My husband rushed out our back door to our deck where I was relaxing, reading a book.
“Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer,” he said, almost like asking a question.
I’m a 41-year-old female who’s enjoyed superhero movies, but I certainly wouldn’t call myself a “superfan,” so why did this news ruin our evening and subsequent weekend? Because I’m a 41-year-old female, wife, and mother of three with Stage IV colon cancer.
In March of 2019, I was diagnosed with Stage IV, “inoperable” colon cancer. I say it’s inoperable, but in all honesty, that’s an easy way of explaining something complicated. I’ve already had three surgeries; however, none of the surgeries I’ve had or will have can cure me of the disease. Every treatment is meant to extend my life, but not necessarily to save it.
After hearing the news about the Black Panther star, my initial reaction was to hide it from the kids, but a quick visit to Instagram showed that was impossible. My sixteen-year-old daughter had already posted a photo of him into her stories with the caption “I’m seriously over colon cancer.” My heart broke for her. Like any mother, I want to help my children avoid unhappiness, and like any mother, I realize that experiencing unhappiness and disappointment are part of growing up. Letting our kids feel their big feelings and learn to cope with the bad things that happen to them teaches them how to handle the big disappointments in life, but what do you do when your kids are going through one of the worst things they’ll ever experience — the grief that comes along with a situation like this?
The Battle Begins
Prior to my diagnosis, we were just like any other American family. Every day was filled with school, work, practices, the never ending struggle to figure out what was for dinner. My husband and I are self employed and work out of our home, so our house was always a buzz with clients and business calls, homework, and visiting teenagers. Every night, someone had a game or practice or band concert. We felt like we never stopped moving, then came cancer. And with it, on top of everything else, came doctors visits, hospital stays, and chemotherapy. Everything we’d been used to in our lives was now different and that was unsettling and scary for the kids and for us. We had to find a way to make our new normal somehow OK, and over the past year and a half, we’ve found what’s worked for us.
Our New Normal
We’ve learned that the only thing that REALLY matters is our love for one another and the time we get to spend together. School is important, but not more important than what happens at home. If we decide to take a vacation during the school year, we no longer feel bad for taking the kids out of school to do that. If life is overwhelming and the homework doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done. I’m not encouraging my kids to become slackers, but we do teach them to prioritize what’s truly important. Family time, mental and physical health, and a personal sense of peace are all things we value above all else.
My husband and I realized very quickly what individuals all three of our children are by witnessing their reactions to my cancer diagnosis, and we discovered how important it was to allow them to guide us through how to help them. Two of them visited a therapist. One of them (my introvert child) needed the time to retreat and sort out their feelings before we pressed them to start sharing those feelings with us or anyone else.
All of our children have adopted new pets. Prior to March 2019, we had a dog and our youngest had a hamster. We now have eight pets, yes EIGHT! Our home houses five humans, a dog, a kitten, two hamsters, two chinchillas, a bunny, and a turtle. We live in a zoo, and we love it. These animals have been the absolute best thing for our children’s mental health. They provide them with companionship, love, the chance to practice the responsibility of caring for someone else along with hours of entertainment. Each of the kids has their own individual pets and then we all share the dog and new kitten. I’m so proud of the way the kids care for and take care of their animals.
Moving Forward, Together
David and I have learned to trust our kids with bad news. They need to know what’s going on because their imaginations will fill in what they don’t know for certain. We tell each of them what we know in an age appropriate way. If we’re going to fight this battle as a team, all the players need to know what we’re up against.
The biggest lesson we’ve learned is to stop putting off ’til tomorrow what we want to do today. In the past, we may have waited to take a big vacation because of money or timing or school or work. Since being diagnosed, we’ve taken two huge family trips. The first was a two week road trip to California which we all agree was the best two weeks we’ve ever had. The second was a trip to Orlando in January of 2020 (thank goodness, pre-COVID!) to celebrate our 20-year anniversary. We took the kids out of school. We spent money. We ate junk food and stayed out late. These memories are invaluable to us always will be.
Cancer is truly life changing, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. We’ve become so much closer over the past eighteen months. We value our time together and help each other get through when it’s really tough. We talk about the cancer in my body as a collective experience instead of it just being about me. I may be the one receiving the medical treatment, but we’re all going through this experience together. We were very close before the diagnosis; we’re inseparable now.
With a diagnosis like Stage IV colon cancer, we really don’t know what the future holds for us, so we’ve decided to focus on the here and now instead. I may not be here in ten years, but I’m confident that no matter what, my kids will be able to look back on these years knowing how much I loved them, how hard I fought for them, and how much family meant to their father and me.
After Rachel Moore was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in 2019, she started the blog Shits And Giggles: My Life’s Detour Through Colon Cancer as a platform to educate others on Colorectal Cancer and her experiences through treatment. She lives in Overland Park with her husband, David, and their three kids — ages 16, 13, and 10.