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Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Kids Will Never Know the Me I Was "Before"

My kids were 11, 9, and 7 when I first got breast cancer.

Back then, I thought of breast cancer as an "inconvenience."  It did not scare me.  My grandmother survived breast cancer, and was fine.  My mother survived breast cancer, twice, and was fine.  I was young (39) and strong.  I would be fine.

My greatest concern was for my kids.  I did not want them to miss out on anything, while I was busy dealing with cancer.

Friends informed me that cancer would takes over my life for 6 months to a year.  Then, I presumed, I would be done.  In the end, it took a bit more than a year and a half, but by the spring of 2007, I was ready to move on.  My kids were just at the end of their 12th, 10th, and 8th years. 

I was full of energy, glad to get my life back.

I had plans, so many things to do.

God had other plans.

My kids were 13, 11, and 9 in June/July, 2007, when I was diagnosed with mets to my bones, liver and lungs.

Those few "good months," when I thought I was done, were suddenly overshadowed.

I still felt young and strong; determined to keep doing the things I was doing.

I was not that strong.  I could not keep up the pace.

I realized, this is it.  I am never going to be the person I was before. 

That realization was hard enough.  Then I was struck by the even more aweful realization:  This is how my kids will always know me.  They will not remember the me who I was "before." They were too young, when it all began.

My kids will only remember me with cancer.

They will not remember the mother with boundless energy, the activist who brought her three young kids to all the demonstrations, the leader on long hikes and camping trips, the tour guide, the educator, the..... person I used to be.

They will only know me like I am now.... tired, in bed, apologetic.

I know, it is not so black and white.  I do a lot with my kids.  I am not in bed all the time.  But I am not the me that I was "before."

Yes, I am now over 40.  All my friends are slowing down.  But it is not the same. 

My kids were 15, 13, and 11 when I was diagnosed, in June, 2009, with brain mets.  The new diagnosis hasn't changed much about how we live our lives.

My husband and I work hard to keep our kids informed (on their level), so that they won't live in fear. They know we tell them everything, so they do not need to worry or wonder.  There are no secrets. 

I think we have been quite successful in this area.  Our kids are "bored" with cancer. To them, cancer is an inconvenience.  It is frustrating when your mother is tired and not readily available.  But they are not scared. Why should they be?

My kids will never remember me when I was healthy, not even my oldest. That is very sad for me.  But living with cancer is normal for them.  They do not know any other way.

My biggest desire is to live long enough to see them married and, hopefully, to be around at least for their first births, to help them with nursing and be there for those new beginnings, when support is so important.

Sometimes, I look at them, and think "they are so young....."

I pray, a lot. Not so much formal prayer, but just talking to God and making sure He knows how much I want to live.

I can live with cancer.  I just want to be here for my kids.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,


mikimi said...

Be"H you will live many more years (ad meah veesrim shana) and be around for their graduations and weddings and births!
keep looking at your photo albums and what was.
and continue doing all that you do.
you are giving them the legacy of life in all aspects.

Sarah said...

I remember how you were before cancer. You are not so different to me, it's just you, dealing with cancer.
I also wonder if my kids will always know me as tired, in pain, and not feeling strong. But it's just our view of ourselves, because *we* want to be that person we were before.
They don't want us anything more than we are... they just want *us*. They want their mothers, and they want love.

You give them all that, and more. They are OK-- they are great. Just worry about you being OK, that's what they (and all of us!) need.
love you

rickismom said...

I hear you load and clear. AMy husband has undergone major personality changes in the last ten years. My older kids try and tell the younger ones that once upon a time their father was normal, fun, and a disaplinarian. The younger ones look at them with a look of amazemnet,... HUGH?????

But your kids will also see the Mom who was honest with them, who tackled her nisiyon, who went places sometimes even though she was tired, because she loved them....

G6 said...

I have nothing to add, except validation to your feelings.
Your post struck a very poignant chord with me.
I wish you continued strength, improved health and continued positive attitude.

Mindy said...

I've had that same revelation with my kids. My youngest three were 3,9 and 12. The other three were teenagers and have memories of the BC Mommy, for which I am thankful. But, I wonder, if cancer has made me stronger, more sensitive to others and increased my faith in the Lord, shouldn't I be happy about the younger kids only knowing the New Improved Me? Sarah, thank you for your affirmation. It ministered to my heart, as well.

Batya said...

Your children will remember you as strong and honest.

