The Air I Breathe

I was 19 when I became a mother.


I didn’t have a child grow in my belly under my heart though. I didn’t endure a difficult labor and delivery. I didn’t hold a newborn, breathing in his or her sweet powdery scent as I rocked the baby to sleep.

No, I met my daughters when they were 2 and 3 years old, holding their daddy’s hands and looking at me with gleeful eyes and mischievous smiles. I fell in love with the man who would become my husband, and in the process, I fell in love with the girls who would become my daughters.

They have no recollection of their biological mother, who long ago walked away for many reasons which aren’t my story to tell. I am the only person they call Mom. It has been the greatest privilege and the greatest responsibility of my life.

I don’t make any decisions without thinking about how it will affect them. Not one. When I decided to become a mother, my life stopped right then and there being about just me. I was no longer living for only myself.

Of course I’m not just a mom. I’m a wife, a boss, an employee, a friend, a writer. I’m a Catholic, a marketer, a daughter, a granddaughter, a cousin, a niece.

But right there with my commitment to my husband is my commitment to my daughters. And my daughters are still children, completely dependent on me and my husband. Sure, they’re middle schoolers. But they still need me. Sometimes, they need me now more than ever.

Which is why when I was diagnosed with cancer, they are who I worried about the most.

Of course, I worried terribly about my husband. I worried about the rest of my family. I worried about my best friend. But I know that as adults, they understand that life is fragile, and it can be cruel and unfair. I didn’t want my daughters’ hope and zest for life to be crushed by me.

The day I was diagnosed, when one of my closest friends convinced me to go to the ER, I sat in my driveway mustering up the courage to go to the ER. I knew deep down something was seriously wrong. And in that moment, I bargained with God. I tried to reason with Him. I pounded my steering wheel and shouted to the heavens as tears streamed down my face, “God, if I’m OK, I promise I’ll appreciate life more. I’ll be a better wife and mom. But God, you CANNOT take me from my girls. They’ve already been abandoned by one mom; you’re not seriously going to let me die, are you? You can’t do that, God! I can’t be sick because they need me!”

My daughters are still trying to reason with God too. It doesn’t make sense that I’m sick, they say. And no, it doesn’t. So we talk about our faith. We talk about praying that I get better. But we also talk about God’s plans being better and grander than our own. That if I don’t get better that I don’t want them to be angry with God. That one day, there will be no sickness, heartache or pain. That one day, we will be together again.

But mostly, we don’t talk. We just do. We just love. I’ve made more of an effort to do all the things I didn’t have time for before I got sick. I take them swimming. I take them to festivals. I take them to the park. We talk about the future. We talk about our favorite things. We talk about how much we love each other.

I may not have had nine months to prepare for their arrival. I may not have that bond created by nature and genetics. But our bond is stronger than that. The threads of our bond were forged by parenting books, school plays, parent-teacher conferences, doctors’ appointments, bedtime stories. Frustrated tears, kissing boo-boos, prayers whispered fervently into the dark. Endless hours of Disney Channel, listening to their favorite radio stations, buying new clothes for them instead of buying a new outfit for me, knowing the name of every friend and every crush. They are as vital to me as the air I breathe. I would literally lay down my life to save theirs.

I have spent almost a decade molding these little souls who have been entrusted to me into strong, responsible, fearless women. I’ll be damned if cancer destroys us all.

I don’t worry about what’s to come. I know what’s been promised to me. I worry about how my illness affects my family. I cry when I think about the burden it creates for my husband and my kids. I worry about what happens to them if something happens to me. On the other hand, they are my reason for fighting, for being, for pushing to keep surviving.

I have reason to believe I’ll be fine. My doctors are optimistic about my prognosis. But it’s only human to worry about what’s to come when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, especially metastatic cancer.

In a bizarre way, my cancer has been a blessing. I appreciate life way more than I used to. I stop to soak everything in more. My nontraditonal path to motherhood seemed to be a gift from above more than ever. I spent the first part of my childbearing years being too busy raising the ones I already had to have more children. Before I was diagnosed, my husband and I had decided we were content with our family being the way we are. It didn’t make sense to start over with more kids just for the sake of me having a genetic connection. What a blessing that decision was. No way do I want to pass along my genetic cancer soup to future children. When my doctors told me under no circumstances could I get pregnant during treatment, and that if I did want to have children eventually, it would have to be an in depth discussion with them and carefully planned, I told them no need to worry, I’m not having biological children.

But, as I remind my doctors, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a family. So this HAS to work. I HAVE to get better.

I have two high school graduations to attend.

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