In the past three years, my family and I have suffered the loss of our son due to stillbirth and the stress of my cancer diagnosis. Together, we have gotten through some of the most challenging moments imaginable. Throughout our jarring journey, we have discovered volumes about ourselves, each other, and life lessons that have forever changed and enriched us. I would like to share with you some of the things that we have learned and continue to learn.
1. Give yourself time to consider all your options before making any decisions. You have to be your own advocate. If you feel you are getting pushed into making a decision that you do not feel is right, stand up for yourself. Through losing a child and going through chemo and surgeries, there are a lot of life-changing decisions that needed to be made. When we lost our son, we didn’t have a lot of time to make decisions regarding testing we wanted done on him or funeral arrangements. I feel we took as much time as possible to make the right decisions for him and our family. We were lucky enough to have been at a hospital that did anything and everything to make us feel comfortable and let us see him whenever we wanted. There are so many things that you don’t think about when you suffer a sudden loss, and we are so thankful that the hospital staff took care of taking pictures, getting footprints and making molds of his hands for us. Honestly, I am not sure if I would have thought of all of those things. They also provided us with tons of information and gave us books on grief and some other mementos. We decided that we would always agree on the things we wanted to do regarding our son and only do things that made both of us comfortable.
The same goes for a cancer diagnosis. Typically, there is not a lot of time between diagnosis and treatment. I had two weeks because I was pregnant with my daughter when I was diagnosed, and the doctors felt it would be best to wait until she was 32 weeks so her lungs would be more developed. Again, there was research being done on our end to make sure this was the best route to go. I was very torn because I felt awful that my daughter would have to be in the NICU, and I didn’t want her to feel any pain. One of the doctors put it to me in a way that made feel a lot better. He said, “Your daughter needs you, and she won’t remember being in the NICU. If you wait until you are full-term to have her and start treatment, you may not have a lot of time with her.” That cemented to me that I was doing the right thing. The type of cancer I had was rare (only 5% of the time it is in the Cervix), and my Oncologist told me that they typically don’t get to treat my type of cancer because by the time people find out they have it, the it is so advanced and spreads so quickly there is nothing that can be done. I did my research and realized she was right. We felt so much better about our decisions when we were able to look back and know we did the right thing for us.
2. Since we are on the topic of decisions, the next life lesson I want to share is don’t let people make you think you are doing the wrong thing. I have always said that you don’t know what a person would or should do unless you are in their shoes. Some people thought it was stupid of me to have my daughter early in order to have surgery. Even though I will never be able to have more children of my own because of the surgery, I consider myself lucky. A lot of cancer patients do not have an option to have surgery. I was lucky enough to have surgery, and chemo was more of an insurance policy to make sure the cancer would be gone.
Don’t ever let someone make you feel bad for the decisions you make. They are yours and yours alone. You are the one that has to live this life, and it isn’t always easy. You know what is best for your family.
3. Patience. Ahh, patience — something I was never blessed with. That is until I got pregnant with my son. I was on hospital bed rest for two weeks before I had him. Even though he was not with us long, he taught us so much. He taught me to slow down and enjoy the little things. After I had him, we had another wait ahead of us: his autopsy results and genetic testing. It didn’t take long, but it felt like forever. Results indicated he was absolutely perfect. Well, I could have told them that. Sometimes life doesn’t offer explanations. It can drive you mad or teach you patience.
Cancer is teaching me another lesson: patience is not some final destination where you arrive and lay out on the sand. It’s something you get better and better at. During treatment and even after, I have gained some more patience. Waiting for test results has to be one of the most stressful things in the world. I wish the radiology staff could just give you a thumbs up, so you know you’re okay. But alas they do not, and you usually have to wait a couple of hours to get the results. Even though it can be extremely hard, you do have to be patient, especially in the medical world.
4. It’s okay to not be okay. There were a lot of times I would try to hold it together, but most of the time I just couldn’t. It is totally fine to not be strong all of the time. Those feelings and thoughts need to get out, or they will eat you up inside. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk to someone. It’s okay to sit and cry it out because your feelings are yours, and you don’t ever have to be ashamed of them. There were and still are times after losing our son that I just start crying. It doesn’t even have to be his birthday or something else that would trigger a lot of emotions. Don’t ever let someone make you think your feelings are not justified.
