While most people spend the New Year setting goals and planning out how, exactly, they are going to attain those goals, being a mom to a pediatric cancer survivor, I spent the New Year in 2020 hoping, not planning. Hoping that I could get through each day with a forced smile on my face, hoping that the chemo would do it’s job, but more than anything, hoping that my child would survive and I wouldn’t have to say goodbye to him in 2020.
When we got a cancer diagnosis just weeks before the beginning of 2020, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, I spent hours getting my child admitted to the hospital and hours waiting for his required chemo to stay on the treatment schedule due to the oncology clinic/ pharmacy being closed for the holidays. Hooray. Insert sarcastic excitement here. Because of this, a New Years Resolution —setting goals— was the very last thing on my mind on January 1st. At that point, I just wanted to survive our new crisis and do everything in my power to help my child stay alive.
How could I even think about making plans amidst some of the most terrifying moments of our lives? How could I make plans when within the first two months of diagnosis and treatment, cancer forced me to take “one day at a time” and “expect the unexpected?” For all my “plans to implode at the last minute” with neutropenic fevers, blood transfusions, unscheduled hospital admissions and/or unexpected changes in my child’s health status.
It seemed pointless and disappointing to make plans that would fall through, and serve as a reminder that I am ultimately powerless. Any semblance or attempt to gain control — any control— is laughable at best.
Cancer teaches a parent in the very early months of learning how to cope with cancer this very hard lesson: live day to day and don’t plan too far ahead. You learn to sit as comfortably as you can in something that makes your skin crawl. And you learn to fake a damn good smile through it, at least when someone is watching.
This lesson was very hard for me because, for anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a hard . core. planner. I mean a legit planner — heck, I start talking about Christmas in July. Learning the lesson to reign in my need to plan was hard — I could no longer account for an unknown future with an expectation of a promised tomorrow as a family of five. Planning has always been a way I have coped with the normal day to day anxieties and my need to feel in control. I don’t like surprises or last minute changes. But with pediatric cancer, I had to throw out the window stability and normalcy and adapt to living with an unexpected —though expected in this situation —overwhelming amount of fear.
Looking back, I wish someone would have told me that it was okay to seek out something for myself and that it was okay to have a plan — any plan. That it was okay to think of anything aside from “survival.” But then again, even if someone had told me so, I doubt I would have listened. I think I would have still hyper-focused on researching everything under the stars to make sure my child’s treatment plan would give him the highest chance of remission.
Eventually, as time went on, we acclimated and settled to the new ever-changing way of living a “routine.” I found that I reluctantly had adjusted my attitude towards planning after I realized my child’s life was out of my control — more or less. I slowly let go of my HOURS of obsessing over research and seeking the unanswerable question I kept trying to google, “Will my child survive this?” I began to accept that I have no control of his life or mine. I began to lean in more on the faith that it would all be okay in the end, despite the outcome. That although I found myself blindfolded with trepidation of the uncertainty of where I was going, God would lead me by the hand, guiding me every step of the way. All I needed to do was just breathe, and have faith. Even if that faith was no more than the size of a teeny, TEENY, tiny mustard seed.
New Year’s Resolutions : My attitude
It’s funny how things change. I always rolled my eyes at “New Year’s Resolutions”. In the past, I rebelled against a “New Year Resolution”. I didn’t believe that the start of a new year was the time to start fresh. I believed that you could set new goals and start fresh on any day of the year, if you so desired. Why does it have to start January 1st? After all, in 2019, a month or so before my son’s diagnosis, I had a fairly decent plan for my professional life that I wanted to achieve, down to the monthly tasks I would achieve by the end of 2020. Ha. God laughed fondly at my plans.
But here I am now, at the beginning of a new year, with a chance to hug my warm little child and a chance to dare to dream of a future without relapse. A chance to think about a New Year’s Resolution. And this time, I want in on setting a plan. A plan for purpose.
Setting a New Years goal is a huge step for me, or any parent with a child who has fought — or is currently fighting — cancer. I just spent an entire year holding my breath and finally heard the most beautiful sound to my ears: “Your child is in remission.”
A common “symptom” that parents of a child with pediatric cancer experience in post-treatment is anxiety and fear of a relapse. I am not immune to it either. I have found myself wondering “Can I make plans? Can I return to work? What if I have to face a possible relapse? What if I have to go back to THERE?”
Knowing that tomorrow is not promised, would it be safe to set goals for myself? Do I dare allow myself to plan for anything personally and/or professionally? What if I have to drop these plans in the worst case scenario of a relapse? After all, my job as a Licensed Professional Counselor ethically requires me to be at a place where I can be helpful to someone else’s plights.
The ominous and dreadful “what if’s” that keep people from achieving anything from being paralyzed with fear of something that hasn’t even happened and may never happen, is now something I am facing. I have spent hours with clients challenging the limitations of their “what if’s,” and helping them work through it. And now I have to work through my own “what if’s.” Except my “what-if” isn’t just irrational thoughts. It is an actual possible threats.
While keeping in mind that my “what if’s” are an actual possibility, I have still decided to develop my goals for 2021. I want to reach for the stars, and yet, I also want those stars to line up with the reality of my life.
I am done keeping my life in a state of hold. My goals are carefully thought out and if I have to pivot my life again, I can still work towards or achieve my goals, albeit at a slower pace or different timeline.
Crafting my New Years Resolutions
This year, I asked a friend if she wanted to share our goals for the year to help hold each other accountable. I have personal and professional goals, but I had not really written them down or given myself “deadlines”. Luckily she agreed to share her goals.
Within a few days, she messaged me on December 31st and said, “Here’s my list!” Of course I hadn’t even started mine, but her commitment to sharing her goals with me made me sit down and write out my own goals for the next year, because “accountability.”
I wrote my very lengthy and detailed list. It tickled me so much. I felt it was very specific, very thorough and detailed. I’m sure she wasn’t expecting it, but it’s not only my goal for the New Year, it’s the blue print for my survival if I am faced with hard news. As I told my friend, “If sh*t hits the fan, at least I got a plan.” My lifeline.
I have realized that I am planning for a hopeful and hope-filled tomorrow that isn’t promised to me. My sanity this year could very much be turned upside down too, if I choose to stay focused on cancer and the fear of relapse.
But I don’t want my life to be on hold anymore due to cancer. I don’t want to live in fear. I want to live life and find myself again, and part of that is figuring out what to do with all this trauma and the trail of destruction it has left behind from my brother’s loss and my child’s year long battle against cancer. PTSD much? Yup.
But I know there are parts of me that have finally taken a deep breath . I have laughed a little more, hoped a little more and learned ALOT. I feel a little more like myself every day.
I am ready to see where God leads me, even if I am a little scared, but mostly hopeful. I still have to give Him my hand, with my heart filled with child like curiosity. I must slowly take those baby steps and trust that He will lead me through every twist and turn, every rocky path, until He wants me to take the blindfold off and see what He has brought me to.
2021, Here I come.