Navigating Motherhood and Cancer

Navigating Motherhood and Cancer

Ever since Dane was very young, we’ve known we were in for a wild ride. He was
walking at 9 months old, running at 9.5 months and leaving a path of toys and
goldfish crackers wherever he went. He was somehow able to function on way less
sleep than his mom and dad needed, refusing naps left and right and making
frequent middle-of-the-night visits to our bedroom. (This still happens by the way,
the kid has endless energy it seems.)

When he turned two we braced, waiting for the true tests to begin. We’d heard the
stories of the “terrible twos” and knew what we were facing; and even though we
felt pretty prepared based on our experience with an already wild child, the thought
of an even more “terrible” state was down right scary.

What I didn’t expect during Dane’s “terrible twos”, was a cancer diagnosis. Being
told you have invasive breast cancer when you’re 33 is one thing, but receiving that
news when you have an active toddler at home is quite another. So as it turns out,
our true tests would be even more difficult than we had guessed.

I learned right away that in order to make it through – we would all have to figure
out how to adapt to a situation no one asked to be in. We were terrified of what the
future would hold for us and had no idea what the long-term picture looked like. So
we decided to stick to a day-to-day outlook for everyone’s sanity. Looking back on it,
I feel confident we made the right choices for our family, finding a good balance of
keeping Dane in the loop per-se, without making the situation scary for him, even
though we were feeling all those feels.

Get Those Kids Involved

From the very start, we determined that we wouldn’t try to “hide” the situation from Dane. Being a very smart two year old, he understood that mama wasn’t feeling well, and that I visited the doctor often to help heal my “owies”. Communicating with him in a way he could process clearly was key. Did he need to know I was having poison pumped into my veins? Absolutely not. But setting up his expectations properly helped a lot in the long run. Still to this day when I’m having an off day, or can’t keep up with his powerhouse energy level, I just let him know and the empathy that I see in his little responses makes me so proud.

I wrote about momming with cancer and ways we involved Dane while I was in the
thick of it last summer – it’s actually quite a hilarious read if you’re interested in
checking it out here.

Find the Humor and Keep it Real

I’ve always found that humor can make most bad situations feel a little bit better. During my treatment, I made sure to surround myself with people who felt the same way. Chemo appointments usually included a room full of family and more importantly, laughter and shenanigans. Keeping it light and positive while finding the ability to seek out that happiness sets up a very strong stance for other people on the outside of the situation too. It’s all about perspective. If I would have sat around sulking in my bad news, guess how other people would have acted as well? Emotions affect and rub off on the people around you, so my best advice is to stay positive – it can cause a ripple effect.

Navigating Motherhood and Cancer

Lean on Family & Accept Help

One of the biggest and most beneficial things I did for myself while navigating cancer and motherhood at the same time was to accept the help being offered.

Right now more than ever before, people are so hyper-focused on “doing it all” and somehow keeping it all together. I was no exception. I was working full-time, had a couple side-hustles, and focused on healthy living all while putting my toddler’s needs before everything else.

Normally, accepting help was one of the last things I liked to do. When I was diagnosed and found out what I was up against, I knew the right thing to do was to step back and allow it to happen.

One very good example: A dear friend of mine asked if she could set up a meal train for us. Normally, I would say no – we can manage… but instead I gratefully thanked her and felt the overwhelming love of SO many people (friends and strangers) in our community. It took so much pressure off of our family during the dark days of chemo fatigue and all I had to do was say yes.

Other ways to accept help:

– If someone wants to take your child(ren) off of your hands (for an hour, or for a few) say yes!

– If your parents or siblings offer to take your child(ren) overnight – say yes! Go on a date! With your spouse, with your girlfriends, or with yourself!

– Let people treat you. If they offer, they genuinely really want to, so say yes!

Navigating Motherhood and Cancer

Even though my active treatment is finished and I’m lucky to be cancer free, I still live with the long-lasting side effects and the fear of recurrence every day. I don’t believe someone’s journey with cancer is ever truly over, but I realize that I have the opportunity to live any way I would like to. So that being said, I choose to help bring awareness to cancer in our community, and help lift others up. I recently became a co-ambassador to the Wisconsin Breasties, which is a chapter of The Breasties – a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing sisterhood to women affected by breast and reproductive cancers. If you know someone who might be interested in
joining us, reach out!

All my best always,


About The Author

2 thoughts on “Navigating Motherhood and Cancer”

  1. This is so inspiring. I am a mother of a 13 year old step son and my 3 year son. I was diagnosed with hodgkins lymphoma in July 2018 and was done with my treatments in December. I’m cancer free, but also have long living side effects and have the thought of it coming back. It helps that I have family that are always there for me and I’m not through it alone. Best wishes to you and your family.

  2. Martha Herdendorf

    Hi Erin! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’m also so glad to hear you’ve finished your treatments and are cancer free! Keep up the positive attitude and I am sending you all of my encouragement. You’re stronger than you know! -Martha

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