Mama Diaries: What Cancer Does to a Mother

cancer stories

This week’s mama diary is a resubmission from a warrior mama who found a lump in her breast while her second child was only 7 months. She battled with herself knowing she had to stop breastfeeding and move onto formula – not that formula was wrong, but that it she had to give up the connection a lot sooner than she wanted to, especially when her body at the time was still producing. She ended up receiving a double mastectomy and this was only one of the many things that cancer seem to have taken from her. Her diary entry, below:


 

cancer stories

If you saw me walking down the street or met me at the park with my kids, you would have no idea the nightmare I have been thru. It is even hard for me to believe it, that is until I look in the mirror and the harsh reality stares back at me. My once long beautiful brown hair is now something resembling a mop of brown hair that stands straight up! Sure, my boobs may look full and great (no longer saggy from breast-feeding two children), but to me they are completely numb, and sometimes feel like strange weights that are somehow glued to my chest. I always joked about wanting a boob job after kids, but I’d take my old saggies any day just to feel like me. These things suck, but they are just the surface, and if cancer teaches you anything, it is that there is so much more than what is on the surface.

Cancer steals the ability to not look beyond the surface. It forces you to go deep within and think about the scary dark stuff that our minds usually protect us from thinking about. The thoughts of what will happen to my children if I am not here? Who will kiss their little heads a million times a day and breathe in the sweet smell, that no other being on this planet has. Who will wipe their tears when they fall, and what if I miss seeing them grow up and walk down the aisle or become parents themselves. Then I realize, I am surrounded by love. My husband a pillar of strength and reason, my family, one that only knows how to love and support, and my friends who made sure our family was fed for months on end when I was undergoing treatment. Yes, my children would be ok, but what is not ok, is me. I am not ok with the idea that I would miss those things. I am more than not ok, I am pissed off and I will not accept that. I am strong and “brave,” but honestly, isn’t this how any mom would respond? Sometimes, I just have to let myself be angry. No this is not fair, I hate that cancer took away my ability to be invisible. I hate that sometimes I still reach for my head at night to check if my hair is there, to confirm that this is in fact my reality and not just a nightmare. I sometimes wonder why me? I could answer this a million ways, but the way I choose to look at it is that I don’t believe life would deal me a hand that I couldn’t handle.

cancer stories

Cancer is scary. It makes us re-evaluate the way we see the world. As cliché as it sounds, it forces things into perspective. For me, it has made me think about my own identity. I didn’t want to be the “girl with cancer.” I spent the 8 months focusing on healing and trying to be as normal as I possibly could. To continue to be a mom and a wife when it felt like the world around me was falling down. Cancer gave me the chance to live, and focus on being a better version of myself. A me who can put my cell phone down and roll around on the floor and listen to my little monkeys as they wrestle each other laughing their little heads off.  I really don’t think there is anything better in the world.

Despite, all the pain and ugly, I do feel blessed. Even the challenging times like when my 3 year old refuses to get dressed, or when my son tries to climb every piece of furniture while I attempt to wash dishes, I am grateful. I get to experience this! I am not lying in bed or sitting on the couch watching my life go by me, that part is over, and I get to be present. It’s hard to not let cancer make you bitter, but when you focus on the sweetness you have, it makes every day you feel “good” a small victory to hold onto. There are good days and bad days along this journey, but somehow you get to the other side and start to regain a sense of normalcy.  Never the same carefree life as before, or one without that sick feeling you get at the thought that cancer can come back, but a sense that it is ok for you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.

Mama Diaries: #MeToo

mother

With the recent social media movement of standing up against predatory behaviour, we decided to put our cancer diary on hold this week and insert this one that just came in. It’s way too important not to share. Hoping this anonymous mama finds comfort soon.


 

mother

 

“Mama, I’ll carry you when you’re old”

– my daughter, age 5.

She’s about 4 years away from when I was a victim of an act that no child should ever have to endure. An act of someone who I had trusted. Someone who had forced himself on me and said words to me to think I was safe.

She’s 4 years away from when I began keeping secrets. Secrets from my mom, my family, everyone.

She’s 4 years away from when I began hating myself every time I looked in the mirror because I couldn’t even understand what was happening to my body, my emotions, my world.

She’s 4 years away from when I began actively lying to everyone and doing things against my parent’s request just because I felt the need to be bad for “being bad.”

She’s 4 years away from when I had my innocence taken away. And it’s not until now that I realize how innocent I really was. None of it was my fault. None. Of. It.

