I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly strong person.
Strong-willed, definitely. Strong arms, perhaps.
But when it comes to emotions, I’ll admit it — I’m a crier. I cry at sappy commercials. I’ve cried during reruns of “Beverly Hills, 90210.”
I’ve cried over disappointments, joy and extreme anger. Even breakups … at work … and my ex worked there, too (sins of my long-ago youth). Some of it has gotten better as I’ve aged.
But some of it became much worse after I became a mom.
Motherhood that makes us feel everything more acutely. So I tear up singing “Happy Birthday,” when my girls get excited about a new movie, and their latest accomplishments. All those little everyday moments.
I am such an emotional person, it never occurred to me I could be strong when I needed to be.
Then came 2016, when I was hit with a double whammy.
First, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and needed a full thyroidectomy in January — an almost nine-hour surgery with a three-week recovery. Neck surgery is no joke.
Then, in June — after six months of tests, specialists, scares and few answers — my oldest daughter, Anna, was diagnosed with a rare blood disease. It was life-threatening and required a bone marrow transplant, which involves chemotherapy, at least six months of immunosuppression and a lifetime of follow-ups.
I’ve seen friends or acquaintances go through core-shaking events and tragedies. Back then, I thought to myself: “I couldn’t do it. I would break down. That would end me. I wouldn’t know how to function, let alone move on.”
But guess what? I had to. And I did.
Old me would have envisioned myself as a sobbing mess who crawled back into bed, thinking about the pain and isolation my child would endure and the sheer unfairness of it all. Old me would have assumed I would crumple on the floor as I watched her grab another puke bucket as the chemo ravaged her body. Old me would have expected that I would cry silently, choking back tears while stroking her head and pulling out clumps of hair.
But since Anna was diagnosed, I’ve cried exactly three times.
Once when we were told about a potential diagnosis, which turned out to be negative — but it was our first really-scary-disease-that-would-threaten-her-life moment.
The second time was during our first consultation with the bone marrow transplant team at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, when I learned Anna would lose her hair from the chemo.
It wasn’t the vanity of her being bald; it was about what it would symbolize.
We’ve all seen bald kids on TV, maybe in a grocery store.
It symbolizes a fight. And in that moment, I realized our fight couldn’t be battled privately and on our own terms. Everywhere we would go, it would be painstakingly obvious that we had bigger struggles than many.
The last time I cried was during her 45-day stay in the hospital for her transplant, when she was loaded up on steroids and screaming at me. I was trying to get her in the shower and she refused.
Let’s just say that ‘roid rage is a thing, even with a kid. She was demonic. It was disturbing.
I was shaken to the core, even though I knew the meds were to blame.
Our nurse that night, Morgan, saved me by giving me a hug when I needed it most — and then she literally picked up Anna and put her in the shower through screams of rage while I huddled in a corner sobbing, wondering what happened to my sweet girl and if I could find the strength to keep fighting.
Bottom line: I did keep fighting. Because I’m a mom. And there’s a steely resolve that comes with motherhood when you least expect it.
I can’t count how many times over the past year someone has said to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” Or, “You’re so strong, I could never go through all that.”
My answer is always the same: “You’re a mom. Yes, you could.”
Because, honestly, I never thought I could either.
And through this past year I’ve met so many strong moms who are fighting for their kids, and for themselves.
But I also see and value the strong mom in all of us. Those who are working to set a great example, or maybe just a mediocre example, or those who are juggling it all, or dropping balls left and right.
Sometimes smiling. Sometimes crying. Sometimes holding it together by a thread.
It’s not just moms like me whose kids are facing extraordinary hardships. It’s the doctors. It’s our friends who have faced their own unique challenges — even if it’s just keeping your newborn alive for one more day.
It’s all the moms.
So cheers to the strong moms (that’s you).
Please share this story and tag the #strongmoms in your life!
NOTE: This story originally appeared on AllTheMoms.com, a site for parents from The Arizona Republic. Original post: http://allthemoms.com/2017/03/19/when-heartbreak-s...
Learn more about Anna's journey here.