The first year of your baby’s life is special. They come home to you this eating, pooping, screaming machine and twelve months later they are their own walking and babbling little person. It is a year to truly cherish because you realize what parents mean when they say, “they grow up so fast.” Well, my baby’s year is going by incredibly fast. He is a crawling, smiling, happy boy. Meanwhile, I feel I have hardly moved at all. A shocking diagnosis interfered with what was supposed to be the happiest time in my life.
What do you do when you are a new parent and you have cancer? I know the answer firsthand.
When I was pregnant, I started experiencing knee pain that was so intense I could barely walk. Doctors knew something was wrong but couldn’t do anything too invasive until after my baby was born. After an MRI scan revealed a large mass, I was having all sorts of tests done from head to toe. Some involved injecting me with radioactive dye where I was unable to hold or feed my son for 24 hours. I felt like I was spending more time away from my baby than with him. This was precious time I could not get back.
I was finally diagnosed with a low-grade form of bone cancer that required surgery to remove the mass and replace part of my femur. The recovery would be long and involved me being unable to walk or live in my own home, and most importantly, I wouldn’t be able to care for my son. All the fun and exciting plans I made for his first year were ripped away in an instant. Being a new parent can be a scary and isolating experience. So can having cancer. Put them together and you have a situation people thank their lucky stars isn’t happening to them. My husband and I recently attended the Young Adult Conference at Dana-Farber. We met and talked to other parents who were affected by cancer. Some were new parents like us and others had older children. It was the first time since the birth of my son that I did not feel alone anymore. I could not believe there were others out there who understood completely what we were going through. Support for families like us is so important, I only wish there was more of it out there.
If I could give any advice to anyone going through what we are, it would be to accept what you cannot change and try and learn from it both as a patient and a parent. There are going to be moments of sadness and anger. I cannot count the number of times I thought and continue to think, “Why did this happen to me?” It’s unavoidable so it’s important to allow yourself those moments; they are normal and healthy.
At the same time, cancer is an amazing opportunity to show your children what true courage and strength is. Fortunately, my little boy will be too young to remember this challenging time in our lives. At the same time, this journey is a part of our family history and it has shaped who we are. I am beyond proud of my husband and my parents; and I am grateful every second of every day for their support and love. I want my son to know that we came together, faced this battle head on and won. I am still unable to walk but I am cancer free. My prognosis is good and I am moving forward. My future is bright and I have my amazing little boy to share in it with me.
Lyndsay McCaffery is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Billerica, Mass. She is a trained singer and actor with degrees in both Musical Theatre and Theatre Education.