To the mom who is about to hear, "It's cancer."

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There is so much I want to tell you. And really, I don’t know exactly where to begin. So, like I’ll encourage you from here on out, I am going to just take the next step.

Things are about to get hard. Real hard. Like can’t breath, might throw-up, haven’t eaten nor slept in a week, hard. It will be a hard that you are absolutely sure will tear your body physically in two, and yet every day you will wake up whole and wonder how it’s possible to do it all again. The kind of hard that makes you cry thinking about the only way out being through.

It will be the hard that you fleetingly imagine when you see other people suffer, but can’t actually picture for yourself. The hard that makes you ache for all the stupid shit you complained about last month. The hard that has everyone offering to help, and no amount of help feel like any help at all. You will be glad someone is picking up the sibling from school, and someone else watching the baby at home, but where you would hope to find gratitude you will just find mucky grief.

When you see a classmate, who comes over to your house with his mom to help out, casually throw on and tie his tennis shoes to leave, you will boil with rage, wondering, “WHY DID MY BABY GET CANCER, WHY NOT HIM!!!!” And while hugging his mom good-bye, you will think to yourself, “Where the heck did that come from… I don’t want him to have cancer…” But as they walk down the driveway you will feel an emptying in your heart space and as you close the front door and lean your back against it, slowly sliding down, crouched on the floor, you will think, “I want to put on my shoes and drive away too.” You will stare at the floor as your other kids carry-on around you and will wonder how things inside of you got so dark, so quickly.

It will be the kind of hard where anger keeps raging in the most unnerving, and equally comforting ways. You will rage at the night nurse who tells you the incessant beeping is fine, they just had the monitor on the wrong setting. And then you will rage at your friend who tells you that you need to eat something. “EAT SOMETHING!” You’ll think, “My kid is dying, and all you care about is me eating something!” And then you will take the smoothie from her hand and as you drink it, realize you haven’t eaten in two full days. You’ll cry, and wonder if this kind of hard will last forever.

This is the hard that makes you cry when a year later you read: “grief and gratitude are often clenched in the same fist.” The kind of hard that has you so mad at everyone that sometimes you wonder if their care for you will run out, before you are whole again.

It will be hard because there will be a crowd of supporters around you and you will feel more alone than you ever have. Because supportive or not, the island of a cancer mom is made for one. Even God will feel distant in this valley. Everyone is still there. It’s just that this is the kind of hard that you won’t be able to feel that. Or really, you will feel it, but you will also be feeling so much else, that you won’t know the difference. Everything will feel heavy. And it will be hard because there will be people everywhere asking how they can help, and even still, you will feel completely alone, sure that you are the only one who can carry the weight.

This is the hard that reveals many things in hindsight, but not very much in the moment. It will be hard in the way that you listen to worship songs and quietly sob, wishing that you didn’t have to be in a place of desperately needing what the lyrics promise. Not “desperately” like your youth group, high on Jesus, teen self used to think of worship, but desperately like the mom who doesn’t know if cancer means life or death. This will be the hard worship you read about in the epistles and admired, but deep down never yearned for. The desperate hard where “praying in groans” suddenly is the only thing in the bible that makes any sense at all.

You will feel like you are trying to stay afloat in the middle of a raging sea, and every moment you gasp a breath, is followed by a crushing wave that takes you under. You will come back up, but you will also swallow a lot of salty water.

So much salty water.

You will cough, choking, sure you are dying, and then you’ll get another breath. And be both thankful and just plain tired, all at once.

It’s going to feel impossible. Hard like you could never have imagined. And perhaps the hardest part will be believing that you will get through it. Or perhaps even harder, will be wanting to.

And really mama. It’s not going to get easier for a long while.

But there will be moments...

There will be sweet moments when you find yourself smiling at a little thing you used to take for granted, like the hug a classmate gives when they see your son for the first time post-diagnosis. Moments when you realize it could have been so much worse. And this hug was one bad scan away from never existing.

Little moments where you wonder if your life before cancer could ever have been as intentional as your life now. And you’ll find yourself sick to death over where you are, and yet, thankful for it and you’ll wonder if the reason you actually feel sick is for being even one, single drop of thankful for this cosmically crappy hand.

“How can I be thankful for this?” you’ll wonder to yourself. Always to yourself because no one around you would understand. Thankful in the way that is almost impossible to put words to. In the way that your heart feels swollen, like it hurts, but it hurts so good.

And you’ll spend a lot of time wondering if the heart swelling is good or bad. And likely you’ll land on: it’s both.

It’s always both. It always has been.

With or without cancer, your kid has always made time do that weird thing where you feel so proud and so sad all at once that you aren’t sure of the origin of your tears. Where you look at your kid and wonder, “Just yesterday you were little, how did we get here?” And that makes any mama’s heart ache.

It’s always been like that, I think cancer just makes you notice it more.

47 comments

  1. Beautiful!! I love your heart (and your writing) , Betsy! So authentic and powerful! We continue to pray here for all of you!

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      1. Wow, thank you for sharing the depth of your feelings. I found myself crying at each example you were describing. I pray that I can become more attentive to people around me as we live our lives in trial or tribulation. You are definitely a gifted writer and a wonderful mother. May you feel Jesus every step of this journey! Continued prayers!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I feel this sooooooo much. On so many levels. We are 2 yr remission yet each day is a new reminder as is each friend we love and lose each day. Painful.. so very painful. Yet so full of life when I sit down. But why them I always ask? I begged so many times for me. Just not fair. And we fight.

