Thursday, May 9, 2013

Domestic Enemies of the Cancer Mom

Today's post comes from reader Elizabeth Renker, who is a mediocre mom to three girls who will change the world someday, if they don't burn the house down first. She thought being a SAHM was hard, but it turns out being a SAHM to a kid with cancer is even harder. She shares her own rants at Confessions of a Mediocre Mom, where she discusses things like poop, wine, and losing her ever loving mind. She spends far too much time on Facebook, still doesn't fully understand Twitter, and lives vicariously through Pinterest

And now we present: Domestic Enemies of the Cancer Mom


I am a mom to three terrifying, yet amazing, girls: Punkin - age 8, Goo - age 4, and Smush - age 2.

Goo has given me a run for my money since birth. She flies in the face of every parenting book and literally fights about everything. About a month ago, I found myself thanking God for that fight - because it was then that we found out she has a malignant tumor called rhabdomyosarcoma.

There is no doubt in my mind that she will beat it. She’s fierce, she’s rocking her bald head, and she’s pretty much writing the book on how to cope with cancer. At four years old. She is my hero, and my husband - whom I lovingly refer to as The Nerd - is rocking a bald head with her. He let her do the honors with the clippers. I cried. And then I rubbed their fuzzy heads.

Cancer is terrifying. It turns your life upside down. And if you don’t find the funny on a daily basis, you will lose your mind. I almost did, more than once. Until I started realizing that cancer brings on a whole new level of domestic enemies that I can rant about. And these days, I'll take what I can get.

  1. The gas budget. We live approximately an hour away from the pediatric hospital where Goo is being treated. We travel there five days a week. In my minivan that I’m fairly certain uses more fuel than a NASA rocket. Our gas budget is now equal to or greater than the income from my work-at-home gig that I had to give up to care for Goo and the rest of my crew. Super.
  2. The food issues. Because chemotherapy causes a compromised immune system, certain foods are off limits. Like fresh berries. The one food I could ever, in the history of her life, get Goo to eat without complaining. Thanks, chemotherapy. I spent four years fighting this kid with the promise of unlimited strawberries if she ate her dinner, and now I got nothing. Bring on the chicken nuggets.
  3. My life is, once again, all about poop. Diarrhea is bad. Constipation is bad. Funky colors are bad. Irregularity is bad. I think about, talk about, and look at poop all. day. long. And I will continue to do so for the next year, because poop frequency/consistency/regularity are critically important during chemotherapy. And people say motherhood isn’t glamorous. As an added bonus, Goo now yells, “Mommy! You gotta check my poop!” whenever she goes, no matter where we are. This is particularly fun in public restrooms and fancy family dinners.
  4. The commenters. People mean well. They want to be helpful and encouraging. But they say stupid things to a parent of a child with cancer. Things like, “Wow! It must be really bad!” Or, “Well at least you aren’t stuck in the snow during this blizzard!” That’s an excellent point. Because watching my beautiful baby battle a terrifying disease is totally better than, say, scraping off my car. And then there’s, “You’re poisoning your child with that medication. Vitamin injections are proven and the only cure.” I’m sure that non-accredited or peer-reviewed article you read is the absolute authority, and all of Goo’s specialists are just mislead. Thanks for the tip. When your kid has cancer, inject as many vitamins as you want. In the meantime, back the heck up. I used to be super non-confrontational. My kid’s cancer cured that. Consider yourself warned.
    Uh, has anyone seen my kid?
  5. The spoiling. In the hospital, doctors and nurses (aka superheroes), actually hate giving needles and crappy medicine and time-consuming tests and procedures. They actually just want to fight for your baby and make her all better. And because of this, they like to give prizes to my little warrior for being so brave. So. many. prizes. In one month, we accumulated 3 full shopping bags of coloring supplies, 4 sparkle lights Barbies, 2 play dough kits, a piggy bank, a paper doll kit, and 14 stuffed animals. Except now Goo is all, “I washed my hands. Can I get a prize?” And then I start twitching because there is no more room in my house but how the crap do you say no to your bald baby in the fight of her life?
  6. The deliveries. People love to send deliveries to kids in the hospital. Two things a kid on chemotherapy can’t have? Fresh flowers and fresh fruit (unless it’s been thoroughly scrubbed, and I trust no one). Top deliveries to a kid in the hospital? Flowers and fruit. Which I have to intercept and hide so that Goo doesn’t become a gremlin when I say she can’t have them. Because no matter what anyone tells you, being a gremlin is a side effect of chemotherapy.
  7. Mom guilt. Oh. Em. Gee. The guilt is overwhelming. Goo’s particular type of cancer begins to form in utero, and even though every medical professional on the planet tells you it’s not your fault, you totally don’t believe them. It was all the Ramen noodles I ate, I’m sure of it. And guilt over being away from my other babies for days or weeks at a time while I get Goo through her treatment is overwhelming. How do you divide yourself between the most important people in the world? You do your best, and sometimes you buy things. Things you swore you’d never buy. I hate the guilt.

