I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer the same week that my son turned two. He’s now three and a half, and the span of time since my diagnosis has been, in separate turns, beautiful and haunting. So often, as mothers, we are told to enjoy every moment, because they grow up too fast. Over and over, we find ourselves a part of a collective lamentation that our babies are getting too big too quickly. Too soon, we are out of the fresh, sleepless newborn days, navigating first teeth, first steps, and first days of school. Motherhood is a concurrent nostalgia for the opportunity to step back into the past, knowing what we know in the present, and the anticipation for the promises of futures unknown.
How do you parent knowing that the nostalgia you feel for the beautiful moments that have passed fall impossibly short compared to the nostalgia for the future moments you likely will never see? I struggle to reconcile the fact that my son will likely live a large part of his life without a mother. The guilt I feel over this is immeasurable, impossible, and heavier than any tangible object. Yet, I have also had to wrestle with the fact that, because of the networks I have created, the support systems I have forged, and the pieces of my legacy I have created, my son will be ok. He will have an incredible amount of love and support for his entire childhood and throughout his adulthood. He will have pieces of my life and my memory as ways to anchor his own memories of me, and of our lives together. As difficult as it feels to recognize, I am irreplaceable, but not essential to his upbringing.
The narratives of motherhood depict the toughest job you’ll ever do, and there is so much truth in that statement. Navigating the growth and development of a human being entirely separate from ourselves, but simultaneously so intimately tied to our persons and so incredibly dependent on us often leaves us feeling like a crumbling Colossus. We feel larger than life but unable to withstand the forces of the natural world pulling us in innumerable competing directions. As a mother living with metastatic breast cancer, I know that my foundation is crumbling, that there are forces larger than me that will eventually cause my collapse. Yet, like Colossus, I know that the significance of memory, of legacy, and of commemoration exist far beyond the loss of physical structures, and will carry my legacy into the future, whatever it may hold.