Update 10/7/15: Terri da Silva passed away in December 2014. Below is her insightful contribution to our blog carnival, Hear My Voice.
Young mothers living with metastatic breast cancer face unique hurdles and uncertainty. Terri da Silva provides insight on these issues and shares resources and tips for supporting your family while living with this diagnosis.
Living with breast cancer is tough. It’s especially difficult when you’re a young woman trying to navigate your way through adulthood, building a career, starting a family, and then you find out you have metastatic breast cancer. The kind that rarely goes away. The kind that requires lifelong treatment. The kind that is terminal.
I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 37 when my daughter was only 2 years old. I had no previous breast cancer scares. No family history. I was otherwise healthy. Suddenly my life was flipped upside down.
Young moms with metastatic breast cancer face a unique set of hurdles. Unlike most breast cancer patients whose treatment has a prescribed end date, those of us with stage IV metastatic disease live our lives going from one treatment to the next. Praying the treatments will slow down or stop the progression of our disease long enough so we can see our kids learn how to ride a bike, go on their first date, graduate from school. Praying the side effects from our treatment won’t cause us to miss soccer games and parent-teacher nights. Praying our loved ones won’t tire of supporting us year after year after year. Praying for the strength to make the most of each day we are still here.
They say it takes a village to raise a child and that is even truer when you’re raising a child while fighting breast cancer. This is a fight you cannot get through alone. Here are some ways to get the support you need…
ASK FOR HELP
Asking for help is essential. Fortunately, most people want to help and are relieved when you can give them concrete ways to support you. Make a list of what you need (meals, a ride to treatment, child care) and the next time someone asks what they can do to help, show them the list and tell them to choose something.
REACH OUT TO THE COMMUNITY
Get to know the people in your neighborhood. Since being diagnosed, my family has lived in two different states miles away from family. Without family support I turned to my neighbors, my child’s daycare and school, and fellow parents for help. In Ohio, the parents at my daughter’s preschool banded together to pay her tuition for a full semester. In Connecticut, my neighbors get her off the school bus and watch her when I have medical appointments. Again, people are happy to help. All you have to do is ask.
TAP INTO LOCAL RESOURCES
Cancer and community organizations are aplenty. There are nonprofits like Meals on Wheels to deliver food if you are homebound, the American Cancer Society who will arrange rides to get you to and from medical appointments, Cleaning For A Reason will clean your house free of charge if you are in active treatment, and Camp Kesem offers free weeklong summer camps for children whose parents have or had cancer. Call your local United Way or talk to the social worker and nurses at your treatment center to find out what resources are available in your area.
Another great resource is your spiritual community. Members of your local church, temple, or synagogue are known to rally around those in need; delivering meals, entertaining children, and offering a shoulder to cry on.
For help from those who truly understand what you’re going through go online to Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Young Survival Coalition and the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network. Here you will find an amazing network of information and support through online forums, chat groups, links to resources, and conferences that inspire and educate.
BE EASY ON YOURSELF
Finally, it’s important to cut yourself some slack. In the big scheme of things it won’t matter if your house is a mess or your kid goes a few days without brushing her teeth. And remember you can still be a terrific parent through the ups and downs of metastatic breast cancer. On the difficult days, I find quiet activities to do with my daughter. We watch a movie, color a picture, read a book, or cuddle together on the sofa and play an old-fashioned game of I spy. She’s now a confident, loving, and secure 5-year-old, despite the drama and unknowns of having a parent with metastatic disease.
Remember, you don’t have to walk this road alone. Reach out. Connect with others. Take time to focus on what’s truly important and let go of the things that no longer serve you. Love yourself and make your needs a priority. When we come together, anything is possible.
Watch Terri talk about her experience living with metastatic breast cancer in our Let’s Talk About It Video Series.
Terri Luanna da Silva is a former New Yorker, world traveler and social worker, navigating the everyday ups and downs of marriage, parenting and a diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer. She writes on her blog, Graceful Woman Warrior.