I Am a Mother. I Am a Survivor. {Childhood Cancer Awareness}


September is a rather significant month for me. I turned 32 this month. I celebrated nine years of marriage this month. And I delighted in more than 21 years of being cancer free.

Did you know that an estimated 15,780 kids will be diagnosed with some form of cancer — before their 20th birthday — in the United States this year (American Childhood Cancer Organization)? Such a heartbreaking number.

No parent wants to hear — or even think about — the phrase “your child has cancer.” Yet, so many families around the world are living in that reality at this very moment. It is a reality that my family faced more than years ago.

photo-1453847668862-487637052f8aMy Cancer Story

I was 11 years old when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor was the size of a golf ball in my left frontal lobe. It took several MRIs, four surgeries, and 10 years to finally be able to say I was clear of cancer.

Sometimes, it seems like an eternity has passed since that time in my life; yet, I can recount vivid memories of countless brain scans, blood draws, and doctor appointments. The pain and worry, the silly moments with my family making the best of a heartbreaking situation, and the quiet moments of reflection in a hospital bed after everyone went home. I remember it all.

I remember the moment my parents sat with me on their bed. My mom’s eyes were red from crying, but she had a smile on her face. My dad was the strong and steady type (still is), not the type to sugar coat. So they explained to me that I had a brain tumor, in the best way they knew how. Our next steps: brain scans and tests, surgery, and recovery. I said “okay.” I may have cried; that part I don’t quite recall for some reason. We hugged, and that was it. We would figure it out.

Interestingly enough, I have mostly fond memories of the moments that followed that conversation. For obvious reasons, it wasn’t a bed of roses. But the fond memories far outweigh the bad. My parents made the best of what we were dealt at the time. In fact, they made it fun. I know that last sentence sounds absolutely absurd, but it’s the truth. We told jokes, played games, and between surgeries and tests, we walked the halls to visit with nurses and friends.

When you are faced with something as serious and devastating as cancer, the doom and gloom of it all can be overwhelming. Being a kid isn’t easy. Being a kid with cancer just plain sucks, for lack of better words. So, sometimes, you’ve just got to laugh and focus on the happy moments. And that’s what we did.

12654408_10102000922681998_6808136617327206290_n (2)kjhkThe Gift of Innocence

I remember seeing so many smiling faces on the pediatric brain tumor ward. This one boy, Jonathan, stayed down the hall from me. He was about my age and battling something far worse than I was at the time. Yet, he just had this joie de vivre that not even the cheeriest person in the world could parallel. Many years later, I learned he had succumbed to his illness. But there’s just something about his smile that I can never forget.

Children see the world through different eyes. What we adults find terrifying and ominous — in the midst of all our stressful adult responsibilities and real-life worries — is just a blip on the radar for kids.

Innocence, maybe? I see that same innocence in my daughter’s eyes when she’s dancing and twirling in the living room. I hear it in her giggles when she finds something absolutely hilarious. And that’s what I hold onto when I am frustrated and tired after a long day of momming a three-year-old (and we all know that a day of momming is never truly done).

The Fear of the Unknown

As a mother, I worry. We all worry. We’re moms; that’s what we do. But sometimes I worry that I will be faced with the same harrowing news my parents once received. I can already feel the lump forming in my throat and tears welling. (Okay. I am quietly sobbing, mascara running steadily down my face.) It’s a fear in the back of my mind, although I try not to allow it much authority. But it still remains, because there’s no way of knowing what this life has in store for us, and scientists don’t quite know whether certain types of cancer are hereditary. It’s the fear of the unknown that pulls at me sometimes.

Traci Clarke Family (28 of 39)-ZF-2495-73103-1-001-030But because this life is such a mystery I find myself building castles in the air, as often as possible. I imagine my daughter’s beautiful future. I see her high school graduation, her wedding day, and even her giving life to a sweet little creature of her own. I hope and pray over my daughter everyday, and I delight in the thought of watching her grow into an amazing human being. We all have those hopes and dreams for our children. We’re moms; that’s what we do.

I have this amazing little girl and a husband who loves and supports me to no end. I am one of approximately 270,000 young adults in the United States (American Childhood Cancer Organization) who can say I fought pediatric cancer and won. It’s part of who I am. I am a mother. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. I am a survivor. 


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