Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Journal

My mom cried the first time she read my blog.

Everything that she had tried to protect me from had become reality.  Reading about it on the screen made it feel even more real to her.  I wasn’t expecting this reaction at all, and I came very close to deleting the whole thing and never writing again.

But my mom told me that she wanted me to keep writing and telling my story because it might benefit others.  Over time, she began looking forward to reading my new entries and leaving me cheerful notes in the comments.  She wished that I would write more frequently, so that she could check in, see the most recent pictures of Ryan, and read about whatever was on my mind.  

My mom wanted me to have strength and courage, but she also taught me that I need to be true to myself and real about my feelings.  Because of this, I would like to share a personal story with you.

From as far back as I can remember, I had frequent nightmares about my mom dying.  Most people said that it was because of my wild imagination, combined with anxiety, but I always believed that it was because dreams somehow hold clues and insight to the future.

When my mom was diagnosed with metastatic cancer on April 1, 2009, I only wished that it could have been a nightmare or even a bad April fool’s joke.  But it was real.  And it was painful.  My heart sank to the pit of my stomach as I could not even begin to fathom life without her.  The doctors could not give us an estimate of how much time she had left, but most people who had family members with the same diagnosis said that they generally only lived a few months.

So, my mom and I decided to keep a journal.  We ended up writing notes back and forth to each other for the next two and a half years.  It was a simple way for her to pass the time when she was too sick to get out of bed, and the journal was something that I could always keep to remember her by.

In her first journal entry, my mom described how she felt about her diagnosis, how much she loved me, and how she was going to do everything possible to fight for her life so that she could be here with me and our family.  After each round of chemo (and there were over sixty rounds) she dutifully wrote me letters.

On “good” days, her entries were lighthearted and excited, like the time that we went to the beach together or when she described the beauty of our wedding ceremony.  We continued writing to each other throughout my pregnancy and during the joyous days following Ryan’s birth.  I wish that I could describe the happiness that eluded from her words because I had never seen her as delighted as she was as a new grandmother.  In our journal, she also wrote letters to Barry, Ryan, and her hypothetical future grandchildren.

Three and a half months later, we were faced with another cancer diagnosis: Mine.  My mom’s letters had remained upbeat the entire time throughout her own treatments and hospital stays, but at this point, her tone suddenly became somber, depressed, and worried. While I was undergoing my double mastectomy, she wrote in the journal for several hours while sitting in the waiting room.  She expressed her grief and concern that her baby girl had to go through this amount of pain.  She was proud of me for facing everything, but she did not feel that I deserved to have to suffer through it.  Her compassion was overwhelming.

After a while, the journal became a sense of security for me, and it was comforting to know that I would be able to read my mom’s words and feel her love for me in the many years to come.  After all that we had been through, we were both coming to terms with everything and finding peace in whatever situation life dealt us.

The very last time that my mom was feeling good, looking healthy, and acting like herself (energetic and sharp-witted) was at Ryan’s birthday party last year.  We were blessed that she was able be such a big a part of this meaningful event.  In October, she started to deteriorate quickly, and by December she was suffering immensely and the chemo had stopped working.

It was during that month that our journal got left behind in one of the hospital rooms.  

My mom was truly devastated and felt like she had let me down by not keeping track of the book. I tried to tell her that it didn’t matter, because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but it completely broke my heart to think that all of my mom’s precious words and the record of our journey was gone forever.

Despite many visits and requests to the hospital, I could never track down the journal.  I do believe that everything in life happens for the best, and so there must be a good reason that the journal disappeared.

Here are my thoughts:

1.  If I still had the journal, it might have been even more difficult for me to cope with my mom’s death.  Instead of focusing inwardly on my personal memories, reading the journal might have permitted me to dwell on the past rather than concentrate on the future.  Maybe some of those painful details of my life are not meant to be in my conscious memory.

