Hi I'm Kirsten, I'm a Pisces, I like long walks on the beach-oops wrong group. Hi I'm Kirsten and I just started High School. I'm really excited to be here with you and to be able to tell my story as a daughter of a Cancer survivor. I have an older brother Ted who just started college and a 10-year-old sister Danica-we love to argue about everything. What makes my story harder to tell is that I first experienced my mom's illness as a four year old. My brother Ted was 8-years-old and therefore much wiser. As you know, four year olds don't have a huge vocabulary nor are they very observant of what's happening around them. They focus on their favorite cartoons and stuffed animals. But because our family has had to deal with many cancer recurrences, I have learned a lot about life with cancer over these past ten years.
I can clearly recall that my family was getting excited about my mom having her third child. Mom seemed to be preoccupied with setting up a new room for the baby and getting everything ready. If someone asked my mom to describe me when I was four, she would say I was a spirited wild pony or moving thunder. The next thing I knew my mom and dad were missing and Grandma and Aunt Maggie were in our house watching my brother and I. They didn't seem so happy about the new baby news, everyone was crying including me. What I later realized was that the baby came home from the hospital but my mother didn't. My dad said that mom had something called cancer. She would be home soon but didn't feel well right now.
I was really mad. Where is she? Why did she have to have another baby anyway? She ruined everything. I remember being mad at her when she had a recurrence too. It isn't fair. No one else's mom has this. Why can't she just take a pill and fix herself. Is it my fault was I bad? I really didn't have anyone that understood how mad and sad and scared I was except for my brother Ted. When we wanted to talk privately we would usually go up to his room and have secret meetings to share what we thought of mom not being home and how we missed her. Ted tried to tell me he thought mom had something like a cold but little did he know it turned out to be an illness that would change our lives forever. This made him grow up fast. He wouldn't go out and leave my mom alone. He watched over me and he began to worry all the time. But he was a really good talker. He could relate to what I was thinking. All the scary things you could never tell your mom or dad because they might make things worse.
I thought the new baby had something to do with why mom hadn't come home and why everyone was crying. Ted told all the neighbors my mom had a baby and it gave her cancer. As each week went by I started to despise my newborn sister more and more. Two thoughts came to mind. One was that my new baby sister was only going to be at the house for a small period of time. As she continued to be there and was the center of attention I began to wonder why we couldn't take the baby back to wherever it came from and get my mom back. She was the one we really wanted. The other thing was, for many years I swore I would never get married and have a baby because I didn't want to lose all my hair and get cancer. I have gradually learned the two are only emotionally connected and not true.
Mom came home after a month in the hospital. However it didn't seem like she was home because she spent most of her time in bed. I will never complain about being tired after watching my mom go through chemotherapy so many times. It's exhausting to watch. I wanted to know where the mom who went shopping, got me dressed in the morning, played with me, and made my favorite meals had gone?
Instead of having my mom cook my meals I had close friends and neighbors from all over town bringing different home cooked meals. One neighbor made a list of what families would cook for us on a certain night. After a week or so, my brother and I figured out whose food we liked the best and we wanted to change the list so that they could cook for us every night. My aunts and grandmothers took us wherever we had to go and made sure we got to school. I was learning that no matter what I would be taken care of and loved. NO matter how difficult I could make things I would be cared for. I remember torturing my single aunt with fart noises, potty difficulties and letting her know often that she wasn't in charge, it was my house and my baby. As mom went through her many recurrences we would eat alone downstairs. We each got to take turns bringing some food up to mom. When it was my turn I was so excited to see my mom, but I couldn't help but think she was really a scary person because she had no hair on her head, looked skinny and pale and played with the remote control all the time. I thought she was contagious and I was afraid to touch her so I would never stand less than 5 feet away from her. I remember wishing and praying real hard that this would go away so we could be the same happy family again. I think I pray a lot more than I ever would have because of cancer. Even though she didn't look like my mom she still had her strong spirit. Eventually we learned to joke and laugh about a lot of things-one year she was bald Uncle Fester from the Addams family for Halloween. For Xmas we gave her a Santa hat with Chemo Sucks engraved on it. We developed a huge funny hat collection that we all wore all the time. People in town still call us the hat family. Mom's wig also came in handy for the Halloween scarecrow. She never wore it anyway. This experience has given us all a sense of humor.
My mom thought that it would be a good idea to go to art therapy with my brother to see if I could express my hidden feelings. I think there was some bad behavior as well she was worried about. Mom got more than she bargained for at times. After each session I would explain what I had drawn to my parents. One time I drew a picture of my family sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner except for my mom who I drew upstairs lying in her bed on a cloud. My mother asked what the picture meant. I told her that I was explaining to my art teacher what it was like at home. In my mind my mom was in her own world and was maybe on her way to heaven. Another picture I made was a face with a big tissue over the nose- I didn't want to catch the cancer. When I drew most of my pictures I drew Danica out of the family.
I had also made a list of all the things I would miss and all the places I would want to visit had she not become ill. I learned later, my mom was quite surprised that her four year old was speaking so plainly about how things would be as if she was not around. This made me later realize that I could help her to stay strong and keep her spirits high. If mom knew I was happy it would make her happy too. I would read to her, tell her about my day and give her lots of head and feet rubs and make her laugh.
Looking back over the past ten years I have grown a lot from being part of my mothers journey as a cancer survivor. Watching my mother get up and embrace each day these last ten years no matter how she felt has strengthen my spirit my mother has learned what the important things in life are all about. She has learned that spending time with her friends and especially her family is what matters most to her. I too have come to learn this. These memories will forever be there. I've learned that bad hair days are better then no hair days, that it's ok to be scared or to tell someone you're scared. I've learned talking and listening are both helpful whether it's cancer or just a bad high school day. I learned I will always have to be vigilant in my own health. As a family we have learned that one person can really make a difference by sharing their story as I am today. I learned that sometimes you have to make a lot of noise to raise awareness and monies to help fight this disease. I've learned that volunteering to help others on a similar path makes me and them feel good. I've learned a lot about cancer and what it can and cannot do. I've learned that my brother Ted and I share a really strong bond and that Danica is very special. One day she will need to be reminded it wasn't her fault. I've learned my dad can also be a great mom and that my mom not only knows how to survive but really knows how to live in spite of it all.
Sadly, this past year my mom has experienced a recurrence. We have looked upon this as yet another challenge to overcome. My mom is such a strong individual that she summons up strength to prepare herself for treatments. Somehow she manages to find additional energy to support each of us through our daily lives. The changed situation has made me realize that it isn't always about me. Now our family needs to work together in every aspect. Whether it is doing laundry, making dinner, or helping my sister with her homework it means I sometimes have to put aside my interests. But it's hard to express the incredible feelings I get when my mom is worrying about the laundry and I can say it is finished, or when my sister brings home a good grade on a test that I helped her study for.
Thank you for listening to my story and I hope it inspires you to look at your life in a new way and perhaps even share what you heard today with others.