The one thing that doesn’t suck about cancer? The way everyone you know - and some you don’t - come together to help. Families with a child fighting cancer need help, even when they say they don’t. They need things like gas and grocery gift cards, meals delivered in disposable containers they don’t have to wash, and free babysitting when the family is up to it. Because leaving your baby is unbelievably hard, but if you want to keep fighting this fight, you need a break.

Our church stepped up and held a St. Baldrick’s fundraiser - an organization that raises funds for pediatric cancer research through people shaving their heads in solidarity with our little warriors. Together we donated $3,000 to help fight childhood cancer. Take that, rhabdomyosarcoma.

Cancer sucks. We’re totally gonna kick it to the curb. And my feisty little Goo is going to write the book on how to beat cancer like a boss. And I’m going to write the book on how to not say stupid things to the parents. Because the one phrase that never gets old? Cancer sucks. It’s going down.

(c)Herding Turtles 2009 - 2013


  1. Thanks for sharing that. You have inspired me to donate gas cards to the children's hospital here in St. Louis. Praying for you, Goo, and your whole gang.

  2. And I'll be picking up some cards at the grocery store tonight...

  3. AMEN. My son was diagnosed with Wilm's tumors (kidney tumors) when he was 9 months. People ask me why smells don't bother me (I'm a medication aide at an assisted living), I say once you've survived chemo poo and vomit nothing else phases you. If you haven't found them yet look up NEGU (Never Ever Give Up) on facebook, awesome kids with cancer group, also I absolutely suggest the Erma Bombeck book 'I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise'. Prayers for you and yours.

  4. Your Goo sounds like an amazing fighter. She also has one amazing mom! Don't feel guilty that you are neglecting her siblings while you battle the monster called cancer....they will be fine. My brother had a similiar fight with a rare form of anemia which meant my mom was gone a lot getting him treatments. My brother and two sisters have no memory of being lost in that shuffle. We were loved and that was all that mattered. Be kind to yourself while you warrior on for you little one!

  5. Thank you so much. I just shared this with my sister in law. Her son (my nephew) is 3 months(ish) into Chemo for ALL. Cancer mums, dads,families rock. The gremlins going through it are amazing. Thank you

  6. I wish I knew you and your family. Sending hugs and prayers for Goo an all of you.

  7. I emailed you once, Mediocre mom, to offer help (in the way of my DS mailing Goo something fun, and whatever other help I can offer from PEI Canada). I told DH last night that I wish I had enough money that I could fly to the states willy-nilly whenever I wanted to help the moms I "know". The moms who have kids with cancer, epilepsy, etc. I talk with these women online, I've never met them in real life, and yet I hang on their every blog post as if they are my best friends.

    Keep rockin' it Goo!

    1. I recently figured out how to link up all my email accounts because I'm email retarded. Shoot me another one, and I'll get back to you, promise! Goo LOVES getting mail from far away places. :)

    2. I recently linked up all my email accounts because I'm email challenged. Shoot me another one and I'll get back to you, I promise! Goo loves getting mail from far away places! :)

  8. Praying for you guys- stay strong! As a cancer survivor, I'm sending all my strength your way!

  9. Goo is a badass because of her same sex role model. Keep at it,warrior mom.

  10. Thank you for this post. I never know exactly what to do when a family member needs something.. Gas and gift cards totally make sense and meals in containers that can be thrown away!

    My love and prayers are with you and your family. Cancer sucks and I hope to read a post about Goo kicking it's ass!

  11. You have our prayers! Keep fighting the fight!!!!

  12. This all makes so much sense to read, but I'm sure I've been guilty of at least one of these at some point. Gas cards instead of fruit - noted and thank you!

  13. Thank you for this! Now I know never to send fresh stuff to a patient with cancer. This post is GOOD! Because you're right, people often mean well but don't know what the hell to say/do. Maybe a follow up with more pointers? No one wants to be that ass. Most of us have been.

    Best of luck with your Sweet Goo and her sisters, and you and your Nerd. If Cancer could be beat with sheer wit and tenacity, it sounds like you would have this one hands down.