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  2. Larabee family, you are often in our thoughts and prayers! Thank you for sharing your really tough, horribly hard journey in such a deeply heartfelt way. We are still out here and lifting each of you up in prayer. Hang in there Beau 🧢

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  3. This resonates so deeply with who I was, who I am and who I will be ,because, it was the hardest loneliest moments of my life, yet , oh Lord thank you for the blessings of healing and answers to my prayers “For tomorrow to be the same as yesterday”, first I woke each day just to be Karson’s Mom, one more day. Stangley I never questioned why us, just a mercy of please heal my baby boy. Truly grateful and thankful for our blessings. #Godstiming #notmyowntoquestion #trulygrateful #stillhealing

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    1. Thank you for reading Carrie, and taking the time to comment. I love to hear how different people process it, and whether they take the “why us” path. Thanks for sharing your experience. God Bless you as Karson continues to heal! xx

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  4. Our daughter Aila finished treatment for ALL a little over two years ago. It feels like yesterday. Your words are amazing. Thank you. ailamuriel.com chronicles our family’s path. Thank you so much. –Victoria Cosgrove, veileen@gmail..com, 650-995-6848

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  5. Wow! Powerful. Thank You for sharing. It helps me begin to know how to pray for my friend. You are in my prayers today too.

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  6. I cried my eyes out. I have a sick child, no not cancer but many other things. He may need a port soon for his IVIG for his auto immune disease. I know he could have so many worse things he’s going deaf . It breaks my heart. But your words showed me to just love on him like I do because things could be so much worse! I will pray for you and your son. Love and prayers. Christina and Ryan

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  7. Incredibly powerful and so well written. God is in the details of our lives but it is sometimes hard to see until He is the only thing getting us through. Thank you for sharing.

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  8. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I am a grandma, watching my beautiful son, go thru this with his precious Gabe, who we lost in June 2019. The night my son called us from the hospital, and said :Cancer” my life changed forever, and it is hard to explain what it is like to go thru that year……standing back and crying silently and watching my family try their best to be strong. Alot of prayer and asking God for so much. Now I have to go back to the happy memories……oh how I miss you Gabriel!!

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    1. Thanks for reading Jean. I know it’s especially hard to be one degree out from a child with cancer, like a grandma, who has so much love and has to stand back and watch. Praying for your heart as you continue to figure out what it means to love Gabe now that he is in heaven, and treasure your memories. Love to you all. Xx

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  9. When I heard, “Your child has cancer” my world instantly changed. From a daily life of play dates, swimming lessons, and family visits to a new normal of Doctor appointments, labs, 24 hour urines, scans and watching my baby boy like a hawk. My husband and I felt like we were alone, even with a large friend base and two large families. Our son was DX’d in 1976 at the age of 6 months. He is now 44 and has been to hell and back too many times to count! He, his dad and I pay it forward by being pediatric cancer advocates, speaking at conferences, fundraising and by listening to other parents that need us.

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  10. My daughter was diagnosed a year ago. Since I do not feel inclined to write about my daughter’s journey, I am so appreciative of people that can put my feelings into words. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am glad you have found words. I have not because I can’t describe pain that is deeper and more confusing than words. Thank you for what you wrote.

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  12. This brought me to tears. My son is 9. We are wrapping up the second round of chemo in the next few weeks. I have witnessed my son turn into a man, yet hold onto his innocence as a child. We are about a year and a half into Rhabdomyosarcoma. He has surprised us all with his humor, and his maturity.
    I deal with it differently than my wife, and I have watched her go through this entire article and more, hating everything looking for something in the cosmos to blame, and crying happy tears appreciating the little things.
    This could not be more accurate and also more incomplete, as a fully accurate essay could never be written. Thank you for this. I believe that when we are done we are going to try to put together a book for cancer parents, “Things Nobody Told Us.”

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  13. You said every emotion that I have felt as a cancer mom myself over the last 4 years but never been able to really put into words! Thank you!

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  14. I am that mom you are speaking to. My girl was diagnosed with ALL a few months ago. We have been in the same hospital rooms, had the same nurse as your picture and play on the same soccer team. Thank you. We are finally feeling a little sunshine this week, but it is hard to appreciate it right now. Thanks for your message. ~hugs~

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      1. Thank you so much. I just realized I reread this again and reposted almost the exact same comment below! I think memory loss is also an effect of all this trauma 🙂 X

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  15. This is so spot on. I lost my son and still cry every day. It’s been ten years. I chock back tears in public because people think I should be over it. No you never get over it.

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    1. I am so sorry for the loss of your son. Absolutely, you never get over it. I hope you find some peace in reading this, knowing you are never alone, and you never have to chock back your tears for us.

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  16. As a fellow cancer mum, I reread this regularly. And it has helped my friends and family understand what’s it like (almost). Thank you. Xxxx

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  17. Every. Single. Word. Of. This. It’s like you looked into my heart and mind and put everything I’ve been thinking but unable to verbalize into words. And in some horrible, yet I suspect completely normal way, I’m so glad to know that although I am on an island, there’s another mom out there on her own island fighting just as hard as me. Thank you for this.

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  18. My son is a couple of weeks into consolidation. Summer of Silence…So strange when I think about it. There is so much noise and so much going on, people calling and texting, sending gifts, too many appointments and ER visits.
    I don’t want to talk to anyone, even the people that are closest to me. You nailed it. It feels like overwhelming silence in the midst of chaos.

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    1. How interesting to think I named the blog years before my son was diagnosed, and yet- you’ve just nailed it. Cancer is the summer of silence. Here with you while you start down the narrow road. Love from ahead of you. Xx

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