I was just a child. I see that now. A helpless child who was put in a very wrong situation. And it continued, for a while. There was so much fear of telling someone. Who would believe me? I was just a child. And if they did believe me, it would rip every single relationship I had with my family. Because that was it, it was in the family. And I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t risk breaking my family apart. Did I tell anyone? Yes. I told my younger sister. But there was nothing she could do either, but cry with me. I told her never to tell anyone for fear of breaking up the family. She agreed, even though I know now it probably took every ounce in her not to tell anyone.

Now, decades later, it still haunts me. I try to store it deep inside and refuse to let it rule my life but every now and then, some stories of sexual abuse victims come up and it brings me back to when I was just a little girl. There’s still so much anger and hate towards this person, and to every individual out there who thinks he can engage in such a horrific act towards another person – to a child.

Recently, the hashtag #MeToo has taken over social media. The goal is to encourage those who have been a victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault to stand up against predatory behaviour. It serves to provide a visual marker of how often these acts occur and how we all need to stand up and make it stop. That’s the upside to it all. The downside? Well, it’s caused a lot of ill feelings for folks like me who have lived in silence. Silence for reasons some may not understand, but still… silence. And now for the first time when something is shared online, it is blasted so quickly that a simple gesture of support becomes a movement. So it’s hard to “get away” from it all when really, you’re not ready to revisit these emotions because it was so fucking hard to let it go the first trillion times. So on this day, I stand with all my friends who unfortunately have gone through some form of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse… but I’m sorry – I cannot see anymore of these hashtags because it just makes me go back to where I’ve been trying to escape for nearly my whole life.

Mama Diaries: Faith in Me

woman motherhood lonely

As we enter Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’d like to repost one of the most heartfelt diary entry of a mama who had gone through cancer, twice. It is something that had touched many hearts in the past and felt it would be a good start to the month of October. This mama dairy was submitted courageously and anonymously and we hope you will appreciate the realness in her words.

 


 

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.     Douglas Adams

woman motherhood lonely

I thought I had done my time with crisis 11 years ago when I had found myself in the grips of anxiety and depression. It was a journey…one that took months..years actually..to feel that we conquered that dragon. Those years were hard but I came out the other side with a deeper faith, a cemented relationship with my husband and the feeling that I had earned some hard fought for strength.

Fast forward to 2 years ago. I remember the day I found the lump in my breast… it’s so cliche but I really did know it wasn’t good. It just didn’t feel right…it burned and felt incredibly hard. And while everyone told me it was sure to be nothing, the feeling in my gut told me otherwise.  Those weeks of waiting were filled with me bargaining with God…And when I was told that I had breast cancer the words were crushing. I had thought I had prepared myself for this.  The fact is, you just can’t. We innately hold out hope for the best.

I was scared…terrified actually.  Our kids were 15, 13 and 10…still ages where their biggest worry should be what outfit they should wear the next day… It felt unfair that their world was rocked. It felt unfair that my husband once again had to take up the sword again as protector, encourager, advocate and master of all to our kids. Hadn’t we gone down a hard enough path years earlier? I guess deep down I felt sorry for myself.  I had been taken down a couple pegs 11 years ago… and now again? The strength that I had thought was now woven into my being, no longer felt reachable.

holding hands motherhood

That’s where all the credit goes to my peeps who didn’t let me get comfortable in that hole of fear and self pity. They helped dig me out and get me back on my feet, promising to walk with me every step of the way. And with that support, we just did what we had to do. Albeit it in a bit of a fog, I went through chemo and then a double mastectomy coupled with reconstructive surgery. Many of those times literally felt like I was watching someone else rather than myself. I suppose that’s the positive of having a ton of appointments/tests/treatments/consultations. It’s a bit of a whirlwind and you just do as you’re told.

It’s been the after cancer part that has been a crazy time of processing what the heck just happened. Who am I now? I am different. Period.

The new ” me”  physically feels grateful and cheated at the same time.  So weird that the two emotions can co-exist so easily.   The grateful part is simple…and obvious: I have my life. I am on the “other side”.  There aren’t words to explain the amount of grateful I have in my heart.

