thinking about life after cancer. It’s part of what I think pulls you through.

So as you’re trying to figure out what you’ll do next and differently, you’re forced to look back on what you’ve done. As I started doing that, I discovered something about how I’ve approached life that I hadn’t expected. I realized that a lot of my life – not just cancer – had just happened to me. I hadn’t necessarily made things happen. So as I think about the future, it’s becoming clear to me that:

7. I’m so much more in control of my life story than I realized.

This may sound really crazy in the midst of something I obviously had no control over. But as I sat in a meeting today, listening to some people’s stories of themselves, I realized I can do so many things and frankly, I’ve prevented myself from doing them. That’s not necessarily bad. I’ve had 3 jobs over the past 20 years. My first lasted 13 years and if the company hadn’t been bought, I’d probably still be there. I like stability, and that has served me well. But there are other things I’d like to do and probably could. Other chapters of my story.

So I had to start thinking about why I don’t or why I didn’t.

The bottom line is FEAR – in many different forms, or for many different reasons, but when it comes down to it, I’m afraid.

Afraid of failure.

Afraid of disappointing others.

Afraid of making a fool of myself.

Afraid of being unsure.

Afraid of being unstable.

Afraid I won’t be able to provide for the girls.

Afraid I’m not as smart, good, or special as I think I am.

But maybe it’s not just fear. Maybe it’s also that I’m comfortable.

Comfortable knowing I’m pretty much guaranteed continued success on this path.

Comfortable knowing that paycheck is coming on the first and the fifteenth.

Comfortable not having to get to know new people.

Comfortable not having to learn new tricks.

Comfortable feeling smart and being experienced.

Truthfully, most of the changes I’ve made in my life have been somewhat forced. So I didn’t have time or the choice to be afraid and in most cases, things had actually gotten UNcomfortable. I didn’t make them because I wanted to. I’ve changed jobs because I had to. I’ve moved because I had to.

I want to make a CHOICE to do something different. I want to CHOOSE a new venture or company, even though I’m secure in my current one. Instead of reacting to what life has handed me, I want to pick my cards and make my hand. I’ve been blessed because the hand I’ve been dealt has been a good one. But imagine how much better it could be if I was driving it – with a little bit of faith. And yes, it could go bad too – but being able to accept more RISK in my life is important. Maybe I’m ready, because the last six months have been a lot about the RISK of recurrence and reducing it, but also accepting, there’s going to be some level of RISK! What I hope is to increase my ability to accept it in my life choices too.

I believe there’s a freedom pass for me, right now, in the midst of this, and it won’t last forever. I believe everyone can accept my need to make different choices for myself. I believe nothing seems that scary right now as I begin to put this behind me. I believe I deserve to live a full, unconstrained life. I believe it’s time to be uncomfortable and ignore my fears. I believe it’s time to be more trusting and have greater faith.

I believe it’s my turn to start making choices and writing my own story. Today. It’s time.

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #6

I have to admit, I’m really embarrassed to confess this one. But it’s really important because it’s one of those things that although the cancer diagnosis has brought it to my attention….I’m going to have to work REALLY hard to remind myself of the lesson, once this is all behind me.

6. I’ve always been focused on my looks – not my health.

In my adult life, I have been overly concerned about my weight. I got it honest. My mom’s been on a diet ever since I met her. So the minute I started putting on some extra pounds, sitting around in corporate America, I jumped into the extensive list of weight loss remedies. And over the years, I’ve probably done them all. I tried to put together a list of the diets I’ve been on and I’m just hoping I didn’t miss anything. Here we go:

Quick Weight Loss

Weight Watchers

The Lemonade Diet (back when Beyoncé was in high school)

3-Day Beets Diet

HCG

Nutri-system

SlimFast

The Cabbage Soup Diet

The 3-Day Diet

Apple Cider Vinegar Diet (now that’s desperate)

Atkins

Detoxing

Juicing

The Daniel Fast

And don’t get me started on the exercise list:

Beachbody

P-90X

Insanity

T-25

Tae Bo

A Marathon (yes 1)

Spin Classes

A personal trainer

Private Workout Circuit training (like Curves but not)

24 Hour Fitness Gym Membership

Yoga

Many of these are not inherently bad for you. Some of these are really great for you and wonderful for your health. But I’m admitting I never did any of them FOR my health. I did all of them for my dress size. So many times, I was trying to lose weight for the next girls trip or a reunion or a big event. Never did I stop and say – your weight is unhealthy and could lead to significant health issues. Nor did I think about the damage yo-yo dieting and my fluctuating weight could do. I didn’t think about how eating healthier could make me healthier. I only cared if it would make me skinny.

All of this from a woman who most people would never have considered overweight. I have thought, now, that some of that ridiculous dieting could have had some influence on my current situation. Not that any one of them caused the cancer, but any one of them could have impacted my body environment that was already prone to cancer. I also realize that changing my eating habits for life versus until I was the right size definitely could have had a positive impact on my situation and ultimately my health.

