Family MembersPatient Stories

What Survivorship Taught Me About Motherhood

Tonya Richardson offers a glimpse into how a cancer diagnosis changed her outlook on life, and she writes an open letter to her 9 children.
June 2016 Vol 2 No 3
Tonya Richardson
Tonya with Chloe

When I heard the words “You have cancer,” uncertainty about my future flooded my mind, along with a resonating fear for my children facing a life without me. Although my disease has now been in remission for 2 years, there remains the nagging thought that my life expectancy has been cut short. Granted, everyone has an expiration date, but a cancer diagnosis tends to shorten that date.

I remember the day my oncologist handed me a shared decision-making paper that outlined my life expectancy with and without treatment. It is rather unsettling to see your mortality staring back at you in black and white. Call me selfish, greedy, or ungrateful, but there was a certain comfort in my precancer days when I had the illusion of a 100% chance of survival.

Cancer Diagnosis Changed My Outlook

What I am trying to convey is that I have been given a second chance at life, and I am certain my most important job in this world is to be a mom. If you don’t believe me, just count my brood of 9 (6 biological children and 3 stepchildren), who range in age from 5 months to 23 years.

Before my cancer diagnosis, I lived life with preconceived notions of what my children should strive to be. I placed so much pressure on being the perfect mom who is in control of everything.

As a mother, I know it is my job to comfort my children, keep them safe, and to love them, but it was within the dark days of treatment that seemingly removed me from their lives, when the reality hit me: I was no longer in control, nor did I need to control every single thing.

I am so glad that cancer changed my thinking, because what matters to me most is the kind of mom I am now, one who is simply present in their lives. Faced with my own mortality, I have discovered an empowering and immeasurable love for my children that even cancer can’t touch.

An Open Letter to My Children

I have taken down the invisible bubble I had built in hopes of shielding you from every germ, sneeze, or unkind person, because I have discovered that the greatest lessons learned are from the mistakes we make all on our own. I am still here protecting you, just in a less intrusive and more realistic way. I know that you were only given to me for a short time, and that I have no choice but to give you to the world, knowing that I raised you right.

It is my greatest joy to love you. Life guarantees disappointments, broken hearts, and the road not taken, but it is my desire to make certain that you feel loved every single second of the day.

Sometimes the disease has forced me to slow down to a snail’s pace, which has given me a new appreciation of making the memories matter. Although cancer has taken a sledge hammer to my finances, health, and energy, and has put me in an emotional blender, I will give you my time and all that I have, even during the times when there isn’t much left to give.

I am no longer the “helicopter mom” who once chased your school bus down early in the morning barefooted in a pink bathrobe, because you forgot something. I am freed from the bondage of wearing the supermom cape of my former unrealistic expectations. I am now a “rowboat mom” who has to take each day in small pieces. But I am still here, and, because of you, I continue to fight.

I will listen to you with more compassion, practice more patience, make your every hurt matter, and I will always meet you where you are.

When you catch me crying for no reason, know that it is from my new appreciation of being in the “here and now” with you. There will be times when we are far apart, but wherever you are, my love for you will follow.

This is not an open invitation to run with scissors, speed, or float around the world in a hot air balloon. Think of this as my permission for you to set your own path, with me in the background, cheering you on as you discover the wonderful person you are truly meant to be.

With love,
Survivor Mom

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Last modified: July 23, 2019

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