2.  The loss of the journal reinforced an important lesson: Nothing lasts forever and we should not put much value into any of our material possessions (even the sentimental ones) but rather focus on what is inside of our hearts.

3.  Since this blog contains some of the only messages that my mom left for me and is the sole record of my difficult journey, it holds a special place in my heart.  That gives me the motivation to keep writing and updating.  After all, I never know who might be reading, personally connecting with my cancer experiences, or finding new ideas/amusement in our random life as we raise our toddler.

Now, for the sake of being completely honest, there is a huge part of me that wishes that I still had the journal to read when I miss my mom.  But I can feel her spirit in my heart and in everything around me, and I take comfort in that and in the fact that she is resting at peace with God.

Looking back, I am so grateful that my mom encouraged me to keep writing when she first read my blog in the beginning of 2011.  This has actually become Ryan's baby book, a record of our family's activities, and also a collection of my own personal thoughts and reflections. I'm not sure how much it helps others (although I hope that it does, in some way) but it certainly helps me to organize and appreciate my life.


  1. This is one of my favorite posts you have written. It is so personal and beautiful. I love reading your entries and keeping in touch with you no matter where I live. I am still so sorry that this journal was lost but as always, I am amazed at your continued strength and courage no matter what life throws at you. Love you!!!

  2. Karen couldn't have said it better! I was thinking the same thing! Thanks for sharing something so personal and touching! I love reading your blog and seeing how Ryan grows and changes since I don't get to see you all as often as I'd like! I think you have grown so much based on all your experiences and not only is your blog a great tool for keeping in touch, it also, I'm sure helps others out there! Love and miss you!

  3. Your mom was right - keep writing! Your blog isn't about cancer ... it's about life, and about LIVING! It's about really seeing how special and important every single moment is, whether it's a profound reflection, or watching your little guy learn something new. Just watching my toddler play is profound to me, after cancer forced me to see life happen without me. Your blog is inspiration to enjoy life. So see...you ARE helping someone else. Thanks.

  4. Dana thank you for sharing this personal loss you recently had. Reading how you shared this little book between you really illustrates the bond the two of you have. I would like to think that in place of something that can be lost or destroyed there is an internal dialogue with each other. I feel so much for her. The first image in my mind when I heard the doctor say "you have cancer" was that of my children's faces. I felt so much grief that this was happening to their mother when they were so young. The worry she had in her heart for her own struggle was small compared to what she felt for her own child. I hope that along with your wonderful blog (that I have referred to my other mommy friends with cancer) you have your own place to write to your mother. I have started a little book for my 5 year old daughter and my son who just turned 4 this month. Thank you again for being a light I can look to (even if it is from my iPad!)

  5. I am praying that the journal still shows up some day...and it will be such a blessing when it does.

  6. Thank you all so very much for the encouragement. This post was somewhat difficult for me to write because I do feel very emotional about my mom and the journal. But I believe that if it is meant to be, it will show up again someday. If not, I am not going to dwell on it. I enjoy writing about everything here, and I feel honored that you all care enough to read it. Thank you!!!

  7. Hi Dana, I was diagnosed earlier this year with breast cancer at the age of 31 and found your blog while looking for others like me (I'm also in DC). I've read many of your posts and connect with your story; I also lost my mother to cancer (in May) while going through my own cancer treatment. It was devastating on so many levels and I miss her every single day. I just wanted to reach out because the journey of fighting breast cancer is hard enough, but to suffer the major loss of a parent during the middle of it makes everything so much harder and confusing in a different way - and most people don't fully understand it. I'm comforted to see that I'm not alone in this type of situation. Good luck and keep writing!

  8. @Kristy- I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis and also about losing your mother. My heart goes out to you. I agree that most people couldn't possibly understand what it feels like because they (thankfully) have not had to go through both of these things at the same time. I do know that everyone goes through their own different types of difficulties in life, and it is certainly comforting to have someone who can relate to what you and I personally have just been through. Please feel free email me (Dana520 at aol.com) if you would like to talk some more.


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