5. Your grief and your emotions are your own, and it is your choice how you express them. I have heard people say things about me or other people that have lost a child that they don’t think the parent is grieving enough or they are not handling it well. In my opinion, it is no one’s business how someone else handles their grief. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors. If someone thinks you aren’t grieving enough in public, maybe you don’t feel comfortable expressing emotion in front of others. Then there is the opposite when sometimes you simply cannot hold it in. When those tears start sneaking up, and you just can’t stop them that is perfectly fine. You are not here to please everyone else, and it is more than okay to let those emotions out.
6. A big lesson for me was that you should try your hardest to treat someone as normal as possible when he or she is going through hard times. It’s okay to laugh and have fun even though you are going through a hard time in your life. A big thing that I noticed after losing my son and after being diagnosed with cancer is that people felt kind of weird around me. I think they thought I was supposed to be sad all of the time, and they were supposed to talk about what was going on in my life all of the time. I didn’t necessarily feel that way. I love to joke around and have fun, and it was so nice when people would do that with me. A sense of humor can help tremendously. I really didn’t mind at all when people would just talk to me about everyday stuff and what was going on in their life. It was a nice break from thinking about all of the things that were going on in my life. Sometimes, you just don’t want to talk or think about the hardships that you are enduring, so it is nice to take a break and just chat about other things in life. Now, if I see someone out and about that I know who is going through hard times, I try to just talk about daily life instead of whatever situation they may be in. Of course, if they bring it up, I am happy to listen.
7. Adopt a positive perspective and make it your priority. I know you think I must be off of my rocker. I will admit it is hard to stay positive during a rough time, but it is possible. You have to pick out the positives in every situation. When we lost our son, we were told there was nothing genetically or physically wrong with him that caused his death. Naturally, as parents, as humans, you always want an answer, but there wasn’t one. It would have been nice if there was some reason that could be fixed during my next pregnancy to ensure that this wouldn’t happen again. But the positive that came out of that situation was that we were given the okay to go ahead and try for another baby. There wasn’t anything genetically wrong with us that we couldn’t have a baby together, and there wasn’t anything wrong with me that I couldn’t carry another baby.
When you have cancer, you are fighting. You are fighting to literally get out of bed because you are in so much pain and/or fighting during treatment. To be a fighter, you have to have strength and a positive attitude. If you are negative all of the time, you are not going to have the strength or courage to fight. Be positive and fight to stay positive. It might just save your life.
8. It’s hard for most to ask for help or accept help, but it’s smart, and it makes all the difference. So, when you need help, ask. Whether it be a shoulder to cry on or help around the house. When going through treatment some days, it was very hard to get out of bed let alone clean the house and take care of my daughter. When asked if I would like people to bring meals to me, I did hesitate to accept. It gave me the chance to do a little socializing, and I didn’t have to cook or clean up a big mess in the kitchen. I also had help with cleaning. It was such a relief to have things nice and clean. Don’t be afraid or ashamed if you need help. Trust me, you will not regret it.
When we were planning the services for our son, we had decided to have the lunch at our home. I am still in awe of how everyone came together and helped us. We did not have to make one dish or come up with any chairs, tables or eating utensils. Everything was brought to our home and set up for us. We are forever grateful to everyone that helped us get through it all.
9. You and your partner are not always going to be at the same stage in your grief. This one is kind of tricky. In the beginning, you will probably be on the same page. As time goes on, things will start to change. Everyone is different in how he or she handles and is affected by grief. Looking through photos or telling stories might be therapeutic for your partner, but you may not be ready for it. You may want to seek out a support group, but your partner might not feel comfortable. You may be having a good day, but your partner may not. All of those things are normal; you just have to support each other. If your partner doesn’t want to go to a group, don’t force it. If you don’t want to look at pictures, just leave the room until your partner is done. Don’t ever force yourself or your partner to do things that you are not ready for. Just try to support each other and understand that each progresses through the stages of grief at his or her own pace.
10. Never take for granted that we only get this one life. Truly enjoy it! You don’t have to go skydiving or on a fancy trip to have fun. There are tons of things you can do to have a great time and enjoy the ride. Maybe take a class or visit with friends and family more. It’s really the little things that make life enjoyable, so start taking the time to notice them. Everyday life can be so hectic with work, school and chores at home, but somewhere in mundane life something good happens. Try and pick out the positive things and forget about the negative. Life’s too short for negativity. Enjoy life!
Contributed by Autumn Marshall: Autumn is a stay-at-home mom and lives with her husband, stepson, and daughter. She also has a son in heaven. She is in her second year of remission from Large Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the cervix. When she started blogging, she never dreamed of the places it would take her. You can check out her blog at Welcome to My World.
Truly inspiring life lessons from today’s fan feature, Autumn Marshall — a strong, brave, and grounded soul.
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