Friday, December 9, 2011

Single Parenting and Cancer

Parenting a 13-year old boy is a struggle for any parent. It's rough for a divorced mom when the father is absent and has been for years. Parenting a teen boy with learning challenges and an elementary school age girl with advanced academic abilities provides a challenge. Being a full-time working parent, let alone a single parent, is stressful. Throw all of that together, along with a couple of part-time jobs into the mix, and you're talking about a heart attack waiting to happen.

Now add cancer.

Welcome to my world.

As if my life weren't stressful enough, strictly based on being a divorced mom who is lucky to get the minimally state-allowed child support from the father who, for all intents and purposes, financially and emotionally, abandoned the children years ago, trying to handle my cancer diagnosis and treatment has been a trip.


Financially speaking, being a divorced mom of 2 kids age 9 and 13 is terrifying. The boy eats barrels of food, thank you very much adolescence. His growth spurts mean new clothes every other day. His shoes grow faster than I can keep track. Plus, a Tween girl's fashion demands are high, and difficult to resist the desire to indulge their mini-fashionista demands just to keep them quiet. Plus, she's outgrowing her wardrobe, which means a switch-over.

And, oh yes, like too many of us, I'm stuck with an upside down mortgage on a house with some big maintenance issues. Again, day-to-day under "normal" circumstances, not easy. But the cancer diagnosis and treatment, got me sidelined big time financially.

Fortunately, I have health insurance provided by my employer, although Connecti-I-Don't-Care doesn't really understand that the reason they exist is to actually pay necessary medical bills, not pre-approve procedures, tests etc and then slap me with a co-pay that equals the "retail" billing amount. So, aside from the frustrations of knowing that I'm going to have to fight that battle when dust settles a bit more, I don't have to panic about my immediate medical bills.

However, given the unpredictability of the bumps in the road cancer presents, and the various side effects of cancer, I'm finding it difficult to maintain regular in-office/on-site hours. This means a) I have to manage work-at-home time with in-office time at my day job, b) I haven't been able to be put on a schedule on the sales floor at the bike shop c) I can't book parties and work my Mary Kay business the way that I'd been hoping to this year (before the cancer, my secret hope was to become a Mary Kay Director by June 2012).

What does all of this mean? My income is significantly reduced. My income, before, just barely covered the bills and absolute necessities. I'm a frugal individual, and quite scrappy when it comes to being able to do things financially. I'm an exceptional bargain hunter, I work hard at re-purposing as much as I can, whenever possible, and, since I'm a good cook, I can take almost anything and make a really high quality meal.

But now? Oy vey. Income is not reliable, and without the reduced supplemental hours with the bike shop and the challenges I'm facing with my Mary Kay business, it's even harder to manage. I'm constantly looking for one-off gigs that I can do from home that doesn't interfere with my day job, nor is something I can't manage along with my treatment. It's a challenge.

It's a strange and difficult thing to have to seek supplemental funds. It's not impossible, but with this economy, it gets harder and harder. There are great organizations, like Patient Advocate Foundation, that have programs, like the PAF's Co-Pay Relief program. I know I'm applying. But be prepared for almost any grants, aid, etc to get a lot of information from doctors, request letters, etc. Sadly, there are a lot of people who will fake cancer for the attention, money, etc (as a fellow LIVESTRONG leader discovered as early as this morning!), and the organizations have to protect themselves. It's a hassle, but do understand, it's a necessary evil. I have to think that times have become absolutely that desperate that people have to resort to faking this disease.

But there are still "regular" bills. Mortgage, heat, gas, car maintenance, insurance, utilities, etc. And the state aid programs are problematic. Cancer does not mean you're disabled. You can't realistically look for work while you're in active treatment. You're home more, which means your budgets change. More electricity is used. And the income flow is reduced to a trickle. What do you do?

I'm still trying to figure that out.


There is no question that my kids' academics have suffered this year. I think it's inevitable. I do my best to keep that from happening, and there are some great days. But the organized chaos of my cancer journey is reflected in how they do/do not perform in class. As a parent, it's really hard to help them keep focused when, thanks to chemo and being pulled in 800 directions, you're having a hard enough time keeping yourself focused. And it's a fine line between using the cancer as an excuse vs a valid explanation to the situation. Yes, it's affecting the kids, but, no, that doesn't excuse the problems.

It's also difficult because I'm home more than usual, which means that the kids have me around more to help them, and I've been able to go to the school a bit more than usual, but at the same time, my availability isn't free enough that I can go in to do PTA-related programs, etc. If it's a "down" day, I am screwed. Which means the kids are screwed.

I'm also finding my son, specifically, is all over the place. If he has a great day at school, he's impossible at home. If he's had a challenging day at school, he's brilliantly wonderful at home. Not only is there zero balance, but he can't grasp the idea that it doesn't have to be one or the other - having brilliant days in both places, or even just good

My daughter, on the other hand, has gone from being diligent in getting her work done to being terribly scattered. She forgets things constantly. She's more distracted than ever. She'll use keeping me company, making me grilled cheese sandwiches and other care-taking tasks from doing her homework. That "just 5 minutes" too easily becomes a 1 hour procrastination exercise.

