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Being a Mom With a Chronic Illness: ‘The Guilt Was Overwhelming at Times’

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September 19, 2018

By Rhiannon Bradley
As told to Jennifer Clopton

We had just celebrated my daughter’s second birthday when I found the lump. It was in my left breast – a small and round marble shaped lump that didn’t feel right. I went to the doctor that same day and a very quickly received the diagnosis: grade 3 triple positive breast cancer.

Luckily for me the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes and was contained in a milk duct. But doctors said my treatment needed to be aggressive.

I had seven grueling rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, radiation, hormone therapy, countless scans and biopsies and I’ve been poked by more needles than you could count. My hair fell out. I was so sick and tired that some days I found it hard to do anything – even get out of bed.

But through it all – I was still “mummy.”

My daughter didn’t fully understand what was happening, of course. She knew I didn’t feel well, but toddlers don’t adjust their behavior because of these things. She would rub my bald head and say it reminded her of a dog and then she would ask me to get her breakfast and go outside to play.

Even though I was exhausted and didn’t always feel like engaging, I didn’t want to let her down, and I wanted her life to be as normal as possible. So I parented whatever way I could. If I could muster the energy for a play date or short walk, I would. If not, we would sit down with play dough, a game, a book or simply cuddle. I also called in as many favors from friends and family as I could.

But the reality for anyone with a chronic illness is that parenting duties never really stop. Our children still need and want us. There are meals that need to be made, clothes that have to be cleaned, hugs that need to be given and bath and bedtime come every night.

I don’t know how well I did any of that while I was sick, and the guilt was overwhelming at times. I felt awful for putting my family through something so disruptive and emotionally draining, and it seemed especially horrible to do it to a 2-year-old. I just didn’t feel I was the mom my daughter deserved.

I decided to start an Instagram blog and honestly talk about all of this to raise awareness of cancer among young people and support others in a similar position. I want to make sure others like me know they aren’t alone. The advice I want to share with parents dealing with medical challenges is to connect with others – in person or online. Give yourself pep talks. Don’t give in to the guilt, accept help when it is offered, and just do what you can. It really is enough.

I am now cancer free and on hormone therapy to prevent a recurrence, so I have a really good prognosis. And I am so grateful for each and every moment I get to be a mom. When I was sick, I kept telling myself I just wanted to live long enough to see Seren start nursery school. That happens this month and just thinking about it makes me cry. It’s not only a new adventure for her, but also a bright new chapter for both of us. I plan to enjoy every second of it.

For anyone struggling with a similar story, I can tell you this. Cancer has taught me that being a good parent and making beautiful memories doesn’t have to be about grand adventures, big plans, always being on the go or even you being at your best.

All my daughter wants is me. However I am. And all I have to do to be a great mom, is make sure she knows just how much she is loved.


Rhiannon Bradley is a teacher and an educational adviser for the breast cancer charity CoppaFeel. She has written two books explaining cancer to young children that she is working to get published. For more from Rhiannon, follow her on Instagram.

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