  14. *Tear* You guys are awesome. I don't even know what else to say except...thank you! xoxo

  15. Yes cancer sucks! My husband fights that fight now. I can't imagine doing this with my child! You rock momma. Keep up the good fight and all of the love. It is all we can do.

    May she heal well.

  16. Great post....I have never read your blog before, but, saw it on FB and knew it was a MUST. I will be praying for your little Goo and your entire family as you fight this ugly beast. God Bless.

    COLE'S Prayer Team

  17. I'm a mother of 3 special needs kids, one of whom isn't expected to outlive childhood without a miracle. I have been wanting a post like this for sooo long. YES PLEASE GAS CARDS! And giftcards for the local pharmacy. And giftcards for the local take-out restaurant.

    And enough with the stupid comments. Saying, "I don't know what to say" is perfectly fine...and much better than many things I hear. But at minimum, please think before you speak.

    Thank you!

  18. Hi, Not quite sure how this works and not sure who wrote this but when the time comes, reach out to us and we'll do whatever we can to help Goo go to college! Our daughter was 1 when she was diagnosed. It was because of all the gift cards and delivered meals that made us want to give back. We started the National GRACE Foundation in 2011 to help pedi cancer survivors go to college. We'll talk in a few years!


  19. Cancer sucks! It's going down!

  20. Holy s?$t, thanks for this. If one more person asks why I shaved my 2-year-old's head (not making this up) or why I choose to poison her when an all-juice diet will cure her cancer, I'm going to start kicking asses.

  21. Holy s?$t, thanks for this. If one more person asks me why I shaved my 2-year-old's head (not making this up) or why I am poisoning her with chemo when she could be cured with an all-juice diet, I'm gonna get violent.

  22. ALL SORTS of feelings in the pit of my stomach.

    Thanks heavens for your brave, special little Goo, and her siblings and a wonderful supportive bald daddy (that brought tears to my eyes). But most of all, thank heavens for a super-mom that you clearly are.

  23. I'm in this club too, unfortunately. Sucky club. If I started ranting, I might not stop, so thanks for the reasonably sized list. I'm grateful for the love and every prayer but some of the things people (family!!!) say..... Ugh.

  24. We call our 3 year old Goo as well! And she is a feisty one, too...must come with the nickname! From our Goo to yours, we hope you kick cancer to the curb! If anyone can do it, it sounds like your awesome family can. :)

  25. Amen !! This post was so needed and we are praying our hearts out for your daughter. Unfortunately, we know the drill also. My son was diagnosed at age 14 1/2 with a rare form of Stage IV cancer only found in adults. We have spent months in the hospital (including two back to back bone marrow transplants at Childrens in DC). Yes ... I can eat a steak and cheese while holding my son's puke bucket for him for weeks on end. I'm sure some of you can identify. I too remember the stares at my beautiful boy's bald head. Advice to all? Just be there for us .. no questions needed. Lots of hugs and prayers are priceless. Remember to never give up. Four years and three months later after treatment? .... he is in remission. They gave him three months to live at diagnosis in June of 08. The sad part is that our Government only gives The National Cancer Institute 4% of the funding for pediatric cancer research. Our kids are getting chemo drugs that are 30 years old !! Please remember that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. We may not be as big and bad ass as the PINK, but our kids deserve this recognition. If you see the gold ribbons in September? .... please support our precious kids and treasure your healthy kids.

  26. Oh goodness, I'm going to cry. My Little Creek is turning 1 in 2 weeks. She's healthy and happy, thank god. I can't imagine what it would be to live in your life watching your Itty-Bitty battle so hard. I pray remission comes soon for your Goo

  27. This is awesome! I can relate to every freaking word, unfortunately. My now 6-year-old has leukemia.

    Thank you for having the guts to rant about the spoiling. It really is insane how many presents & prizes my daughter -- and her twin sister, because God help us if it's not even -- have gotten. I said something about it once on my blog, and a few people pounced on me for being ungrateful or worrying about something so minor in the midst of something so major as cancer.

    But the fact is, life goes on -- and trying to be a good parent, and live your values, and, you know, not let your kids get spoiled -- doesn't suddenly vanish the second your kid is diagnosed. God knows we've had to let go of / change our standards on a lot of things (the food thing! Yes!).

    And a thousand times amen to gas and grocery cards.

    All the best to your family, and to goo.

  28. Yes with the spoiling! It's ruined stickers for my son. And his room is overflowing into our room now. We've already got three or four boxes of stuff in the garage that we need to get rid of, and there is so much more - he just doesn't want to part with anything. OY.




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