Balanced Living with Cancer

One young family’s quest to find balance while living with cancer

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Trinket in the Jewelry Box

September 12, 2011 | 8 Comments

Last night our son was going through my jewelry box. He’s a precocious, I think adorable, 9 year-old.  He says to me, “Mom, if we need money we could always sell your jewelry.”   It unnerved me his concern over money and then I realized he had been overhearing the conversations my husband and I had been having lately about health insurance and growing medical costs and our concerns about medical debt.

As my son sorted through my jewelry he came upon a coin that grabbed his interest.  It was an inspirational piece you might find in a gift shop or stationery store.  He paused to read the inscription.  Looking at me he said, “Mom, where did you get this?”  I couldn’t recall – something that seems to be happening more and more frequently as of late.  “Will you read what it says and maybe I’ll remember?”

In his sweet, angelic voice he read one side of the coin, “Cancer”, then he turned it over and continued, “Cannot defeat the soul, cannot shatter hope, cannot depress faith, cannot destroy homes, cannot limit humanity, cannot kill friendships, cannot silence courage, cannot ruin the soul, cannot reduce the spirit, can be overcome …”

I took a deep breath and looked at him.  His eyes were wide, bright and he had a smile on his face that cut straight through to my heart.  I could tell he was pleased with himself.  He had touched his mom and he knew it.  This is a child who has only known his father to have cancer.  He has never experienced a day, in his short life, without his dad either being extremely fatigued or physically ill from cancer or its treatments.   At his tender young age he knows the fragility of life and yet his smile comes from a place of pure joy and happiness.

I wrapped my arms around him, buried my face in his thick hair, and mindfully held onto the feeling of calmness that came over me.  It’s these simple moments that bring everything full circle.  It is true.  Cancer can be overcome.


Copyright © 2011 Jeannie Moloo. All Rights Reserved.


Another Three-Day Weekend

September 3, 2011 | 7 Comments

Every time there is a holiday weekend I find myself in a slump. It never used to be this way, but it seems holidays serve as a benchmark for our life living with cancer, throwing me into a reflective mood. When the mood takes hold I am compelled to recall where we are in life and why we are here.

Last night our daughter said to me, “Mom our life is boring. My friends do so many fun things on weekends, especially three-day weekends.”

As we sat watching television, her scrolling through Facebook on her phone, I found myself reflecting, yet again. The weekend is here – a holiday weekend.

There is a reason we don’t have any plans. For many years now we have been a family whose social activities have been dictated by cancer and its treatments. Some might say don’t let it dictate, instead regain control. That sounds logical enough, but then there is reality.

What becomes difficult is when you live with the intensity of chronic cancer care for years, not months, but years, the repeated last minute canceling on planned activities results in two things happening. You stop planning because you desperately want to avoid the disappointment when you have to cancel, and in turn, you stop getting invited.

Two years ago when our family had to miss Thanksgiving dinner for the second year in a row, I swore off planning for holidays or any social events. This was after a two-year run of planned weekends, vacations, and dinner parties being routinely canceled. No matter how hard we tried to continue a family calendar of fun, it just would not happen and the intense disappointment with each missed event became overwhelming, especially for our children. Instead, I chose to focus on being spontaneous. My standard answer for invites and to the children has been, “we’ll see.”

Of course, this has not made us the ideal invitees. More importantly, I have come to realize it has robbed us of the joy that comes with looking forward to a dinner with friends or a weekend away.  Some I’m sure are going to think how unfair of me.  However, when something negative happens repeatedly, over a prolonged period of time, a different approach is sometimes warranted.

What has always amazed me on this path is the emotion of hope and how it can be a driving force in so much of what we do and feel. Some psychologists believe hope comes into play when things are not going well or when there is considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. I think hope is innate in all of us and regardless of whether or not things are not going well, it’s a desire to want better.

Here we are again, another three-day weekend. No plans. Maybe it is time to plan something spontaneous.


Copyright © 2011 Jeannie Moloo. All Rights Reserved.


