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The first of many lessons

By K. Carney

I was an easily agitated person with a chip on my shoulder that grew bigger every day. I felt like I had been carrying the weight of the world on my back. My longing to feel in control and 10 steps ahead of myself contributed to the unrealistic expectations I had of myself. When those expectations weren’t met, anger smouldered inside my body and radiated outward in all of my relationships. I was a volcano ready to explode at any moment. Sometimes, it doesn’t surprise me that I got cancer. I believe it was my body’s desperate last-ditch attempt to get me to take a step back before I found myself six feet under.

For the first time in my life, I felt truly vulnerable. I had no control over my body. These were some of my darkest days. The days that followed treatment were the worst. The will to live dissipated with every sunrise, but I would open my eyes and get myself out of bed because my tiny humans depended on me. No matter how nauseated, depleted, or fatigued I felt, they were — and continue to be — a constant source of strength and joy in my life.

When I first learned that I was expecting, of course, I felt so blessed. When I found out I was going to have two babies, a boy and a girl, I was in shock. I could have never anticipated the type of impact they were going to have on my life. My babies came into this world fighting for their lives as premature extremely tiny humans. They had a complicated birth, a whole slew of health problems, and spent the first 3 weeks of their lives wrapped in dozens of wires attached to life-saving monitors in the NICU at the hospital. I visited them each day for hours on end. I was completely transfixed on how their little bodies could withstand so much trauma, yet still manage to make small progressions every single day until they were strong enough to come home.

Looking back now, I realize that at just days old, my children were teaching me their first of many lessons. They taught me that we are bigger than what is in front of our faces and these moments of weakness and vulnerability do not define us. I owed it to them to face my struggle with the same type of exuberance and ambition they came into this world with.

To doctors, I was a body with cancer, but my children didn’t know any different. They didn’t notice the thinning of my hair, the paleness of my skin, the sadness in my eyes, or the anger in my heart. Their innocent eyes looked beyond my illness, through my frail, sick body, and saw their protector, provider, and source of comfort. Every day, they gave me the reassurance I needed to move forward. This created a momentum inside of me and fuelled my body to keep on pushing and fighting in spite of the voices inside my head telling me otherwise.

I spent every moment I could soaking in their curious minds, sharing in their fearless adventures, memorizing their laughs, and kissing every part of their soft, silky bodies. Being someone with cancer can be quite isolating from everything and everyone. Many times, I found myself buried in a deep dark hole of animosity and self loathing. Being able to focus my energy on things that were not cancer related brought me solace and a sense of freedom that I longed for. My children needed me as much as I need them. Their dependence on me reminded me that my life is worth living and I need to be around to thank them and tell them when they are old enough to understand just how much they have saved my life.

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