What Mother’s Day Is Like for Moms Whose Children Have Cancer—And How You Can Help

Mother’s Day is a time when we get to honor the special women in our lives. It’s a day we get to enjoy the journey of our own motherhood. We get kid-made breakfast, homemade cards, hugs and kisses, and a few extra thank yous and I love yous – and we love it. 

At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day take on a particularly poignant meaning for families battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases. In many cases, these holidays take on a new significance or serve as benchmarks in their family’s cancer journey.

Here at The Everymom, we recognize that the journey of motherhood has countless possibilities. Of course, this possibility – the one where your family has to grapple with childhood cancer – is one that can be devastating. But, for many women, it’s still motherhood.  

We’re honored to share the stories of these St. Jude moms who talk about Mother’s Day, receiving support from other women, and the advice they would give to others who are navigating a difficult time in their life.

We also encourage you to send a card to moms at St. Jude for Mother’s Day – the cards appear on screens throughout the hospital and in patient rooms this coming weekend and can bring so much light and comfort to all those spending their time there.

Note: The photos included below were provided by St. Jude and are not of the families mentioned within this article in order to protect their privacy. 

 

 

Amber, mother of Marric

 

How has Mother’s Day changed following your child’s cancer diagnosis?

 

Marric was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma one day after Mother’s Day last year. This year’s Mother’s Day means more than ever before and it has changed for our family. It definitely has more meaning now because I’m more grateful to be a mom – his mom – especially because I know how close I came to losing him.

We’re definitely changing our traditions. I’ve decided we’re going to plant a tree or a bush this year. We have our home now, and we’re going to plant something every Mother’s Day so we can watch our little forest grow.

I’ve always loved Mother’s Day, and this year, I’m very aware of how differently things could have turned out. Knowing that makes me remember a lot of those moms who won’t have such a happy Mother’s Day. I want to remember them too — and the kids they lost to cancer.  

When we were at St. Jude, I had a neighbor at the Target House, and this will be her first Mother’s Day without her child. I want to give her my shoulder in prayer knowing that it’s going to be a hard one for her. I don’t know that it will help, but I want to make sure she knows we’re here.

 

What would you like for Mother’s Day this year?

 

This year for Mother’s Day, I’m asking them for a plant of some sort. I know which one I want already, but I’m going to guide them to pick it out so they’ll feel like they did it all by themselves! I’m hoping for a hydrangea or a lilac bush because my grandmother always had them and loved them.

 

How have other women supported you during your family’s experience at St. Jude?

 

I’ve got some amazing female friends who call and check on us. They ask how Marric’s appointments and follow-ups go. They check in through social media. Just knowing they’re concerned and that they care and that they’re keeping him in their prayers means so much to me. They’re great with support and giving us courage. We know there are lots of people rooting us on.

There was a woman at St. Jude, and I wish I could remember her name, but she’s a child life volunteer. Marric was sleeping one day, and I bet I hadn’t left that boy’s side in two months. She gave me the opportunity to chill so I could finally breathe. She came in and said, “He’s asleep. Go! Eat by yourself in the cafeteria if you want. Go get out of here. Take some time for you.” So I went to the cafeteria, but I was back up in 20 minutes. But she was like, “No, go away. You need this. I’ve got your cell. I’ll let you know when he wakes up. You need this breather.” So I went to the family room lounge and played on my phone and just breathed. Eventually, she sent a text, “I think he’s waking up. Just wanted to let you know.”

So I came back, and I felt so much better.

You need these breaks. It kind of refreshed me that day. I will be forever grateful to that woman. She knew that I needed to get away from that room and just be able to think without 100,000 worries and checking the monitors constantly. Even if you know nothing is wrong, your eyes just go to those monitors. She understood exactly what I needed in that moment, and I’m grateful. 

 

What advice would you give to others who might be supporting a family going through a similar journey?

 

If you have a family member or friend going through cancer, just let them know you’re there for them and offer them breaks. That’s probably one of the biggest things. Bring the mama coffee. Let them know you’re there. That meant the world to me, knowing friends were thinking of us. We were so far away from home, but they kept me in the loop about what was going on with friends and at work. Keep your loved one updated like you’re still a daily part of their life so they’ll know you haven’t forgotten about them.  

To read more about Marric’s story, visit stjude.org/inspire.

 

 

 

Elizabeth, mother of Katherine

 

How has Mother’s Day changed for you following your child’s diagnosis?

 

For us, early May, including Mother’s Day, will always remind us of where we were in the process of watching a lump on my daughter’s collarbone. In May 2018, Katherine was 15 years old. The pediatrician examined the lump on May 3. On Mother’s Day last year, my husband and I were optimistic that the swollen lymph node was from a scratch from a lane rope in the swimming pool.

