The biggest paradox I have found, as a woman living with metastatic breast cancer who is also the mother of a toddler, is how incredibly normal life continues to be. Much of the time, this is reassuring. My son, now two and a half, is funny, articulate, clever, creative, insightful, and daring. He challenges me daily, both in his words and in his actions, which, in turn, remind me that my world extends far wider than my cancer diagnosis. I am tremendously fortunate, at this juncture, to be on a treatment that has not significantly impacted my quality of life in more meaningful ways, but have also found an ebb and flow with child care that seems to fit our needs.
And yet, this normalcy, this routine, creates opportunities for the stark reminder of the seismic changes that have ruptured our complacent home life. It is only through the understanding of the ordinary that these differences can be seen, because truly, they only exist in relation to the patterns we have come to understand as our own. My family’s life beats on, yes, but at a slightly different cadence than expected.
My world is filled with trains, farm animals, dinosaurs, diggers, and whatever household item makes the most noise at any given time. It is filled with mortgage payments, chores, meal planning, errands, and bedtime routines. It is filled with appointments, prescriptions, symptom management, and limitations. But within that world, those limitations have afforded me so much more than I ever expected: I have found a space to care for myself, to find appreciation within the challenges, to push myself and mold myself in ways I never imagined, but for which I am exceptionally grateful. The hand delt to me is a strange conglomerate, an excavation in which the discoveries unburied are not remnants of life past, but the vital foundations of ongoing creation: life present and future.
Cancer has made me a better mother. It has taken from me the opportunity to give my son a sibling, but, in return, has given me the opportunity to direct so much time and energy into the life I am building with my son. From his labor and birth, to our time spent breastfeeding, to lack of sleep, my role in his care felt overwhelmingly complex. My body became foreign to me, as it would never be fully my own again in a truly visceral way. I have struggled with the understanding of my role as mother for his entire life. And yet, breast cancer has allowed me to fold myself back into the complexities of life and motherhood as overlapping parts of a whole: an ongoing conversation. In my acceptance of breast cancer as a part of my life, I have found an avenue in which I can exist parallel to my existence as a mother, and for this new path, I am grateful.
I do not exist in a place where I find comfort in pity and sorrow for the life I have missed. I exist in a place of metastatic motherhood: where inside and out, I continually undergo a radical transformation at every level, from the cellular to the macro. Metastasis, to me, is no longer a dirty word, but a biological function, an exercise in understanding the pathologies of life in ways that reveal channels in which I can be a better wife, mother, and person. My metastasis is a metamorphosis, an opportunity, a transformation. It is a fundamental biological change, the process in which my body has allowed for growth, development, and carved out new pathways into my life. It is the gift of the extraordinary found within the normal.