I’ll never forget the moment I heard, “You have cancer.” My only thought was “Oh my God… my sons are two and five. They will never remember me if I die.”
I began filming special moments with the boys, such as reading to them, going to the park… anything so that they would have these moments if I died.
If you’re reading this and your mom has been diagnosed, the first advice I want to give is this: Realize this is not a death sentence. Five years out, I have never felt healthier, happier, or closer to my children, and I hope I can offer some hope to kids out there whose moms have breast cancer. When you first learn that your mom has been diagnosed the first thing you should realize is that it is not a death sentence. It actually was a wake-up call for our family and the best thing to happen to us.
Also know that the process, unfortunately, is going to be difficult – for you, and especially for your mom. I went into treatment resolved not to let the boys see Mommy suffering. I now know that is impossible. I tried to turn my treatment into a “war against cancer.” My two-year-old viewed it as a game. My six-year-old son, well, that is another story.
I could control my feelings but couldn’t control my sons. I ruminated constantly on how to take the fear away from them that Mommy “wasn’t going to leave them.” Some say war is a psychological game. The pain of knowing my sons were hurting inside was the worst pain of all. How was I going to win this war?
Time heals all wounds. Looking back, I realize only time can give them the reassurance that everything is going to be ok. I was so scared they were going to see me weak and dying, but the enemy (cancer) wasn’t going to win.
It’s so important to talk about your feelings. If you are worried about cancer winning and leaving you without your mom (completely understandable, and it is OK to have these thoughts), reach out to the hospital where she is undergoing treatment. There are many psychologists that can answer your questions and help you cope.
As a teenager, let your mom know you are aware of her suffering, and that you UNDERSTAND. Throughout the process, I wondered, “Do you let your kids see you losing your hair? Do you hide it… live in wigs? Do you show them the tubes? Do you let them see you after surgery?” I was very public with them. I regret it now. I almost destroyed my oldest son. Instead of trying to “fix” them, focus on your life, school, and after-school activities so they have the peace of mind that you are ok. Your happiness is the best medicine for them.
I made really bad choices as a mom. Hindsight, I learned that turning treatment into a battle was really a selfish act on my part. The boys didn’t need to know everything. If there is any message I want to get across to the teenagers who are reading this, it is to go about business as usual, show your Mom love, tell her you love her, and do one small act of kindness for her daily. I thought many times, “If I’m strong, they will be fine.” WRONG. Cancer isn’t a game of cowboys and Indians. It is OK for your mom to have her bad days. THAT MEANS THE TREATMENT IS WORKING.
Five years out, we all left the battlefield with scars. That being said, regardless of age, you can end up being your parent’s biggest inspiration. My most moving experience in my life to date came at the pinnacle of our war. And it came from the most wounded soldier in the group, my son, John. We were at our beach house. It was beyond hot when we arrived. I accidentally came out of the bathroom without anything on my head. John immediately saw me. I ran back in the bathroom to grab a scarf. Then I heard words that have changed me FOREVER and left cancer retreating the battlefield once and for all. My son’s young voice came bolting through the closed bathroom door. “Mommy, it’s really hot. I know the wigs and scarves make it worse. You don’t need to put it on. To me, you will always be beautiful.”
My heart healed at that moment, and the anger left my body. The “ why me” was no longer. I fell to the cold tile and cried for the first time with relief and joy. The outpour left me exhausted and able to sleep calmly for the first time since diagnosis. My son, the war hero, ended my emotional “war with cancer” with the simplest words of “to me, you will always be beautiful.” He was 6.5 years old. You too can be that war hero to your Mom during her battle.
The Education of DeeDee Ricks available on iTunes . All sales benefit charity.
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