I couldn’t wait to become a mom. I started my family at a pretty young age, and as I loved my little wee ones, I was so excited to become “that mom.” You know. The soccer mom. The PTA mom. The carpool mom. The best chocolate chip cookie-making mom. The super mom.
Never did I think about being the cancer mom.
I have five beautiful children, ranging in age from 9 to 17, three girls, two boys. Four of them I gave birth to, and one I gained when I married her daddy.
Becoming a stepmom was never on my radar either, but I took that position on with great anticipation and excitement. The first few years were easy, and I absolutely loved being this little girl’s mama, but the dynamics between us changed and some days became much more rough than others.
I didn’t want to be her stepmom. I wanted to be her mom.
Her dad and I had sole custody of her, and she had lived with me longer than she had lived with her biological mother. Yet, with each passing day the term “stepmom” felt more like “not my mom.” I began doubting myself and letting my insecurities get the best of me. I pushed away. She pushed away. But from the outside we really looked like the perfect blended family. Most people didn’t even realize that she wasn’t my biological daughter, especially because she looks so much like me. I’ve always tried to refer to her only as my daughter, even when I have felt completely disconnected from her. But inside, I felt like I’d lost any chance to truly be the mama I knew she needed me to be.
Then she got sick.
On July 7th, we went to the doctor with what we thought was constipation. Her belly was swollen and hard. A few tests showed that it was so much more than a bellyache. Surgery revealed that she was experiencing an aggressive form of Stage 3-4 Ovarian Cancer that would not respond to chemo. They had to remove every piece of cancer … and anything that it had grown into.
The results shook us to our core. We sat in the waiting room agonizing over what this would mean for her future …. yet, thankful that she even had a future. Me. Her dad. And even her biological mom who flew into town for the week of her surgery.
If I may be so vulnerable as to admit one of my biggest character flaws here: During the week of surgery, I sat there next to her biological mom more worried about all the hours I knew I’d be spending cooped up in a hospital room with her than I was worried about my daughter’s cancer or her recovery.
It’s OK, you can judge me. I judge me.
I KNEW my daughter would recover and that with whatever might come next, we’d get through it together, as a family. What I didn’t know was how on earth two moms could coexist is such cramped quarters. One who birthed her; one who raised her.
Fortunately, my tribe knew this about me, and I think they prayed for me as much as they prayed for my daughter. The next four days went by relatively smoothly and we coexisted just fine. I’m sure we both bit our tongues now and then. And we both tried not to contradict each other.
But in the end, we both loved her and just wanted her to heal. When her mom got back on the plane, I felt like we were settling into our new normal and that was when I began to notice things.
I noticed that all week my daughter had been calling me “mommy,” even in front of her other mom. I noticed that she didn’t like it when I left the room. I noticed that when the doctors or nurses did anything that caused her pain or made her nervous, she locked her eyes with mine and we breathed together, pushing through it together. I noticed that I had the ability to drop her pulse rate by 30 beats in less than a minute just by soothing her and reassuring her that I was with her.
I noticed that I was being her mama.
I was always insecure about the fact that I wasn’t there when my daughter was born. I wasn’t there when she came home from the hospital. I didn’t see her first steps. I never changed her diapers. I never fed her baby food. I never dressed her up in cute little baby clothes. For some reason, I felt like less of a mom because of it. Somebody else held those memories of her. Somebody else could connect with my husband and share those precious “firsts,” and it wasn’t me.
But that all changed.
In the week following her surgery, my daughter faced a number of challenges and setbacks, and I got to create some new memories that I will always cherish. I watched her take her first steps (I even recorded them). I took her to the bathroom and wiped her tushie (she’ll be so glad that I shared this tidbit with the world). I changed her clothes. I spooned ice chips into her mouth. I sang to her. I brushed and braided her hair. I rubbed her feet. I gave her that first little bite of my toast. I watched her sleep, thanking God for giving her to me.
We came home from the hospital this week, and while her spunky and often slightly sarcastic personality is back full swing, I know our relationship will never go back to what it was presurgery. Precancer. I’m her mama now. I cared for her in ways only a mama can. I share memories of her healing and recovery with her dad that nobody else shares. These experiences and feelings don’t make me any more of a mom than her biological mom, but my heart is jumping for joy just because I know that I am her mama now. And nothing will ever take that away from either of us.
I would never wish cancer upon my daughter or anyone else, but because of this horrific disease, God gave me my daughter.