A popular commercial in the late 70’s was about a w-o-m-a-n who could do it all. She sang, "I can bring home the bacon... fry it up in a pan.” The message was a successful woman/wife/mother can do everything – she cooks and cleans, has a superwoman career, takes care of her kids, oh and let’s not forget that she makes her man happy. On the go 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she can do anything. For me, the modern day equivalent of this type of ad is “the cancer warrior.” These women get cancer, wear make-up and grins during chemo, recover with a cheery smile, run in marathons and dance a happy dance in pink t-shirts and shoes.
The real world, of course, doesn’t work that way. In the real world, we have challenges that sometimes make us wonder how we can even get the basics done, let alone anything else. When you add a cancer diagnosis to the mix it changes everything. One of the toughest aspects is the societal expectation that we will maintain our cheery smile and positive attitude no matter what. We are supposed to be “good girls” and do this so that others can call us “brave” and “inspiring”…which makes them more comfortable. What about the comfort and needs of the woman with cancer?
Thanks to the Internet there are online communities today where real women can gather together and openly discuss the real issues they’re facing due to a health crisis in their families. EmpowHER is one of them. Another one is a blog titled “Mothers With Cancer.” Here’s what they say about why they do the blog:
Q. Why just mothers with cancer? Why not all people?
A. There are many sites and established organizations for people with many types of cancer. Even the rarest cancers have email support lists and a web page somewhere. What those pages don’t have, however, is support for the special challenges that a mother with cancer experiences. Suddenly, the life of a mom is turned upside down; a life perhaps centered on others must become a life centered on fighting cancer. There’s a lot to process all at once, and no time to process it. The children must still be fed. They must be napped, and read to sleep at night. Their regular schedules, whether the long cozy days of infancy or the hectic teenage years, don’t stop just because mom has cancer. There is much to do, and it’s hard to fit chemo and radiation and research in around the edges. Suddenly, cancer has to take center stage in a life that may already be crowded with responsibilities and care for other people. And then there are the conversations that must take place. Have you ever had to tell a little boy that his momma has cancer? How about a little girl that mommy can’t play today, because mommy is throwing up? And what of the infant who cries for his mother when she is away, or the teenager who wonders if the same thing will happen to her? These are questions that our society doesn’t yet have good answers to, but all the mothers on this site have had to face as they begin (or start again) their cancer journey. We hope to learn from each other, and to light the way for mothers with cancer who follow. We’re so glad you’re here, always letting us know that you haven’t forgotten us in our illness. We’re still the same friends we ever were, just learning to balance one new responsibility: fighting cancer.
For any woman, mothers and non-mothers alike, living with cancer isn’t easy. The more we women can do to support each other, and provide open, honest and realistic portrayals of the journey, the more we can help each other. Some of us may be able to have a celebration and do a happy dance. Others may have to plan our own funeral or that of a dear friend. All of us are coping and going forward in our own ways.
No matter what the status of the woman with cancer - friend, sister, mom, grandmother, daughter, grandchild, aunt, co-worker, neighbor – she will appreciate and benefit from being treated like a fellow human being rather than being expected to be “on” 24 hours a day as a superwoman warrior.
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