When a parent has cancer

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Caroline Kimrey When a parent has cancerBy Caroline Kimrey

Caroline Kimrey is a wife and mom to a young son. After a few tumors were discovered on a CT scan, she had major surgery on Feb. 23, 2012. Pathologists needed almost a week to diagnose her cancer, even taking the tissue to an "unusual tumors" conference.

Finally, when she was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, she traveled to MD Anderson, prepared for (almost) anything. What she was not prepared for was to learn that she had been misdiagnosed.

She continues to be an MD Anderson patient, awaiting treatment for myxiod sarcoma. She chooses to blog at for others who might be going through a similar experience.

One of my first thoughts when the doctor said cancer was, what about my son? I'm sure I'm not unique among parents who have received a cancer diagnosis

It was difficult for me to get past the stigma that comes with the word cancer. I, like many others, immediately went to the negative. If I die, what happens to my son?

But a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. More people live with cancer now than die from it. When I was finally able to understand that, my focus moved to being sick. 

My son is young. At 2 1/2, he is neither able to understand what is happening nor express how he feels about it. When I was hospitalized, he went to stay with my in-laws for 10 days. 

This was not only the longest he had ever been apart from us, but we also had no time to prepare him for it. We went in expecting a doctor's appointment and wound up with a debulking and an 11-day hospital recovery period. 

Retraining my son
When my son returned home, we had lots of behaviors to deal with. It took nearly a month before he would voluntarily leave the room to play without my husband or me by his side.

We had to retrain him because Mama could not pick him up and that he had to be soft with Mama. I struggled a lot with feeling like his acting out was my fault. 

My son's whole world was turned upside down and it was because of me. I spent some time searching the MD Anderson website and found the Three C's. But they didn't really apply to me, because my child was so young.  

So how do I parent with cancer? Well, my husband and I do everything in our power to be consistent with him. When I'm here, I'm here. I parent to the absolute best of my ability. My husband has to back me up a lot more. 

I'm often unable to struggle with my son over time-out. He fights it. Sometimes I tell him he has a time-out, but Daddy has to actually put him there. 

It's also imperative that he remains in day care. When Mama (or Mama and Daddy) are gone to Houston, he needs that normalcy of going to "school." 

Take each day as it comes
Also, we never know from day to day how I will feel. If it's a good day, I keep him home, though usually only for part of the day. 

Grandparents and friends have also taken a huge step into his life. They have always been present and important, but now they are even more prominent. Occasionally, they have to step into the "parental" role on our behalf. 

There were many occasions after my surgery where someone would have to go with me to run an errand or take my son to the doctor. That person would have to enforce whatever I said, because I physically could not. 

I don't have all the answers. I pray, a lot. We have to take each day as it comes.

My husband and I are as consistent as we can be. We give each other breaks as often as possible, but for the most part we parent together in almost every situation. 

I spend every minute that I'm feeling well doing whatever my little man wants to do. We cuddle, we read books, we play with cars and do puzzles. We talk about colors and shapes. I make him use his words, even when it frustrates him. 

I am my son's parent. Cancer does not change that, nor should it.  

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