Yes, there is an official day to celebrate mothers, but we really celebrate mothers every day. We have mothers, we know mothers, we are mothers. (Well, sort of. I am no one’s biological mother, but I am mom to my two mini schnauzers!)
But how does mothering change when dealing with breast cancer? Some women are already mothers, whose relationships with their children will have its ups and downs as they navigate the cancer journey together. Stephanie Bernstein Wagner, along with a group of other women, developed a fantastic website, BreastCancerMoms, that is information central for parenting with breast cancer.
Some women are diagnosed before they have the chance to be moms and may worry about what the future holds. One of those young mothers is Courtney Bugler, Associate Director of Development at Young Survival Coalition, and she was kind to share her story with us:
Life, In the Shadow of the Pink Ribbon
2006 was supposed to be the best year of my life. I was 28 years old, I had a great job, my husband had just accepted a job offer in Atlanta and we had just bought our first house. We were trying very hard to have a baby… very hard. Alan kissed me that New Year’s Eve and we toasted to our good fortune and the year to come. I had no idea that lump I’d found a month earlier was breast cancer. I was diagnosed in February and 2006 turned out nothing like we had planned.
That big new house we bought? The rooms sat empty. The room I had planned to use as a nursery held empty boxes. Moving boxes, shipping boxes, boxes that held housewarming gifts – all empty. It hurt to even walk past that room. It didn’t matter that Alan and I had frozen embryos to preserve our dream. I felt like I would never have that family we had planned. I wondered if I could ever fill that room. As if breast cancer hadn’t taken enough.
People sometimes refer to their cancer experience as a gift. Not me. At least not then. That big pink ribbon wrapped package was not for me. I clearly hadn’t registered for it. And I definitely couldn’t exchange it for better hair, the size 6 body I used to have, and the baby I wanted. And I certainly wouldn’t re-gift it, either. But maybe, just maybe – like the hideous bowl someone cared to give me for my wedding, the one I definitely did NOT ask for, my breast cancer experience is a part of me. And like that bowl, breast cancer sits on the shelf of my life, next to all the pretty crystal and china. It sticks out. And it’s ugly. But I reach for it a whole lot more than I thought I would. It’s a part of the collection now and I can’t give it back.
Somewhere in the middle of my ugly serving bowl of breast cancer, something in me switched. It was two years after my treatment that I realized I still could have that life that I had planned for. That maybe breast cancer didn’t have to keep me from the life I had dreamed of that New Year’s Eve. After careful consideration, discussion with my doctors and some help of modern medicine, I got pregnant. This was no small feat, considering I had ER-positive breast cancer and I had recently removed my ovaries. Yes, you read that right. At thirty-one years old, I was a POST menopausal woman who used her frozen embryos to get pregnant. I was always good at science fairs.
I conceived my son in the shadow of my breast cancer experience. He is a baby that was created before my treatment. A child that I waited 3 years to carry. Aidan is the happy ending that some days I thought would never come. He is the time I can point to my body and say, “This time you didn’t fail me. This time you got it right.” And when I walk past that room, instead of empty boxes, I see Goodnight Moon. Instead of discarded cardboard, I see the greatest gift of all, my son Aidan sleeping with his blankie.
Who knows what the future holds for me, or for the thousands of young survivors around the world? Having breast cancer was a defining moment in my life. It’s the line that separates me. Before Cancer and After. My son will never know mommy before breast cancer. What he will know, however, are the women who already love him like family. The women in the pink boas who swarmed him when he came with me to last year’s Conference for Young Women. The ones who are watching him grow up on Facebook. Watching these women with my child, knowing I spend my time protecting and working for them both; seeing their hope reflected in his smile… Maybe that’s the gift.
It is my hope that my baby will grow up never having to learn the lessons I did. Except for this: Other people need you. Help them where you can. Try to make them laugh. And it’s okay not to love pink. But you’d better get used to it.