And, the fact is, there really are days when I am too tired/unfocused to help the kids with their schoolwork. I can't pick up and run out to buy craft supplies at the 11th hour. I'm not always right around the corner from Staples so I can grab what they need on my way home. And I don't always have the funds available for random project materials.


Between the infection, surgical recovery, etc. I have to take it easy. And not just light housework, I can't even do light Pilates. And the fact is, when I tried to do housework and other activities, even modified, it proved to be too much and enabled a nasty infection and healing problem - hence 2 weeks in the hospital. I can't afford to have that happen again. There's no way.

This means very little activity in the house - I can cook a little, I can shop (though I still have to be careful and not push/carry too much), a little bit of laundry duty, and that's about it. This means the kids have to pick up the slack and really step it up. Laundry, dishes, vacuuming, sweeping, etc - it's all on them.

There is no question they hate it.

But they have to do it.

And, frankly, I don't feel entirely badly about it, either. For the past couple of years, since we moved back into the house after all of the construction debacles, the kids have totally abused this home that I literally slaved over. They've consistently trashed the room that I built for them. They have shown little or no regard for any of their belongings and what I've had to do, and continue to have to do, for them to have. So, it's hard time that they learn how to take care of things around here. So, as unfair as it may seem, I see this as much as necessary because I can't do it as I do chores backed up from the past few years. Again, they can't use the "Our Mommy Has Cancer" routine with me to get out of this.

Hence, the earned title, "The Mean Mommy."


Draining. The stopper is out and everything is down the pipes drained. Cancer sucks the emotions and life out of you, anyway. It can strip you of so much of what you know and thought defined you. You are broken down to your bare bones, which is an emotional and psychological feat. You find yourself stripped and, as you go along the journey, dropping a lot of dead weight in the form of fair weather friends, unreliable time suckers, etc. And, when it comes to your children, there are days when, if you were spoken to or treated the way that they do, particularly as they enter their teen years, numerically and/or with their attitudes, you'd drop them like dead weights. But we can't.

No, that doesn't mean that I don't love my children. But, there are moments, when I simply do not like them. Every parent understands what I'm talking about. That flash when you think, "That's it. I'm locking them out of the house and they can sleep in the backyard with the raccoons and the squirrels for all I care. I'm done." But then you realize, it's not that you adore them that much, but that you can get into serious legal trouble if you did that. Kind of like when you contemplated stapling their clothing to the wall, with them still in them, to keep them still for 2 minutes and get something done. In theory? Yes, it would accomplish what you need, but the authorities frown upon that sort of thing.

My son is in your face about his wrath, at least, when it reaches a boiling point. He gets in my face. Not cool. Not because it shakes me to the core and I fall apart, but because that does nothing more than cause a surge of adrenaline inviting me to get back into his face and remind him that I'm bigger, meaner, and I'm the BBOC - Big Bitch On Campus. That's the stress that breaks me down. That energy burst and reaction.

And his passive aggressive nature of defying direct instruction, or popping on his iPod or staring you down instead of verbalizing responses are enough to make me want to strangle him. In the back of my mind, all I can hear is Cher yelling, "SNAP OUT OF IT!" and the sound of the satisfying slapping of Nicholas Cage.

My daughter, on the other hand, has decided that despite my son trying to help get things together, to take every opportunity to bug the bejeezus out of him and starting shoving/smacking contests. She doesn't understand the concept of, "No!" and "Leave him alone!" And, though she looks like a Disney character that should be herding small woodland creatures to do her bidding, she has zero concept of "pick things up/put things back after you use them." While she wouldn't litter outside, she'll just drop wrappers wherever she is. She leaves her hair brushes, clothing, socks, underwear EVERYWHERE. And then, when you ask her to follow up, or do her share of the chores, she immediately points at her brother, declaring, "IT'S NOT FAIR!" and whining.

I'm sure many of you are reading this and saying to yourself, "Nu? That's my everyday life." Well, it's mine, too. But when you factor in that you're not feeling well, it's not the normal situation where you can step in, and while they are asleep, clean up after them, etc. you have to depend on your kids to do the right thing. You can't let emotions and stress get in the way of your treatment, because it really can prohibit progress.

And, at the same time, you also have to be emotionally ready to handle when their fears and feelings of uncertainty about you hit them. Which compounds your own fears.

I'm going to talk about other emotions facing a single mom with cancer, later... and it may not be appropriate for all audiences. Yes, I'm going to go there. Yeah, I have needs. What of it? Wink...

You find you get a LOT of help & support at the very beginning, but then, I think, it gets "old" to the people around you. I know people are thinking, "Alright, already. You have cancer. But, come on, seriously? You're still not better? You still need help?"

The answer is, "Yes." A cancer patient needs help/support for a really long time.

It's hard enough to ask for, accept or know what kind of help you'll need in the best of circumstances.

 It's a rocky road. It's a scary road. And very few people in your life will be able to comprehend the kind of aid, help, support and assistance you'll need.

But when you're raising a family on your own, which is a path filled with obstacles already, it's virtually impossible.

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