The cheated part sneaks in when I look into the mirror…I’m still shocked. These two fake breasts make me look normal on the outside but truthfully they feel anything but.  They aren’t me…there’s no feeling…that area remains completely numb. Kinda gives new meaning to bolt-ons. They honestly do not feel like a part of my body. The new layer of fat on my body, thanks to the hormone therapy I’m on, is ridiculously uncomfortable. The hardest part is the guilt. Why do I care that I’m different physically? I should just be grateful that I am alive.  And I am.  And yet the feelings are in there…and they run deep. That’s the part that still plagues me.  In these moments I feel like cancer not only took my breasts but left me with a wounded body image. The challenge continues and I feel like the ending to that story is still to be written. Self love is going to take a bit of time, but it’s going to happen. Time is a healer and I rest on that and my faith to recognize that my body has faced an assault and I need to be patient.

motherhood alone

Some have suggested that this was a blip in the road. Yes and no… Maybe more like being put in front of a mountain and told you need to get to the other side. It’s like climbing to the top and pretending that the view still looks the same as before.  Not possible.  Cancer has changed me and while I deny it defines me, its mark has been left…in how I view life, in how my decisions are made, in how I process life.

I am humbled at how those who love me (and many who didn’t even know me, let alone love me) cared for me.  And, at the end of the day, I recognize that I was stronger than I thought. Those days of working through the crippling anxiety prepped me for this hurdle. I may not have enjoyed that process (at all!) but I am grateful that I had some tools to meet this dragon head on. And not only to meet it, but to slay it…that’s been our family saying throughout the process. Slay the dragon! And is it possible that my faith in God is even more meaningful and pivotal in my life? My relationship with husband even more solid (honestly he’s got the “for better or worse” commitment DOWN!)? My love for my kids more fierce? YES! And while I would never EVER give cancer any creds I can say that beauty can blossom on the most dark places. My faith in the goodness of people’s hearts has been re-ignited. My passion to focus more on relationship and less on the other unimportant things has taken root. Indeed, beauty shines as a beacon in amongst the turbulence that life can throw you.  I know this to be true. xo

Purposeful Nursery

baby room nursery decor

More than just a nursery. 

One of the most exciting things about being a first time parent is planning the baby’s room. Putting together what will be (essentially) the sanctuary of your first-born child. Getting a project like this always makes me incredibly giddy. It means being able to bring a mother’s vision to life and hopefully making it everything she thought it would be, if not more. But what makes these projects so special is the time I get to spend with the soon to be mom: Getting to know her, listening to her dreams, hopes, fears, and sharing mom stories. The journey in motherhood is not easy and sometimes lonely. If we can let another mother know that she’s not alone (ever) in this journey, it may really help her during the harder days and nights. So designing a nursery doesn’t just mean meeting the needs of the baby, but also meeting the needs of the mother.

I had the pleasure of putting together this baby boy’s room and I cannot be happier with how it turned out. Light and airy, gender-neutral, and lots of natural wood tones was the goal for this magical room.

 

baby room nursery decor

We left the walls white as this space was a rental unit and the parents preferred not to commit to a specific colour. Rather, we broke up all the whiteness with some wall decals (Urbanwalls) and made a feature wall right by the changing table.

nursery decor baby room

We changed the hardware from a used dresser to match with the new crib and everything else just fell into place.

 

These IKEA drawers were actually meant to be floating drawers such as bedside tables but we added footings to it to create a low level table play area for the active toddler years (always thinking ahead…).

Having a place to hang all the little items that makes a mama smile is a good way to remind her of all the positive things to come. We really took advantage of the one wall that wasn’t taken up by the crib. This area will later be a place to stick family photos, artwork, and even little love notes for the little one to see while playing (have a quick read about how this helps with social and communicative development in our Functional Design blog)

nursery decor baby room

One of my favourite things in this room is the incredible macramé (Saige and Skye) and custom floral ring (Posie and Pine) above the crib. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the room and the combination of the two works of art is beyond words.

macrame nursery

This mama had an incredible collection of books for her little one. So to display them all, we hung a dollhouse on the wall to add some extra shelf storage for the books. The books can easily be exchanged out for other toys in the future. The rest of the books are in the crate box on the floor for accessibility (more on our Functional Design blog. Seriously, it’s good stuff).

nursery baby decor

When renting a space, it is imperative that things can easily be moved around. Furthermore, being in a condo means sacrificing space for location. So the goal was to create a room with multi-functional furniture that can be used not only for this temporary home, but for their future forever home. And I think we did just that.

baby room nursery decor


Get the Look:

