What it’s like to parent during cancer treatment

Written by Erin Hurley, CNN Lacey Woelfel, CNN London Written by Erin Hurley, CNN Lacey Woelfel, CNN London

“What mother wants to watch their child underdose into tubes of medication?”

If you were thinking of waxing poetic on this line, you would be only half right. I know, I know. No one “wanted” this outcome. But it still hit me.

When we first lost our daughter to cancer, we were told we were never going to bring her back. Every single doctor, every professional, every single person claimed we had done everything possible to save our beautiful and productive daughter.

This belief that there was only one option in her grave hovered over us, and with our post-traumatic stress, any conversation with a doctor felt like a bait and switch.

For a year, doctors squirted this musty liquid into our daughter’s drip for months. I was tired just of moving around, looking at myself in the mirror, trying to take in all of the terrible, horrific physical evidence that her death was imminent. It was a recipe for PTSD, my mind brimming with a million unspoken thoughts.

As our family coped, I felt desperate to connect with anyone I could, especially the doctors. But in all the “my child is not coming back,” I couldn’t help but feel like they were too much of a monster to help. So I pushed it away and carried on.

By the time our daughter came back from life support, I was now wearing a necklace that said, “Stop living in denial, smile for the pictures. It’s not too late.”

On that day, the doctors took our daughter’s ventilator off, rolled her into a room with her mother and I, and at that very moment she had become our protector. We embraced her on the couch and we said, “I love you,” and we looked into her eyes. We said, “Stop my life, and we will stop the grieving.”

This time, I didn’t hold back. Instead, I pushed back, and I told them all my fears and worries about what lay ahead. They got it. They heard my pain and frustration.

By the next morning, when I went in, the doctors were happier, happier, happier. After a week, the ventilator was removed for good, and they said, “Stop worrying.” I realized that it didn’t matter if I was happy. What mattered was that I was present. And I was most of the time.

There is a lot of discussion right now on exactly what parents should be doing during a child’s final radiation treatment, but in our opinion, there is nothing better than this time together. Most of all, it’s time alone. Not talking about your finances, no problems, what to do about the animals, the ex, the in-laws, the work you have to do, and only talking about your little girl.

It’s like that line in the movie “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” where Ricky’s mom says, “No need to worry, not one damn thing will happen.” But he never gets his hand over his mouth. All that does is drive him up and down a ladder crying “get it down, get it down, get it down” for over an hour.

It felt good to take our little girl out of harm’s way.

After a few months we gave her an image book called “Go Long”: long long lines of smiling faces.

When my daughter would pick a picture of her, a long line of her friends, or some writing, we would always say, “Look, my daughter’s best friends and myself. It’s what I love the most about her.”

There is only one question: What would Morgan do?

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