Reflections of a Bereaved Cancer Mom: Regrets and Gratitude

By Suzanne Leigh

I regret …

  • Letting “scanxiety” get in the way of family fun. In the summer before Natasha’s recurrence, we had planned on hitting the beach in Hawaii … but first we were waiting to celebrate NERD –- no evidence of recurrent disease –- for her upcoming MRI. We didn’t get NERD; we got news that brought us to our knees. We took short vacations after treatment, but by then Natasha’s health and energy level were compromised and continued to be poor for the rest of her life.
  • Not savoring every moment that she was content and relatively well, including the time when her prognosis was poor.
  • Failing to be the best advocate for my child. In the earlier days of Natasha’s disease, I worried about being the obnoxious parent who wanted special treatment for her child. My child deserved that obnoxious mother. I sent too many polite e-mails to the important people in my daughter’s life, rather than take the more emotionally taxing route of face-to-face meetings.
  • Encouraging her to be independent at a time when she most needed her family.
  • Investing too much effort in finding a wig. We went through three, including one made of human hair that was apparently top of the line. Natasha found them all fake and somewhat uncomfortable. She seemed to do best with a hat or scarf, like a lot of other young cancer patients. (Maybe our quest to get the perfect wig reinforced the notion that being bald was not OK?)

I’m glad that I …

  • Let my daughter know that it was a privilege and honor to be her mom.
  • Sought second opinions and third opinions, was on top of her disease and her treatments. E-mailed her oncologist with questions before appointments. Contacted doctors all over the world with expertise in her tumor type (they all responded – I am so grateful that they did).
  • Allowed her to pick the middle school that she thought best suited her needs.  She chose one that actively supported our mission to raise money for pediatric brain tumor research; it nurtured her and made her feel safe at a time when her future was at its most precarious.
  • Pushed the Make-A-Wish Foundation. After Natasha had recovered from her initial tumor (several surgeries, radiation and chemo), they offered us a daytrip. We thought that she deserved more. After negotiating, we got three days at the beach. (Moral of that story: Don’t hesitate to politely pursue your child’s dream with MAW’s staffers.)
  • Kept her cards and letters to me, my favorite baby outfits, her first tooth, letters to Santa and the headful of hair she lost following chemo and radiation.
  • Thanked Natasha’s medical team after she passed away. She would have wanted that.

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