A few days after Mother’s Day, however, she ended up with an ultrasound followed by a surgery to biopsy the lump. On the evening of Memorial Day, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

As I go back and look at the pictures, we took outside the restaurant on Mother’s Day 2018, it’s difficult to see – she has long brown hair and appears perfectly healthy. And, this year, on Mother’s Day, she is healthy with only about four inches of hair.  

In the past year, I have watched my daughter grow up before my eyes. Although she is only 16, she has the insight and wisdom of someone several years older.

As a mother, I believe that overcoming cancer has made Katherine more confident, independent, and empathetic. She is very fortunate. We all are.

 

How have other women supported you during your family’s experience at St. Jude?

 

My friends, family, and extended community have been extremely supportive whether by bringing food, listening over a cup of coffee, providing insight and validation for my feelings, or helping Katherine feel more confident as she lost hair.  

Because of Katherine’s diagnosis and the community of parents at St. Jude, I have new friends that I would not have met, and yet we all have a special bond.

One of these new friends is named Kim. She lost her daughter, Bella, more than eight years ago to complications from a brain tumor. Kim, also a hair stylist, helped Katherine style her hair to take pictures before she left for her first visit to St. Jude, cut Katherine’s hair to her shoulders right after she returned, and eventually shaved her head when her hair was so thin that it was going to be impossible for it to grow back evenly. She was always honest, yet extremely kind and understanding, in her approach to Katherine as well as to our family.

I am truly thankful for the special world that opens to you when you become a part of the St. Jude family. As everyone says, “St. Jude is the greatest place you never want to be.”

 

What advice would you give to others who might be supporting a family going through a similar journey?

 

As a parent of a teenage cancer survivor, I think it is important for others to realize that teens have a different set of needs than younger children. Adults in the support system can play a valuable role and take some of the burden from the parents who must manage the medical responsibilities.

For example, Katherine’s uncle served as an integral part of her support system. He helped her write an Instagram post which explained to her friends and acquaintances exactly what her diagnosis was and how she felt. I didn’t read it before it was posted; however, I trusted him to help her have the appropriate message. Katherine was able to benefit from his adult wisdom and support.

Also, our babysitter, now 25 years old and married, was a part of the journey. She came over to help Katherine wash her hair at different points throughout treatment. At first, she helped when I was out of town and Katherine couldn’t raise her arm after her initial biopsy and subsequent medi-port surgeries. Then, she helped wash and comb her hair when it was falling out from chemotherapy. Later, she took Katherine to pick out some new mascara to help fill in her thinning eyelashes. Again, my husband or I would have done these things, but it was better for Katherine to have someone help her.

Simply put, there are many small things that you can do to support a family and realize, particularly with teenagers, that is it important that they have ownership in what is happening to their bodies.

 

What would you like for Mother’s Day this year?

 

In late May, Katherine will have her third round of scans, so obviously I would like for those scans to be clear. In Katherine’s case, we know that the chance of the cancer returning is small; however, there was only a small chance that there was something wrong with the lump on her collarbone. So, somewhere in the back of my mind, I have to prepare myself for the very small chance that something will appear.

With the advances in Hodgkin’s Lymphoma protocols at St. Jude, we are fortunate in that Katherine will go on to lead a healthy life and, if she chooses, be able to bear children one day. We have met children who have that option taken away from them in order to save their lives. So, as a mother, I hope people will continue to support medical research which will allow fertility not to be impacted by the cancer treatment.

To read more about Elizabeth and Katherine, visit St. Jude Inspire.

 

 

Nan, mother of Paishence

 

How has Mother’s Day changed for you following your child’s diagnosis?

 

I have not had a chance to give the actual day any thought for myself, but I recognize the struggles of other women and mothers more, especially single moms like myself. Paishence’s diagnosis has definitely given me a greater appreciation for mothers in general.

 

How have other women supported you during your family’s experience at St. Jude?

 

I get most of my support from my St. Jude sisters, as I have something in common with them that makes us more able to relate. My own sisters and female relatives might not be able to completely relate to what we’re going through, but they do offer kind words and gestures.

 

What advice would you give to others who might be supporting a family going through a similar journey?

 

I would advise them to have patience with their friends or family members who are going through this journey, as this is new to them. Be confident, be calm, be supportive.

 

What would you like for Mother’s Day this year?


I’d love two weeks of unwinding and just ‘me’ time! That’s my selfish wish. Don’t all mothers want that? My unselfish wish is a sisterhood spa weekend with other St. Jude moms who have been on this journey with us. They deserve it. 

 

St. Jude is leading the way the world understands, treats, and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to more than 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food – because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.

Send a virtual card to a St. Jude mom by visiting www.stjude.org/celebratemoms. And, learn how you can help St. Jude families by visiting www.stjude.org/family.

 

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