I posted this list on my personal Facebook page on September 13th the I shared it on Sophie’s page as well. It was another night when I could not sleep and I had an idea to write out 10 things that I thought would be invaluable to brand new cancer parents. That list soon turned into 15, then 20, and finally I settled on 22. I honestly could keep going with more now that we’re even further on our journey and maybe I will write a Part 2 soon… we’ll see.
But I wanted to reshare my list here on the blog. Obviously this list has several things specific to a cancer fighting family but, I think anyone that has a chronically ill child could find something here that speaks to them. I didn’t title it ‘Advice for a caregiver or cancer dad’ because I can only honestly speak from the heart of a cancer mom. While I’m sure my husband and family members agree with this list, they probably could also add things from their unique perspectives. So, I didn’t mean to purposely leave anyone out-it’s just written from my perspective as a married, mom of one. I know a single mom or mom with multiple children would have their own things to add to this list. My hope is that it will be shared with someone new to this life and that it will bring comfort and maybe even take a little stress off of some shoulders.
Advice for a Cancer Mom
By: Shelby Skiles 9-13-17
1. Give yourself permission to rest. I tried the whole not eating or sleeping for 48 hours thing and it really wasn’t productive. You can’t do all of this alone. You get to go take a bath, get a massage, take a nap in a dark room with the door locked and your phone on do not disturb. You also don’t have to justify it to anyone. ‘I just need an hour’-No you don’t-you need a week but you can’t take a week off so take a whole afternoon and go walk around Target and cry into a latte (*cough* bottle of wine), buy some new yoga pants because that’s all you wear now, get food from somewhere you love with all the calories, then take a hot shower, pray it out and go back to your baby.
2. You don’t have to fake it til’ you make it. Your kid has cancer-you don’t have to smile or talk or really do anything other than stare at a wall if you don’t want to. You don’t have to be the beacon on positivity if you don’t feel like it. Don’t be fake-be whatever you feel. And that may change 14 times an hour but, guess what, you’re kid still has cancer and you’re still the only one who knows what it feels like for you-so do what you have to. Stare at that wall.
3. Don’t feel guilty about literally anything-within reason. I mean you don’t get a free pass to be horrible to everyone you meet but you do get a whole lot of grace in other areas. Not texting back, losing your temper, eating all the cookies, having 6 cups of Spark or coffee if you’re gross and like that 🙂 and not wearing makeup for a month straight…all guilt free. I eat sushi at least twice a week. Free pass.
4. If you’re not nice to anyone else, be nice to the nurses. They have the power to let you sleep or be real loud at night. Sucking up with snack baskets is always accepted. And ask them the questions- chances are they’ve been doing this longer than the PA or resident that comes in once a day. And if they don’t know- they know who to ask so- nurses- keep them happy. Nurses ain’t happy, no one is happy. Plus they do the gross stuff when you just can’t clean up puke for the fourth time in one night.
5. Don’t feel bad about how you discipline or don’t discipline your child during this. They-have-cancer. Obviously, you’re the mom so use your own discretion and judgement but, don’t feel like you have to justify their behavior or yours to anyone.
6. Take notes about everything. Use a notebook and a blank calendar. You won’t remember what happened yesterday, let alone when the last spinal tap, blood transfusion, or IV chemo was. Keep up with it however works for you but, keep up with it.
7. Share the journey. A Facebook page, CaringBridge site, CarePages, GoFundMe, etc. Don’t think ‘Oh there’s so many sick kid pages’-yep, there sure are- and your kid is now one of them. Kids get sick too, and it’s good to have the support. Also, for me, writing it out helps.
8. Find a crying corner. You can hold it together in front of your child because usually, you cry, they cry. So, find a spot, don’t tell anyone where it is and go cry it out. It’s the only spot where you get to totally feel what you’re feeling with no witnesses. Cry, yell, pray, yell at God, laugh like a crazy person… whatever gets you through the day girl.
9. Don’t Google anything. Just don’t do it.
10. Ask for help. It’s uncomfortable, but people don’t offer to help if they don’t want to actually help. So, make a list of practical ways people can help- then share it. Grocery shopping, house cleaning, pet sitting, gas money, food gift cards, hotel stays, all good examples of stuff you just don’t have time to worry about. Let your people help you.
11. Don’t try to plan anything ahead. People say ‘take it one day at a time’ and I rolled my eyes at that at first but, it’s true. Literally no two weeks have been the same or gone totally according to plan for us. If you’re Type A- like me- just give it up sister. Our kind don’t do this well.
12. Ask questions. If someone says something you weren’t aware of, ask. If you don’t understand, ask for the normal people translation. Get medication print outs, ask for prints of blood work numbers so you know what’s going on. You won’t like all the answers but ask every question. And write them down!