And even though I now recognize how ridiculous it was that I was so focused on wanting that magic pill to make me the size I wanted to be. I found myself jealous when I saw a girlfriend the other day who looks great and when I asked her what had she been doing her response was starving herself.

I was jealous, because what so many people don’t know is that most women on breast cancer treatments gain weight. The steroids and other drugs cause you to retain water, reduce your metabolism and increase your appetite. On top of that, you’re fatigued and probably don’t feel like working out and if your stomach is queasy, all you really want to eat is a loaf of bread…every day! So the treatment to save my life has put on some significant pounds.

I shouldn’t care about that, but this confession is real. I’ve been more concerned about my looks than my health and I’m still struggling with that now. I know I need to change the way I eat now – not to be thin but to promote an environment where cancer cannot thrive and return. Things like starving myself and eating beets for 3 days straight might help me lose weight but they won’t help me live longer.

I have to completely change my mindset about what food means to me. For me, this is life or death. This is no longer a choice or something I can wait around and take care of when that big trip is just 6 weeks away. I have to do it now and I have to do it forever. That sounds scary and hard, but so did chemotherapy and I did that. So did radiation and I’m doing that. I thank God neither one of them were forever, and what I know is that I never want to do them again.

So I’ll change my mind about food, health, exercise, stress. Because I can. Because I’m still here. But I’m not going to act like it won’t be hard. So I’ve confessed it now. Keep me honest.

 

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #5

I don’t know if I’m alone in this or not, but it’s not really nice. So I’m just going to go ahead and say it, I’ve always thought my daughter had a sort of annoying personality. She’s really excitable and over the top about everything. She has to be the center of attention. Loud. Goofy. Unfocused. And I’m not going to lie – I can get easily annoyed with that personality. And rightfully so, if she was 25, 30, 35. But she’s 10! What was wrong with me? The truth is, I think it was more about me.

5. I’m projecting my own insecurities onto my daughter.

I’ve been using this adult gauge to judge and measure my daughter. She’s SUPPOSED to be all those things – loud, easily excited, goofy. It may not even really be her personality. Some of it may just be attributed to BEING A KID! She’s still searching for who she is and what she will be like. Of course she is. So am I! But I’ve been acting like she should have already arrived. How unfair. And it took me 10 years and cancer to realize it.

I now recognize that I actually get uncomfortable sometimes thinking about how she appears to others. Does she seem well parented, well disciplined, smart, polite, dressed well, clean? That’s all about me. I’m really thinking about what others think about me as a person and a parent, not her as a child.

I think about what she wears and how it looks – not if she’s comfortable and how it makes her feel about herself.

I worry about if other kids like her or not or if she’s difficult to be friends with. And some of that could be valid, but it’s still not about how she feels. It’s about how I feel cause she’s never once come home saying she doesn’t have any friends and nobody likes her.

My daughter is not insecure and somehow hasn’t been programmed to even care that much about what people think about her, which is a gift. So why am I practically teaching her to burden herself with these thoughts and concerns?

Today as I watched her on the volleyball court, I saw an excited, sort of uncoordinated, overly dramatic, loud 10 year old flailing around the court. For the first time, I didn’t wish she’d act differently. For the first time, when she looked back at me, instead of giving her the look to settle down and chill out, I smiled at her and encouraged her excitement.

Despite me, my daughter wants to enjoy her childhood, which she deserves. She wants to not be perfect and worried about how people perceive her. She wants to be loud and snort occasionally. I’m not sure when I stopped celebrating who she was as an individual or enjoying her childhood with her, but I’m happy to say I started again today.

Confessions of a Single Mom with Cancer Entry #2

Growing up, I was a nerd. That’s not my confession cause a lot of people already know that about me 🙂 But I really loved school. I don’t remember a lot about homework. I definitely don’t remember my mom doing homework with me every night. Frankly, I don’t even think we had homework until the 4th grade, which is totally different now. Our kids start getting homework in pre-school! Maybe it’s the way we believe we’re going to keep up in this constantly changing, information overloaded world, but it’s overwhelming for my kids and for me.

Because of that, homework and school for that matter are just another item on my checklist. The truth is, I’ve made it just one more thing they have to do too. I haven’t made it about learning or their education. My 4th grader can’t rattle off the last 5 books she read. The one science project we’ve done started with a Google search of ‘science fair project in 24 hours’. I am definitely not getting an ‘A’ in this category!

This is another really important thing that because I’m a super busy, single mom I’ve let be ‘ok’, but I’ve realized – it’s not ok. So here’s number 2:

2. I haven’t made learning an integral part of my kids’ childhood.

~School is not their job. I confess, I’ve called it that more than once. The problem here is that they don’t have a choice. They have to go to school and get served what they’re being taught. Also, if they don’t like school, what am I teaching them about the future of their lives? Work in a child’s mind is not, by its very nature, something that sounds like fun. School is not their job because they’re not little adults. They shouldn’t have it on their ‘to do list’. School is for them. It’s not the place that takes care of them so I can go to work. It’s a place that should excite them and open their minds. I’m not saying that kids are going to love school. I know for a lot of kids it feels like a chore some years, but I should help them understand the value of it.