One of my aunts died over forty years ago after an almost ten year battle with cancer. It was first diagnosed when her younger son was an infant. I'm in touch with those two cousins. We were especially close as kids, since my uncle would send them to us when there was nobody to care for them. The younger one sometimes emails around her yartziet:
"My mother died 40 years ago."
"Yes, you had a difficult childhood."
"I don't think of it as difficult; it was the only childhood I knew. It was normal for me."

Just be yourself to your kids, and that's what they'll remember, ad me'ah v'esrim. Refuah Shleimah.

toby said...

First of all, God willing you will live many many more years, ad 120, with your energy fully regained! But I just want you to know that my parents/family also went through changes (not health related, but religious changes) starting when I was in first grade, and I have *lots* of strong, good memories of my childhood, before, during and after. So don't be so sure that your kids won't remember anything from before now! Especially since you guys are so open and talk with them about everything, I'm sure that reinforces their memory even more. Don't despair!

michele said...


Maybe remind you kids about some of the old times -- "do you remember when we formed a human chain around the Old City's wall?" -- in an easy going way, around the Shabbat dinner table, or some other family time. Perhaps link it to some current event in the news. Not to overtly emphasize the "before" mom vs. the "current mom" (you are the same mom!), but by doing, this, you will remind them of the values you've always tried to instill in them. Perhaps you and they can write a letter to the editor or the PM's office. Activism takes many forms and you are still an activist (and a wonderful mom, though I do understand your sense of loss).

Dianne Duffy said...


That's my opinion, too. Your kids will only remember you as "Mom". They only have you, their only Mom. The same mom they've had all their lives, just Mom.

I'm sure they'll have fond memories.

Dianne Duffy

RivkA with a capital A said...

Mikimi -- Amen!

Sarah -- I hope you are right.

Ricki's Mom -- I worry about personality issues. Not only do I get tired easily, but I get aggitated easily as well. I am working so hard on myself to let go, and to be more relaxed. It does NOT come naturally. But I am working on it, every day!

I want them to remember a home filled with love.

G6 -- thanks.

Momma Mindy -- you have such a good attitude! I do not feel like a "New Improved Me." I am what I am, but I miss what I was.

Batya -- I think about that too. For my kids, this is the only life they know, for better or worse. I thank God that my kids are so accepting about the way things are.

Toby -- thanks for sharing. I wonder about the way people remember changes. In many ways, your family changed for the better. It might be different when things change for the worse. Hopefully, we won't feel any more dramatic changes for many years.

Michele -- how did you know we were part of the human chain around the Old City walls? We were -- and it was an empowering experience (even though it did not affect the change we desired).

Not to worry, there is still a strong message of activism in our home. We are who we are, after all.

Stories about what we have done come up all the time. My picture is in one of the books we own. You can see me leading a sheep along the streets of Jerusalem, during one of the anti-Oslo demonstrations.

Dianne Duffy -- I hope so. I love being their mom.

uberimma said...

I think they will remember both. They aren't so young, and they'll have memories from all parts of their childhoods. My mother's personality changed enormously from when I was very young and I do still have clear memories of her "before"--specific memories of things she did and things we did together. They'll remember.

Anonymous said...

any way you can post that picture of you leading a sheep? shame the message didn't get through to our thickheaded government. But your zest for life and honesty always comes through, and I think your kids know how lucky they are to be in your special family, even with your tough challenges. I think it may even make them stronger than the average kid.


RivkA with a capital A said...

UberImma -- that's encouraging. how old were you?

my kids were pretty little, when I got cancer the first time. My youngest was just 7, and my eldest was only 11.

I had some other serious health problems (not cancer related) for a year after my last daughter was born, when my son was 2 and my eldest daughter was 4.

I had six good years in the middle; I hope that was enough to make an impression.

Klara -- next time you come, I will show you the picture (b'li neder). I do not have a scanner and I wouldn't want to open the book that much anyway -- it ruins the binding.

I imagine these challenges do make the kids stronger, in the long run. But it is not easy, that much I know for sure.

Kids are like iron -- they are stronger after they have been through the fire.

Anonymous said...

i know just where you are,my older kids remember ,my youngers have adiffernt mom,i think that because they dont know who i was they accept me for who i am now,where as the olders refuse to really accept it,we have to learn how to make peace with who we are now,and then so will everybody else,any ideas how?loonytunes

RivkA with a capital A said...

Hey my loony friend -- very insightful. there is a lot of truth there in your observation.

I wonder on which side of the fence my kids fall....