13. Trust your mama heart. If something seems off- speak up. If you suspect something is wrong- request tests, scans, medications, etc. You’re the mom- you know them better than any doctor or nurse ever will. If you have to say -you aren’t touching them until you call our specific oncologist-do it. If you have to stand in the door and say I’m sorry you’re not coming in here without gloves, a mask, a gown, and a thermometer across your forehead-do it. If you have to stand over them to ensure they scrub that line cap for 30 seconds-do it! And 9.5 times out of 10-they listen to you because they know you’re the MOM. They also know you’re exhausted and likely running on caffeine and dry shampoo fumes so they probably won’t argue with you.
14. It’s ok to mourn your old life. From the second you hear the word cancer-it’s over. Your old life and the dreams and plans you had are now completely different. It sucks. You’ll grow apart from friends you thought were close-they don’t get it-it’s ok, you’ll miss a lot of family functions, you’ll feel alone a lot, your marriage will change, your priorities are now totally different, your plans for future kids may change, and it’s ok to be really sad about that.
15. Help others when you can. Get snacks for nurses, ask if there’s another family on the floor that needs anything and make a care package, reach out to new families once you’ve been doing this awhile, advocate for bone marrow and blood drives, get toys for child life, or just be open to talking with other parents. Sharing your story helps them and you feel less alone.
16. Find an outlet. Writing, coloring, Netflix, a reading list, Bible study, podcasts, painting, knitting, whatever it is…. do it. The days are long and your kid sleeps-a lot. And sadly the old ‘nap when the baby naps’ just doesn’t work in the hospital or when you’re scared to fall asleep because they might puke or stop breathing or wake up scared and need you. (See number 3: six cups of coffee=free pass)
17. Make peace with the gross stuff. Puke; snot, diarrhea, blood, pee, spit, sores, pus… all really gross… all stuff you will have to clean up. Put on some gloves and suck it up.
18. Talk about it as much or as little as you want to. Some people feel better talking it out-some don’t. There’s no right way to do it.
19. Help out. The days are long and you feel useless, especially at the hospital. So, do chores like you would at home. I like to take over changing the sheets, doing laundry, wiping down furniture with alcohol wipes, organizing supplies, etc. it helps you feel more ‘normal’.
20. Lean on your spouse or whoever you have to support you. I’m blessed with a selfless man that has always put me first and now is no different. You have to have a partner in this, not a punching bag. Go on dates- make each other a priority when you can and talk about real stuff.
21. Try to accept that you can’t fix it. You can advocate for them, cuddle them, encourage them, change diapers, clean puke, and wipe blood but, you.can’t.fix.it. Lean on the Lord’s grace-beg for supernatural peace and grace to overcome it and adopt the only mentality that will keep you sane-it is what it is. You can’t change it, so make the best of it when you can and cry when you can’t.
22. Pray over that baby of yours every single day. Lay your hands on what came from your body (or your heart if they’re adopted) and you pray. Pray for healing and strength in Jesus’ name. Pray for specific symptoms, side effects, tests, and medications happening that day. You storm the gates of heaven every single day for your child because they are yours-given to you by the One who knew them before you did. He knew them before He formed them. It is your right and privilege as their mother to pray the kind of prayer over them that no one else can. So do it. Do it everyday and watch what the Lord does. Don’t pray so the Lord will act- that’s not how it works. Pray BECAUSE He will act.
One of my favorite passages from Romans: 8:26-28
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
I’m sure there’s more and I can only speak as a mother of one but, no one fights alone.
Feel free to share for any other moms out there that might need some real life truth.
3 thoughts on “Advice for a cancer mom ”
I just discovered your website through a shared post on Facebook about nurses, which I loved. I love this post too, actually all your post I have read through tear filled eyes are great. As a cancer mom myself this post spoke straight to my heart. We just finished 2 1/2 years of cancer treatment with our 5 year old daughter who had Leukemia.Your advice is just a true for the end (which I believe it never really ends, even when the chemo does) as it is in the beginning. Thank you for taking the time to write your experiences and feelings with cancer, it really does help those of us going through similar situations. I know your situation is not quite as textbook as our was but I know the Lord has a plan for you all as he does for all of us,I will definitely pray for your sweet Sophie and your family as well.
What a heartfelt post. My heart breaks for you, but, at the same time it overflows with the love you give to Sophie, your loved ones, and especially God. You were right to include parents of other illnesses, even though cancer is your focus. One of my grandchildren has Lupus. Another has RA and a serious mental health issue. I can so relate to many of the issues you describe. My grands are now in their 20’s, still have their health issues and I have had to learn to cope. At times it was screaming and crying into my pillow. Now I try to help in some small way, Childhood Cancer families. I am thankful for the list of items that you need. I intend to help you out. The first post I read of yours was when Sophie first lost her hair. What a battle she has fought! As Paige Gumm, the mother of Brock, says, “where there is life, there is hope!” We will continue to pray for Sophie and her ability to receive her transplant. Sending love to your brave baby and her parents. Thank you for speaking to others who are just beginning this journey. God is using you.