Life after cancer can easily be compared to a snow globe. One that has been shaken vigorously. It can feel like we are plopped down, left to figure out every aspect of life. The cancer community regularly refers to post-cancer life or living life with cancer, as “survivorship.” It certainly is a process and one that comes with some amazing days and moments, but also extremely dark and lonely ones as we adjust to this new life and grieve our old one.
For gynecological cancer survivors, especially survivors of cervical cancer, Mother’s Day can come with an array of feelings. It can be one of the harder days for us, where we find ourselves digging deep for joy. Cervical cancer treatment, more often than not, steals reproductive ability leaving the patient with the decision to pursue fertility preservation or to begin treatment right away. This decision alone can be extremely overwhelming and is one of the first ones the patient must make. Unfortunately, not all patients are given the option, and if they are, not all can afford the cost, leaving the patient to decide….life or death.
We recently asked the Cervivor community how they were feeling about the upcoming holiday. As expected, we received a wide range of responses. Prior to asking our community, we thought that perhaps it all depends on where you are in your survivorship. However, most all responses conveyed loss. Even those who had chosen not to be mothers prior to their diagnosis and those who were already moms acknowledged that there is loss and pain in our community that centers around this choice that is often snatched from our hands. For many women in our community, they choose to focus on their own moms and find joy in those relationships. Dusty and her husband chose not to have children prior to cancer, but she recalls her mother’s loving kindness on this day, “My mom spent Mother’s Day the year I had cancer with me, taking care of me as the painful side effects of my treatment became too much. It’s a bittersweet memory that reminds me just how wonderful my mom really is.”
Paulette is another cervical cancer survivor who made the decision long before cancer, that she did not want to be a mother. Her approach to the holiday is to honor her own mom,” I chose to not have children, so I’ve never felt the loss of never being able to be a mom. I have a difficult at times relationship with my mom, but I do respect her and celebrate that day with her.”
Sadly, there are also women in our community who have both lost their mother’s and their own ability to have children, making Mother’s Day doubly difficult. Heidi lost her mom nearly eight years ago, but the grief is still vivid, “Mother’s day is very difficult. I lost my own mom in 2000. And because of the cervical and uterine cancer, I lost the chance to get to have kids of my own that I really wanted.”
Being a mother prior to cancer doesn’t exempt you from the pain of losing fertility. These women can be overlooked in the discussion.
Ana, who was a mom at the time of her diagnosis confesses, “I grapple with being grateful for what I have and sad for the loss of not being able to have more children.”
Mary is another survivor who had children prior to her treatment. She admits that having that decision taken out of her hands feels unfair,” I am grateful for the two I have and, I considered myself done so I’m at peace with what it is. I hated that the option was taken off the table for me, but I had to live for the ones I have.”
Like all other aspects of survivorship, grieving fertility and/or motherhood looks different for everyone. It’s not linear. Some days are just better than others. For some women, like Tina who never had the opportunity, reminders are always there but it can hit harder and out of the blue like in this conversation with her neighbor. “When I first moved into my neighborhood one of the moms said to me ‘my daughter can’t wait for you to have kids so she can babysit.’ I was at a loss for words. I love celebrating my mom, but I find it to be a hard reminder of what was taken from me.” There are many Cervivors like Lauren. Lauren lost her fertility at a very young age. She chose treatment to save her life, but not without costs that she lives with daily. “Mother’s Day hits hard for me. As do pregnancy announcements and baby showers. Lost my fertility due to cervical cancer at 23. Knowing I won’t ever be pregnant is hard sometimes.”
Cancer is just unfair. The diagnosis, the treatment, and the life you’re left with after can feel like a shell of who you were before. Survivorship is hard, and many days can feel harder than cancer itself. Like all other aspects of our new life, we must find ways to process, heal, and exist in our new bodies and minds. Often it comes down to choosing how we will approach Mother’s Day and what is best for us. It’s not a one size fits all. Some of us will find it is best to avoid certain places, while others are able to lean into celebrations of mothers in our lives. Some Cervivors will go about their day as any other day, while some will find healing in the shear acknowledgment that they are alive. Cervivors like Danielle will hold their children just a little closer that day, “I got my first all clear of stage 3b March 20th. I am a mother of 3, not only is this the most beautiful Spring I have ever seen, but the most precious Mother’s Day I will ever know.”
Wherever you find yourself this Mother’s Day and however you are choosing to spend it, Cervivor wishes you a day of peace and joy! We are Cervivor.