I didn’t always want to be a stay-at-home mom. I focused on my education and career throughout my 20s, and when I got married and had a baby, leaving my job to stay home just didn’t seem like a viable option. Not because we couldn’t afford it — we could have made it happen — but because I didn’t want to give up everything I had worked for. I equated my job with independence and control.
As a child, my mother grafted into me the idea that I must always remain independent and self-sufficient. She advised me to get an education and pursue a career that would allow me to take care of myself. This idea flourished in my mind, and I complied. I graduated high school with honors, went to college, studied abroad, graduated with two undergraduate degrees, and then took off for graduate school. These were all amazing experiences that I owe to my mother’s encouragement. Thank you, mom.
When I became pregnant in my late 20s, the idea of staying home with my child crossed my mind, but I was scared to put my career on hold. I was also scared of not being able to live on my own if I ever had to. I needed to cover all my bases in case the dreaded D-word ever happened. My marriage was perfectly fine, but I’m notorious for contingency planning.
Seven years and two kids later, I didn’t get the D-word. I got the C-word. At 35, they told me I had breast cancer. I went into a tailspin. Cancer was outside my locus of control. I had taken care of my body, and I was so proud of my physical health. In theory, my health should have been the least of my problems. My understanding of life and the world around me momentarily fell apart. In a matter of weeks, I had to do what I had been avoiding my entire life: depend on others. My doctors rushed me into treatment. I relied mostly on my husband, but also on my co-workers and other family members to get through it all. And you know what? Everybody was there for me.
Going through cancer treatment taught me big lessons about trust and relationships. I learned that it’s okay to rely on others, but most importantly I learned that relationships are incredibly rewarding and satisfying when you open up. Yes, doing this makes you vulnerable, but the comfort of deeper connections with friends and family is worth it. Today, I believe my marriage is stronger and my bonds with many family members have grown.
My experience with cancer has also impacted my decisions as a parent in unexpected ways. Most notably, I no longer worry about preserving my career as much as building memories with my little ones. I try not to be a Negative Nelly, but the reality is that I don’t know if the cancer will ever come back. I don’t discuss this with anybody, but I do think about it often.
Whether my life is long or short, I’ve wondered what kind of legacy I’d like to leave behind. I’m still trying to figure some of this out, but I do know two things: (1) I want to raise my boys to be joyful, kind, compassionate, and responsible; and (2) I want them to have many happy memories with me in them. Both of these things require time. They require time spent together.
It took me more than a year to realize that the desire to spend more time with my children is at odds with working full time outside of my home. I only spend a few hours with them each day, and those hours are dedicated to cooking and homework. The time I spend with them is shared and rushed. So, I’ve decided to revisit the idea of staying home with my boys. I’ve decided to take a mini-retirement now so that I can spend more time creating memories with my family. What about my career and independence? They are still there, and nobody will take that from me. I know it sounds cheesy, but I am deeply grateful to be a breast cancer survivor. As much as I dislike the way breast cancer treatment has damaged my body, the experience has certainly given me the courage to make some scary yet wildly satisfying choices.