Am I So Different

August 19, 2011 | 3 Comments

My husband’s appearance has changed dramatically since his stem cell transplant. The donor’s cells he received to replace his cancer ridden immune cells and “cure” his cancer see his body as a foreign body and attack, in his case, his skin. The donor’s cells are on a search and destroy mission and any organ such as his liver, eyes, intestines, or kidneys are fair game. The donor’s cells are just doing their job, after all, they are in a foreign place, somebody else’s body. This process is known as graft vs. host disease and one of the major risks of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. When the target is the skin it can be particularly devastating both physically and emotionally. Doctors try at all cost to avoid graft vs. host disease, but for some transplant recipients and their families it becomes an inevitable part of their lives.

I came across this poem the other day. I have witnessed the stares, over heard the comments, and explained more times than I can count why my husband looks so different than before. After all the explaining, I’ve come to realize that no matter the reason what really matters is not the “why” but as the poem’s author writes, “give me your smile that’s true and bright, walk with me through each tomorrow, don’t shun me out of fright.”

I wish I could give the author credit, but they signed their poem Anonymous.

Am I So Different

Am I so different because I’ve lost my hair,
is that the reason you feel a need to stare,
am I so different because of things I cannot do,
does that really make me less normal than you,

Am I so different, so different from you,
is making me uncomfortable a pleasure for you,
if my looks are upsetting to one and all,
just try and remember that my life is no fun at all,

You see me like this and wince as I pass by,
never once do you notice the tear in my eye,
it’s not illness or pain that makes me cry,
it’s your stares and snide comments as I walk by,

So, please, I implore you, take this to heart,
I am truly human, not a species apart,
this illness is my burden, a heavy one too,
if not for a misfortune, this me could be you,

My life is now a battle,
this cancer I must fight,
your cruel and hurtful prattle,
pains me day and night,
instead of pain and sorrow,
give me your smile that’s true and bright,
walk with me through each tomorrow,
don’t shun me out of fright.



Copyright © 2011 Jeannie Moloo. All Rights Reserved.


Got Cancer?

August 10, 2011 | 4 Comments

During my usual scroll through Facebook this morning it struck me the number of recent posts from friends and family about someone close to them either dealing with cancer or having recently died from the disease.

I once asked my Mom how many people she knew when she was my age who had cancer?  Two people came to her mind.  One was an in-law who had breast cancer in her forties and the other a brother-in-law of one of her dear friends who had died shortly after being diagnosed with leukemia, also in his forties.  Two.

When I consider my close friends who I have known for more than ten years, I count 16 between the ages of 40 and 55, who have received a cancer diagnosis in the past five years. 16!

Some have told me I am just acutely aware of the cancer around me because of my husband.  I disagree.  Each of the 16 friends I have known well before my husband’s diagnosis.

Do I know more people than my mom did when she was my age? I don’t think so.  She was an elementary school teacher for 28 years.  She knew hundreds of families.  Cancer diagnosing has improved, so maybe it is earlier detection? Certainly that is part of it, but I don’t think that is going to count for such a dramatic difference – 2 for Mom, 16 for me.

Each time I hear of a cancer diagnosis, especially in someone middle-aged, I find myself focusing on the word ‘why’.  Why so many? Why so young?  We are good at asking why does cancer spread?  Why does cancer come back?  If cancer rates are indeed higher among the middle-aged compared to a few generations ago, we should adamantly be asking why?

Do your own count.  Unnerving, I know.  Count only your friends, who have received a cancer diagnosis in the past five years, are between the ages of 40 and 55, and you have known for at least ten years.  Don’t count acquaintances, people you casually know, or coworkers or neighbors unless they are close friends.

Chances are you too know someone close to you, young, in the prime of their life, raising a family, making a go of their career, who have been halted in their tracks by the disease and its treatments.  It is a disheartening realization to actually stop, pause, and make a tally.  See if you then find yourself asking, why?


Copyright © 2011 Jeannie Moloo. All Rights Reserved.


House Rules

July 27, 2011 | 1 Comment

I came home today after running errands to an interesting, rather awkward, but not unusual occurrence in our house.  Feeling accomplished from knocking out dropping two children at swim practice, and hitting the grocery store and bank, I walked in our front door expecting to find our son and my nephew busying themselves.  What I found instead was a stranger with her back to me sitting at our kitchen table.  She had frizzy, obviously over treated, blond hair and was wearing clothes that reminded me of the uniform the nurses wear in my children’s pediatrician’s office.

