I came downstairs in my “new” 1930s old home to discover water on the kitchen floor. I immediately blamed the golden retriever, who thankfully has a forgiving heart, before realizing the water was coming from my newly installed ceiling fan. Although my optimistic friend suggested I could shower while making an omelet and my daughter reminded me how blessed we are to have running water, (especially after her stint teaching in an African village), it was impossible for me not to internally “freak out.”
I know, and have experienced, that trickles can lead to waterfalls, electrical outages and having the ceiling cave in on us at any moment. Yes, I know the feeling all too well. It’s the same one that tugs at me, every day that ends in “Y”, as a breast cancer survivor with three daughters.
Not a Trickle of Risk
As a parent, it is your natural instinct to want to protect your children. How do you defend your children against a silent enemy that attacked you when you least expected it? I was a non-smoking, athletic mom who had never taken an illegal substance and was the proverbial “good girl” her entire life. OK, I did (and do) like a glass (or two) of red wine and the occasional margarita, but that was my only vice. There were no risk factors—not even a trickle—before the ceiling came down around me with cancer.
I wish I could say that the feeling of helplessness fades but it doesn’t. I continually remind myself of the advancements in the medical world that I hope and pray will lead to a cure. For now, all my children have to defend themselves against cancer are genetic tests and scans.
When I was diagnosed at 42, having them go through the fear of taking measures against my disease seemed so far off in the distance. I was told that my oldest would need to have a breast MRI at age 28. Her birthday this past year was celebrated as I silently cringed at the reality of what she would soon be facing. I have always wanted to leave my children rainbows, sunshine and memory-making moments. How could this be part of my legacy? I want to scream at cancer and tell it that it’s OK to pick on me but leave my beautiful, young, caring woman alone.
Guilt with a Capital G
Cancer comes with a lot of guilt. It was incredibly difficult after my surgery to look at my daughters and desperately try to suppress the fear that they may lose part of their beautiful bodies that they were just mentally and physically growing into. We live in such a body-conscious and breast-focused society. I still am clueless on how to protect them and give them strength to battle the fear that comes with my disease. It may not sound rational, but in my mind, I am the one who brought this foe into our warm, loving home. I have always been the “responsible” one and when it comes to my genetics, this is no different. I am the one that turned on the faucet that could lead to a flood of nasty. It’s a daily struggle to stay positive and keeping the faith that your kids will be “negative” in regards to test results.
Stopping the Leakage
I have no idea what the outcome of my current kitchen water issue will be. It could be something minor or I could lose an entire part of my upstairs floor or ceiling. Regardless, I am determined to stop the leakage. I plan to do the same, to the best of my ability, with cancer and its effect on my children. I may not be able to control what flows in our direction but I can control my attitude and how they see me as a parent. I can show them how to cope when life gets tough. I can give them a safe haven to ride out any rough waters where they can freely express their fears and anger. I can remind them that we have a tremendous support system that will help us even if our ceiling comes crashing down.
Oh and if it does, I will remind them to look up. For miraculously, when things tumble down at your feet, you can see the sky a whole lot clearer.
Mary Helen Darah is an award-winning columnist who has appeared in numerous publications in the Toledo area and beyond. Her column, The Mother of Mayhem, publishes on ProMedica HealthConnect each month.