My Terminal Cancer Diagnosis Taught Me a Lesson All Working Moms Need to Hear

The thing about being given a year to live is that, at once, nothing and everything matters. For me, my life became really simple yet really concentrated. The chaff of my life fell away in an instant and what remained took on fresh, almost overwhelming meaning. My passions, ones that I found well before my diagnosis—mother, professional cook and writer—were amplified. In fact, I think those parts of me are what’s saving me.

A large tumor was discovered in my frontal lobe from a routine MRI on February 19, 2017; a week later I had a craniotomy to remove it, and the following week I learned that the tumor was a glioblastoma multiforme, a very deadly and aggressive brain cancer. I was floored; I had confused the reassuring comments before my surgery that referenced my age, my general health, my exciting plans as a cookbook author, and a hopefulness for my two young sons and wonderful husband, as a protective veil. In that moment, I realized none of it mattered. I wasn’t special or entitled to health the way I’d (unknowingly) been for my then 32 years. It was terrifying.

Sitting in the backseat of our family car, normally occupied by my then 4-year-old and 1-year-old sons’ car seats, I started to hear the truths that my body was screaming at me, something resembling priorities, as we drove home from the hospital. Some included immediately letting go of a three-year dream project I was due to finish and leaving social media behind. After a few days of wailing, punctuated by pauses to write goodbye letters, I heard a few more of my body’s demands. I then exchanged every effort in my life—my diet, my thoughts on exercise, my writing—for a kinder, gentler form.

The only thing that grew in intensity was my explosive, all-consuming love for my sons.

It was clear to me that if, indeed, my prognosis was accurate and I only had a year left to live, I was going to spend it the way I had every other year of my life: as an optimist and vibrant artist who searches for beauty in unexpected places. That’s the mother I wanted my boys to remember, if even they could.

I had been writing a blog to update family and friends on the progress of my news since the discovery of the tumor. The space evolved from newsy—chronicling a surgery I expected to survive—to deeply personal after my cancer diagnosis. I wrote for my sons; I imagined questions their future selves might one day want to know about the limits in the slices of truth we freely gave to them as little boys. Writing was a familiar space for me and one I was deeply grateful to still find home in, considering I had been warned my surgery could have altered my capability and motor skills. Writing brought me to a place untouchable by cancer, to a deeply personal dialogue between a mother and her sons. Writing brought me hope when none was given to me.

I was feeling more like myself, more alive, than I ever had in the light of my diagnosis.

One night, I laid in bed swirling around a kind of existentialism that seems to come with the territory of terminal illness and drifted to sleep. The next morning, I awoke with an answer to a question I had been thinking about for the months since my diagnosis: a project for my sons. None of the children’s books I found regarding death had spoken to the clear and open philosophy we cultivated in our house. We were naming death outright and talking about it not just without fear, but with love. I wanted to write about it but didn’t know how. That is, until that morning when I saw it clearly, down to every page turn. I knew I had to publish it myself as it wasn’t an idea I was willing to ask permission first to create. So, I sat down with an acquaintance, told her my story, and it began there. We met often, in between my rounds of chemotherapy and bloodwork, both invigorated over creating something filled with such meaning and hope.

When I was working on the book, I would almost forget that I was the dying mother in the story, my two sons represented by the boy left behind. I realized that I was still working hard, like I would have before my diagnosis, but I didn’t let myself get worn out. Working until I was worm out is something I would’ve done before, but I now know that no project is worth risking the delicate balance of my health. I finally figured out the depth of what the phrase “working mom” really means. “Mom” is the central and most important part because protecting my health is the best thing I can do as the mother to my boys.

On August 20, 2019, the book became a reality, a kind of dream bound in pages. It’s titled Lasting Love, holding my beliefs that love is a kind of magic, that it binds the people who share it together forever. It holds my belief that love can heal too. As I pulled my sons onto my lap to read an advance copy, I realized I am now about two-and-a-half years post-cancer diagnosis and struck with awe. That moment contained overflowing gratitude for the fullness of this life that found me, even though it took dying to do so.

Caroline Wright is an author and cook. She lives in Seattle with her husband, their two kids, and a terminal brain cancer diagnosis. She was working on her third cookbook in the winter of 2017 when she was diagnosed with a glioblastoma. She was given a year to live. Her diagnosis brought drastic changes to her lifestyle, including the foods she cooked and ate, and brought her life and work into sharp focus—on her two little boys. Now her days are spent cooking and writing, still passionately, while fighting her cancer and focusing on her family. She writes every day. She is primarily working on writing children’s books and a memoir about her life since her diagnosis. Buy her book here.

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