My son looked at me nonchalantly, while attempting the dishes, in true 13-year old fashion – one slow movement at a time – with his 6-year old cousin glued to his side. My husband was late returning from the infusion center where he was receiving an IV of IgG to help boost a waning part of his immune system.  There were a few minutes of overlap where neither one of us was home.

“Hello.  Are you here to see my husband?” I asked.  “Yes,” she replied without lifting her head from whatever held her interest.  “He should be here shortly, may I get you something.” “No I’m fine.  Actually quite happy here.”  I paused and thought, “Ok, I’m glad you’re happy here.  But why are you sitting at our kitchen table?”  I could see from a side-glance she was fiddling with her cell phone.

How odd I thought for a child to have a stranger in their house, sitting at the kitchen table, not saying a word studying their phone.  I had to give my son credit for making her feel comfortable.  I guess we had taught him some manners.

We do have house rules.  Always turn off the lights and appliances when not in the room.  Replace the toilet roll if you finish it.  Don’t answer the door for strangers when mom and dad aren’t home.  Never let a caller know your parents are out.  Over the past 13 months, however, some of these rules have been modified in order to accommodate my husband’s treatments (the toilet roll rule still holds).

It’s not unusual for me to come home and literally bump into someone I’ve never met as they are entering our house from the garage having dropped off my husband’s IV medications in the refrigerator.  The first few months it unnerved and even angered me each time I surprisingly encountered a stranger making their way through our house.  But as the IV therapy and wound care treatment demands continued, it became overwhelming to keep track of each person coming and going.   Today, I see where my casual attitude towards strangers in our house has infiltrated our lives to the point of confusion for my son.

The wound care nurse at the kitchen table was not a stranger to my family, even though we had never met her before.   She was someone who was here to help my son’s father heal.  Why would he not answer the door and invite her in, even without a parent home.  Dad needs her care.

How odd that this disease has become dominant to the point that rules present to ensure our children’s safety have been ignored to accommodate the disease and necessary medical treatment.   I’m sure some would be shocked that a mother could set her children up to receive strangers into their home with no adult present.  I assure you I am asking myself the same question.  When I look at the disease and the treatments we’ve endured, I can see how it has happened – slowly, progressively, methodically – like the cancer that invaded my husband’s immune system.  Cancer is an insidious disease that can, when guards are worn down, affect even the most sacrosanct areas of a family’s life – slowly, progressively, and methodically.


Copyright © 2011 Jeannie Moloo. All Rights Reserved.


The “big C”

July 21, 2011 | 1 Comment

I was at a gathering the other evening talking with a friend of one of my good friends.  She knew nothing of my life experience living with cancer and so I found the conversation particularly intriguing.  She is young, mid-forties, and healthy and vibrant with two children, a daughter in college and son about 13.  We were talking about her autistic son and how health insurance does not cover many of the recommended traditional treatments, for example speech therapy, because they are viewed as either experimental or not medically necessary.  She and her husband own their own business, a winery, and the cost for the family’s health insurance is extremely high given their son’s autism.  They are weighing continuing with their health insurance or stopping and saving the monthly premium.  Given how little insurance covers their son’s treatments, they are leaning toward the latter.  It was apparent the topic was distressing her.  When I asked her why she keeps the insurance she leaned in and whispered,  “in case one of us gets the big C.”  As she stood there, pristine in her composure, wearing a beautiful maxi dress, her long blond hair draped down the side of her shoulders, I thought to myself,  “Oh, the big C.”

The words repeated in my head slowly becoming a mantra taking hold and touching on every nerve in my body.  I felt myself shifting my weight, moving to cross my arms, but then stopped as an old saying came to mind, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”  I was reminded, as difficult and challenging as it has been living with the unknown that comes with cancer, fear of getting the “big C” can be just as terrifying.  I thought of my children.  I wondered, as I have many times in the past, what fears, anger, guilt and uncertainty would come to them growing up with their father having cancer, or will their feelings be balanced with the honesty and clear-sightedness that can come from lived experiences.

“If you can afford it, it’s probably a good idea to keep your health insurance for a number of reasons,” I responded.  “We’ve found that when we’ve needed ours, we’re usually very thankful we have it.”


Copyright © 2011 Jeannie Moloo. All Rights Reserved.