Cancer’s Not in Charge: Maintaining Emotional Health after Cancer

My entire life, I’ve felt much pride and comfort in being a person who was highly organized, a planner, someone that truly enjoys predictability. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, everything that encompassed my normal way of living was disrupted. And there was no way to “fix” it. This was not a good feeling and frankly it sucked!

I’m a stay-at-home mom of three young children. My first thoughts after my breast cancer diagnosis were how this was going to affect them. Would they even still have a mother in a year? These are terribly hard things to think about when you never thought you’d be faced with uncertainty. A week after my diagnosis, I decided that I was going to embrace thankfulness each and every day and make a part of each day ridiculously amazing. Here are the three ways I made this happen:

Noticing

Now one would ask how someone could find anything amazing in the midst of breast cancer treatment. Especially with GI issues, bone pain, neuropathy, and the worst fatigue you’ve ever felt. I did this by simply being present in the moment when I could. And by putting an effort towards noticing. Some days I wasn’t able to leave my bed much, but I still found opportunities. Many nights during my toughest chemo time, I’d go to bed early and listen to my husband put our kids to bed. I was sad that I couldn’t do it. But I found so much happiness in hearing him read bedtime stories and tell our kids how much he loved them. It can be hard, but it’s worth it to use the little energy you have to notice life’s little moments.

Charissa and Friends

Thanking People

One thing that has helped me throughout my diagnosis is letting people know how thankful I am for them. On my worst days – you know the days where walking down the stairs to get something to drink was an exhausting event sorta day – I’d grab a stack of thank you notes and start writing. I felt like I was doing something while not exerting much energy.

Many parents struggle with how to talk to their children about breast cancer. There isn’t one right way. But our guide to helping children cope with cancer will help you find yours.
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I truly think this was more beneficial to me than the person actually receiving the notes. It gave me time to actively seek out thankful acts of kindness and then reflect on them. It also gave me a sense of accomplishment for finishing a task for the day! I enjoy writing thank-you cards, but this can be done through texts, Facebook posts, in person, on the phone, or even through tweets. Thanking others gives you a second moment to experience the good in the world. Because you feel it once when it happens and a second time while reflecting on it.

One of my favorite thankful memories happened about four months into my diagnosis. My kindergartner’s class was asked what their mothers did for a job. The teacher heard all sorts of answers, from one kiddo saying their mom was a doctor to one that had a mom who worked with animals. My 5-year-old son said one of the most insightful things I’ve heard throughout my diagnosis. He told his class, “Mom has cancer and she doesn’t have hair and her job is to go to the clinic and get better. She has a really important job!” Right then and there, I knew my kids would be OK. My son had learned so much in the past four months, and I couldn’t be prouder. I found my thankfulness in his teacher who made my day in one email she didn’t have to send me.

Embracing the Moments We are Given: Good and Bad

Charissa and ChildI don’t want you to think that I find every moment ridiculously amazing. Being a mom is tough. Being a mom with breast cancer doesn’t make things easier by any means. But I live for the real moments during the day – moments of pure chaos that make motherhood what it is. I didn’t always live for these moments pre-cancer diagnosis!

You know those “lovely” times when your 5-year-old is taking eight years to put on his shoes before the bus comes. Those moments when your 7-year-old decides his pants are no longer comfortable one minute before you are supposed to leave the house. Or when your 2-year-old decides she needs a yellow cup and, well, you don’t own any yellow cups! The struggle is real, moms. These are only examples from today!

I love that once I get to the bus stop I am able to laugh with other moms about the morning mom struggles. I love that my 7-year-old has a discussion with me later about why his pants bother him. And I love that I’m given the opportunity to help my daughter learn colors, learn how to regulate her emotions and comfort her after a tantrum. It means I’m here and able to experience these moments. I may not always appreciate each moment of motherhood, but I appreciate being able to experience the madness. If you are able to reflect on thankfulness throughout the day, it can really improve your mental health. And your entire outlook on life. Choosing gratitude puts you in charge of how you are feeling, not the cancer. 

A Job Well Done

This mommy has not completed her really important job yet, but she intends to by the end of the year. There are many unknowns – how surgeries will go, if the cancer is gone, if it will come back someplace else, and if my body will rebound from treatment after all the trauma it’s experienced. But one thing I know for sure is that I’m happy for the days I have. And I’m beyond thankful for a new outlook on life. Find time to reflect, embrace the moments you are given, and notice the moments all around you. Even in the midst of a breast cancer diagnosis, we have a lot to be thankful for in our crazy lives!


Charissa BatesCharissa is a stay-at-home mama of 3 beautiful kiddos and an amazing husband! Charissa was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in June of 2019 at the age of 33. She has been doing everything in her power to be done with the dreaded “C” word since her diagnosis. She enjoys reading, leading a small bible study group, using her Cricut, loving up on her nieces and nephews, and spending time at her family’s cabin with her family. One day she hopes to make a big impact within her community and see a cure for cancer!

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