Parenting Through Troubling Times, Part 4

McGrath and her sisters, the first day that her hair began falling out.
McGrath and her sisters, the first day that her hair began falling out.

Being a mom is tough on the best of days. But when crisis hits a mom - from work to grief to health concerns - the stress of managing her own issues can make parenting even tougher. Join this Charlotte mother as she shares her tale of being mom and keeping a positive attitude while facing a personally challenging diagnosis.

Need to catch up?

Part 1: Telling the kids “the news”

Part 2: Cancer in a box - the benefits of compartmentalizing

Part 3: It’s all about the hair

Part 4: Sharing the news and getting support

In one of the the early days of chemo, the children came home and said, "Mom, who knows what you are going through? My friend just came up and said, ‘Sorry about your mom’ to me."

It was clear the children didn’t really want anyone to know. After all, in middle school, anything that makes them different is a problem. Having a mom in chemo was just too different, and they were worried about how their friends would treat them. They were in denial to a degree as well, so talking about cancer (or any family problem for that matter) was just going to be embarrassing and a reason for unwanted attention.

I was honest, "Well, I have told some of my friends, and we had to tell some people at your school. We are going to need help through this process and people are just going to find out. I can’t hide this. We are part of a loving, caring community. Some people might not know what to say, but it’s okay. We will need our friends." And we did. And I am so thankful for them.

Having always been independent, some thought it would be hard for me to accept the help and to slow down my life. However, being diagnosed with cancer when you are relatively young and healthy is a humbling experience. The children and I needed our community to surround us. Friends gave rides and brought meals and sent flowers and cards. Friends checked on us regularly to make sure we were okay. Thankfully, we continued to talk about how we help other people, too. After all, everyone has struggles, and the kids were right--we do not need to just focus so much on our own issue. We also don’t need to be embarrassed to ask for or receive help, and I was glad to have an opportunity to model this.

Of course, in our efforts to not burden everyone with our issue, some comments were made that could have been avoided, like the one snide query: "Why is your mom wearing a beanie inside?" My son chose, "Shut up!" as his reply. Ah, well. We discussed alternative responses, like, "Dude, my mom is going through chemo," or "Really, dude?" But, we settled on, "It’s personal." Maybe they would get the hint.

I have been so blessed by the love and support during this process, and I have tried to be a loving and supportive mom and friend. I have certainly had moments of disappointment--like when it seemed that others showed more compassion than my own children--but alas, they are teenagers. They were used to me being able to do more, and they didn’t like the situation. Disappointment runs deeper than anger, and we were experiencing some of both. They didn’t like seeing Mom tired or in need. It has been a difficult balance for sure-to accept help without looking helpless. Hopefully, they have learned that it’s better to share and get support than struggle silently alone with a problem.

Up Next: Part 5: The Tough Days