When Mum has Cancer – Family Dynamics

When Mum has cancer the whole family is affected. The house gets messy. The washing and ironing piles can tower.  Waiting times increase when the children need things, whether it’s waiting for pair of pants to be mended or waiting for a new piece of school uniform to be purchased. Trips to the library, or other special places become less frequent. Special Mum and Dad time often slips off the agenda.  The fridge can become a little more empty and the meals a little more simple. Events can be forgotten or missed. Mum might not be in the crowd watching as frequently as she once was. Sometimes life feels more sad than normal. Sometimes it can be easy to feel despondent. Tempers can fray. Tears come easily. The family can be living on the edge. Emotionally and physically.

While I was doing chemotherapy most of the above list was being checked most weeks. Sometimes beautiful friends and family would help and make sure things were happening for us. People cooked meals or gave vouchers for us to buy meals. My Mum and a friend helped with ironing. Family and friends looked after children. People came around and helped tidy the house. Practical help when you are dealing with a chronic illness is so appreciated.

Things may not be as bad right now. However it takes time to recover after an intense period of Mum being unwell. It is even more difficult to recover emotionally when there is no certainty of treatment ever stopping. Then there is times (like we’ve experienced recently) when a flare up occurs and Mum is out of action again. This time it was more briefly than last time, but things can quickly become discombobulated and emotions that have only just started to settle brim to the surface very quickly.

Unfortunately a month ago or so I started feeling really achey in every join in my body. It was starting to slow me down and I was finding it difficult to function in the mornings. The most unfortunate thing for my kids was I was allowing myself to be irritable and snappy. The tone in a household can be affected by any one person’s behaviour. But I find when Mum is crabby things deteriorate really quickly. It seems that our family’s default emotion is anger. We have really been struggling with a lot of angry little bodies, (OK, let’s be honest, the big bodies have been angry too!), to be truthful, for quite some time, family life has been really tough, and during the past month or so, even more so.

Fortunately my oncologist recognised my pain as a side effect from the immunotherapy I’m still receiving. Taking doses of Advil frequently and regularly has helped the arthritis get under control again. Now we’re working on getting the family to be calm again too.

I wish it was as easy as swallowing a pill to make us humans less reactive! Sometimes it is simply taking a break and slowing down filling a child’s love tank. After a particularly tumultuous weekend, one little fellow really wasn’t coping so yesterday he stayed home from school and had a “mental health day”.

It was day of going slow, apart from pumping through three loads of washing. (Which really is huge in our 11kg machine!) I was doing a little mending job and he was interested in the needle and thread so I taught him how to straight stitch and sew on buttons. It amazes me sometimes how children can find delight in simple things. He sat there for well over an hour sewing buttons onto a scrap of fabric. He then wanted to learn how to use the sewing machine, so we did that.

Learning to sew.

He ran around outdoors while I put the washing on, throwing the ball at me. He laughed hard at me as he tried to catch me out by throwing it at me when I wasn’t ready! He noticed the roses so we went down and picked some. We literally stopped and smelled the roses!

We put them in vases and he delighted in putting a little vase in his sister’s room for a surprise. When Dad came in for lunch he delighted being “an only child” for a little while having Mum and Dad to himself. He persuaded Dad to play table tennis with him for a little bit and then asked for my help to clean his room. (The issue that had brought him to a tumbling into a heap on Sunday afternoon.) We didn’t get it all tidied, but I know he felt supported that we can work on solving problems together.

Did it make family life perfect again? No. But things were just that little bit calmer yesterday. Including when the child in question lost his temper once the annoying siblings returned. But this time he was able to calm down much quicker than the day before. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves or our spouse or our children a pressure valve. We need to slow the pace and give them a chance to release steam safely so that it doesn’t burn the others.

Besides when is family life ever completely perfect? If you ever achieve it, it is only for a moment. An hour or two perhaps of bliss before the inevitable bickering starts or pressures of life and humdrum of living interferes.

When Mum has cancer the whole family is effected. Beauty can still be found in the chaos. Roses can be sniffed. Time can be spent together in the simplest of activities. In the forced going slow moments, family members can regain respect and feel cherished. When Mum has cancer families learn to support each other in the mess and support one another during the hardship. When Mum has cancer the family can exhibit a resilience of spirit that goes deeper than the outbursts and the pandemonium. When Mum has cancer love can still be found in the family. Even if you have to scratch a little below a layer of self protection.

PS. Some friends have been encouraging me to vlog. I don’t really know how to do it, but it feels like something nice to do at the moment, so I’m going to give it a go. One of the activities we were doing yesterday was fiddling around filming from my iPhone. We’re starting simple. Apologies to those who know how to do this properly. Feel free to send me advice! It will be full of mistakes but keep tuned to my Caitlin’s Happy Heart Facebook page or Instagram page. If I work out how to edit our day, I’ll post a YouTube link maybe in a few days time! (Plus like and subscribe if you want me to keep going, I’ll be looking for feedback to see if it’s worthwhile!)

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