~I have a lot of evening events for work. I thought it was ok for my kids to do their homework with the babysitter, but when I sat down recently with my 4th grader, I realized I was missing opportunities to show her things that make math cool, fun and easier to understand. Plus its valuable together time for us. (More on time coming soon!) Our nights are short but homework is not just something to check off the list each night. It’s a time for me to show them the value of school through what they’re being taught. It’s a time for me to better understand where they need help and where they’re excelling. It’s a time for me to praise them. It’s a time for me to teach them a few things too.

~Learning doesn’t just happen at school. It should be a part of our regular lives. But I like my weekends. I like to relax on the weekends because I’m tired from the week. I like to hang out with our friends cause that makes me happy. But I should take my kids to places they can naturally learn. I’m blessed to live in a city with great museums, botanical gardens, and history. I rarely take them to those places cause it gets in the way of the things I like to do. Maybe that’s a little harsh on myself, but maybe I also should be looking for a compromise. Maybe we should dedicate our summer adventures to things like that. I believe these experiences are important because I think the natural learning environment is often where kids really find the things they’re interested in and it sparks their desire to learn more and begins that thirst for knowledge. That should excite me.

This all sounds hard, like a lot of work. But I’m facing these confessions, realizations because I feel like I have another chance to do things right. I also have an obligation because things could have gone very differently. My prognosis could be worse. Would I have felt like I had done my best? I don’t know. But now I know I want to try harder to be the best mom I can be. I’m accepting the examination of myself as a gift and I’m giving that gift to my kids.

So, I’m looking forward to a fun, educational, healthy summer with my kids. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

Force a Moment!

I had some moments with my girls today. Rare moments cause they were in the late afternoon, early evening, which is a time I don’t typically get to share with them. But I worked from home today, so I had some flexibility to pick them up earlier than usual. Our babysitter’s birthday is this week, so we decided to bake cupcakes for her. I can’t remember the last time all three of us were in the kitchen taking turns with the blender. It was nice. Little to no fighting, homework got done and mom even made a home cooked meal for once! I think we all felt more relaxed at the end of night.

It made me start thinking about people who work for me. Things seem to be so busy at work, that I barely have time to spend with people on my team. If we aren’t talking about a specific project, it’s a quick hello, how are you and that’s about it for the day. Yesterday, I finally got to spend some time with one of my direct reports because she kindly offered to take me to get my car that was in the shop.

Frankly, I think she realized this was her chance to get a moment with me. My undivided attention, for once.

We talked about things that had probably been brewing for weeks and connected on things that reminded us that we actually like working with each other. And we shared a moment, where we laughed, hard and realized we’re both just people, both moms trying to do our very best.

I think you have to force a moment sometimes. Not the actual moment. But I think you need to create the environment to let moments happen. The truth is, they don’t take much, maybe just us slowing down a bit.

So, think about someone you’ve been trying to connect with or have felt disconnected from. It may be a co-worker, your kids, a friend, your mom. I don’t know but I know that I’m not the only busy one and I’m not the only feeling like some days I’m missing out on the moments. Just slow down long enough in the presence of that person to create a space where connecting is easy. Trust me. That moment will be worth whatever else you think you’re missing.

Now, that’s how single mom’s lean in!

Dog Days

About a month ago, I did something completely unplanned and monumental. We got a dog. I wasn’t even thinking about taking this leap for another couple years. But there was a lot going on and I was feeling sentimental, so I did it. Spur of the moment! I mean we left home for groceries and came home with a puppy!

And I’m not going to lie, I’ve had moments when I’ve already said aloud to myself, “What were you thinking?” And the truth is, I wasn’t! But I realized today that in the greater scheme of things, this was a great decision.

Why having a dog helps an already busy mom who’s trying to lean in?
1. Helps teach your children responsibility
2. Gives your children a greater sense of family
3. Gets you and your family outside
4. Gets you home
5. Keeps you occupied
6. Gives you a companion
7. Shows your children unconditional love
8. Brings great joy
9. Teaches your children compassion
10. Reminds you that material things aren’t so important

And that’s just the top ten.

All this came to me as the girls, Sophie the dog, and I were sitting outside having an impromptu picnic on a blanket. We were out there cause the dog was getting restless inside, so we took her on a mini walk in the front yard. She found some shade under a tree and laid down. Next thing I know, I’m getting the blanket, Sydney’s making sandwiches, Jordan’s grabbing the dog’s bowls and we’re having one of the best moments of an already nice, long weekend.

Getting Sophie without any real thought was a little crazy, and she is a lot of work. But sometimes, we have to let go of all of our logical reasons to do or not do something. In the end, I believe we’d all be surprised by how much we get out of those ‘unplanned’ decisions.

Now, that’s how single mom’s lean in!