Crib: Babyletto Scoot 3-in-1 Crib (white/washnat) – Westcoast Kids

Crib sheet: Organic Bamboo Fitted Crib Sheet – Numpfer

Macrame Wall Hang – Saige and Skye

Custom Gold Ring Wall Hang – Posie and Pine

Palm Branches Wall Decals – Urbanwalls

Chunky Knit Heart Blanket – Lil Fox Shoppe

Lighting – IKEA

Rocker – Rove Concepts

Pegboard – Sprig West

Modern Baby Book – Mushybooks

Low Cabinets – IKEA

Custom Wooden Acron Garland – Coral and Cloud

Modern Kids Side Table – Wire Home

Wooden Dollhouse – IKEA

 

 

The Art of Functional Design

family room decor

The Art of Functional Design: The Wonder Years

playroom decor(image via Instagram @nr13b)

Ever wonder why you’re more attracted to certain designs than others? Or if certain things placed in a specific way will make you do a double take? Our brains are hardwired to respond to things that stimulates brain activity or elicit positive emotions. Things that provoke positive feelings often are triggered by past experiences and/or memories. And for little ones (we’re talking itty bitty ones), past experiences can mean a sudden memory to recent facial responses or movements of inanimate objects.

This is the key to firing a whole wack of neurons to activate certain brain functions at an early age. Moana was seriously right when she sang that “everything is by design” (yes, that is our new Frozen now). There is so much research out there on how to effectively promote cognitive, social-emotional, and communicative development in an enriched learning environment that something needs to be said about how this can be done at home; especially when we (as parents) spend so much time socializing and interacting with our child(ren) in our homes.

If you could design a room to help increase your child’s core competencies, would you? This means helping them activate certain areas of the brain at a higher level to help with brain development at a young age. What if I told you, you could? What if I told you, you could integrate your style in creating a room that you love AND help promote development?

Chances are, you’re probably already doing that – but simply unaware of it. But now that you’re about to become aware of it, you’ll only continue to enhance that level of interaction with your child even more.

kids playroom(image via Instagram @hudson_and_harlow)

When designing a space, it’s really important to understand why form should come after function. Meaning, understand the function of the room and space first, and then design it to individualize it to your style and what would provoke positive feelings in that space. A great article by Fresh Home gives a little insight about that. But when it comes to a child’s space, function takes on a whole other level.

If I could take anything from the last 15 years of clinical work with children, it would be that the environment we create will determine the socialization of the child. Ok, bare with me for a bit and let’s nerd this out for a second… it’ll help put things in perspective.

Socialization is a process described in which an individual acquires his or her own personal identity; the process in which one learns the values, norms, social behavioural patterns and social skills needed to integrate in and become a functioning member of society (Collins et al., 2000). Arguably, families, and later peer groups, communicate expectations and reinforce norms. Families set the foundation of what is considered the core values of the household, or community. In most research, this has been supported by using attachment theories and parenting styles to explain the development of the internal working model of an individual (Lamb & Lewis, 2011).

Ok – nerd time over. But, in short, before our children enter a world where their decisions are based on peer guidance (i.e. school), we as parents have an incredible influence on their development and who they will become in the future. The more we are able to socialize them between the ages of 0-5, the more we are able to cultivate their perspective of the world. A POSITIVE perspective. How does designing a room play a role in this? Easy, the way you define the function of the room plays a role in how you utilize the room. Is the playroom really for playing or for storing toys? Are preferred items that cause a positive association to your child easily accessible? Is your child able to communicate effectively to you their needs in a room? Are you providing opportunities for those communications to occur? Is there a space for your child to engage in independent play, successfully?

Believe it or not, the way a room is designed can truly help enhance your child’s cognitive, social, and communicative development. Where items are placed and how they are placed can actually help activate many areas of the brain. And when you activate those areas of the brain, you’re encouraging higher levels of functioning to occur. Here are some things to think about when designing, decorating, or organizing a child’s bedroom or play space:

  1. Get organized: Bins are not for throwing just ANY toys in.

It is imperative to keep things organized in its specific categories of play. This means the specific toys are stored in its respective bins. If possible, label with a picture or simple key words to increase recognition of sight words. The reason why bins shouldn’t be used as just storage bins for a range of toys is that because sorting and categorization is the first step to higher-level cognitive development. It is the prerequisite to much more sophisticated thought processes such as planned behaviour. Teaching how to sort at an early age can lead to stronger mental states in planned behaviour such as decision-making, executive functioning (working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control), and even language development.

  • Note: large bins can be used to store larger categorical play activities (e.g., things a child can do by him/herself) while smaller bins can be used to store specific play activities (e.g., lego, puzzles, vehicles, food, animals). A combination of both will effectively help keep things organized in small spaces.

kids room deco(image via Instagram @carlberg_home)

  1. Keep books low to the ground and child accessible:

Books are essential to the growth of many components in child development. Books are like water for our brains. It is truly a necessity. It helps create mental imagery that is significantly important for:

  • Communicative development (language),
  • Social development (connecting on shared experiences)
  • Emotional development (self-regulation)
  • Cognitive development (sight words or word association)

The point is, books are vital to our child’s well-being. So having books easily accessible will ultimately increase their ability to 1) get a book on their own 2) choose to read a book whenever possible 3) initiate book reading. Once this is done, you’ll quickly see how often they go to that little book nook you’ve set up. If space is limited, change up the books once in a while to keep things novel (see what I did there?).

bookshelf decor

image via Instagram (@maggieandrose)

  1. Provide a table space

Allowing a space for your child to sit/stand with a table surface is tremendously advantageous for development. Most of the time, your child would be playing on the ground simply because it is the largest surface area for activities. However, providing an elevated surface will encourage your child to work on their gross motor development (larger muscles in the arms, legs, and core) and fine motor skills (movement involving small muscle groups). A significant body of research has positively correlated having good motor control with increase in cognitive development. Furthermore, anytime a child is engaged in an activity at a table, they are more likely to focus for a longer period of time. Plus, kid furniture are so incredibly cute – you’ll probably start your design/décor ideas from that.

kids play decor

(image via Instagram @maggieandrose) 

  1. Provide high contrasting colour/images

By now you’ve seen or heard how high contrasting colours or images help stimulate brain activities in newborns. This is true. And it continues into adulthood. Whenever something is high in contrasting colours, it always catches our eyes and demands us to focus on it for just a little bit longer. This is why monochrome effects are so powerful; but this doesn’t mean every room should be monochrome. In fact, too much may be overly stimulating for newborns. As long as there is something highly contrasting in the room (whether it be bright toys on the shelf against a white wall or white prints against a dark background) this will provide some stimulation to the brain that can help activate other components through development.kids decor

 

  1. Print out family photos

In this digital age, it is sometimes difficult to get actual photos printed out in your home, let alone have them framed and neatly organized. However, studies have shown that looking at pictures enhances our communication skills by increasing our attention, comprehension, recall, and adherence. For little ones who may not yet have the vocabulary to communicate or have low literacy skills, pictures allow a way to connect a 2D image with the 3D world, thus strengthening their language development. Furthermore, family photos of specific events (vs. portrait photos) will help a child with their recall and episodic memory. A strong episodic memory promotes the ability to readily share experiences with others and improve on communication/conversation skills.

  • We love using our Polaroid camera for this. It’s instant and it allows us to immediately help our children connect the image to what is currently going on in their surroundings. These then can be hung in their room or around the house.

These are some of the fundamental key designs we take into account with every room we create for a family. Even though we’ve designed the room for its intention to be used in a meaningful way, a child cannot grow on his or her own without the scaffolds of a loving adult. And for a loving adult to scaffold a child to become a better version of themselves, meaningful spaces must also be created to help with one’s emotional well-being. We often put our children’s needs first (even when it comes to designing their rooms), that many of our rooms in the house get neglected. It is important that we strive to create a space for ourselves that provides positivity and meaning to our daily lives. With every design project that we are lucky to be involved in, that is our goal for each family/business. It is to help find that positivity and meaning amongst the choas. To find more on this incredible topic, check out Karla Dreyer’s published work on the art of “Hygge design – the art the practice.” Everything is certainly by design.

I hope this piece helps guide the design of your family space. Leave a comment to let me know what you think and of course, if you have any questions, feel free to let me know and I would be happy to dive into a deeper discussion regarding your vision.

 

References:

Collins, W.A., Maccoby, E.E., Steiinberg, L., Hetherington, E.M., Bornstein, M.H. (2000).

Contemporary research on parenting: The case for nature and nurture. American Pscyhologist, 55 (2), 218-232.

 

Lamb, M.E. & Lewis, C. (2011). The role of parent-child relationships in child development. In

M.E. Lamb & M.H. Bornstein (Eds.) Social and Personality Development: An Advanced Textbook (pp. 259-308).