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Finding Clarity in Mortality

by Jenna LyonsMetastatic Breast CancerNovember 7, 2022View more posts from Jenna Lyons

Before this last week, I thought I knew exactly what I was going to be talking about when it comes to my life as a young woman with Metastatic Breast Cancer. I thought I would be keeping it super positive and speaking on the perspective changes I’ve been blessed with since October 2021, but I am exhausted. I am so tired of being positive. I am terrified. In recent weeks, there have been numerous deaths of women I have connected with over the last year who had the exact same cancer as I have. These women were diagnosed anywhere from nine months to two years before me; one only made it two months. The first death hit me like a sucker punch, the second kicked me while I was down, still dizzy from grief, and the last felt like a total emotional knockout. I don’t know how I am supposed to cope with this right now and remain positive. I don’t know how to live right now. I don’t know how to not get angry with every single person who tells me, “That’s not your story.” 

How do you know? What if it is? How am I supposed to move forward feeling positive that I won’t soon have to say goodbye to my 6-year-old son who still rubs his nose against mine before holding me tight as he falls asleep each night? That I won’t soon have to tell my 9-year-old son with anxiety who feels that I am the only one who understands him that I won’t be here anymore to help calm his panic? That I won’t have to tell my 12-year-old son who trusts me with all of his secrets that he has to find someone else to run home from school and spill his guts to? How do I stay positive when I look at their faces every day and think about breaking their hearts and destroying their childhoods? How do I not constantly think about abandoning my babies? I wanted to talk to you about positivity and perspective, but at this moment this is where I am and this is the raw reality of Metastatic Breast Cancer. The truth is that I don’t feel like half the mother I should be because I am tired all day from being up all night with racing thoughts and because depression pulls me into my bed far too often. I have spent the last year trying to be a pillar of strength and light. Trying to make this all feel worth it in some way. Trying to believe that I have completed what I came to Earth for, just a little more quickly than most. Trying to make sure my boys are able to cope with trauma in a healthy way; hoping this will actually turn out to be something that makes them better humans than they may have been otherwise. If there is one thing that comes from this, I hope it is that it actually helps my children more than it hurts them in the long run.

This past Summer, I wanted to do something that would create a concrete memory of who their mother was. I had been a NICU nurse for 15 years and I was so proud of my career. I missed being the light for families who were in the depths of the most terrifying experience of their lives. I wanted to feel like a caregiver and not a patient again. I wanted to pay forward all the kindness given to me since my diagnosis, and I wanted my boys to see and know firsthand what their mother’s heart looks like outside of my love for them. I remembered all of the little things that people sent in the mail or dropped on my doorstep in the first few months of my diagnosis. Thoughtful gifts included bracelets with inspirational phrases, calming candles and essential oils, comfy socks and blankets, coloring books, puzzles, and so much more. These gifts lit me up each and every time. The feeling that so many people wanted to take care of me in their own ways was indescribable. 

I have always loved giving more than receiving, and I knew that if I attempted to recreate these emotions, but for others instead, I could be fulfilled for a very long time. I named the project, “The Little Things,” because it truly is the small gestures and kindnesses, both from loved ones and strangers, that make up our lives. With the help of a friend who had done something similar in the past, I was given the idea to create an Amazon Wishlist and filled it with items that helped me during chemo, surgeries, radiation, emotional pain, depression, and so on. I shared the link on my Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok pages and soon I was receiving 20-40 packages per day from people all over the United States. I started by placing different items into each shiny, rose gold bag and delivering them personally to cancer centers from Providence, RI to Boston, MA and in between. Eventually, people started asking for personalized packages for their friends and family members. Between the monetary donations for shipping and the purchases of Wish List items, I have now sent over 150 packages, curated specifically for each woman, all over the country. I couldn’t be more proud of this and I hope to keep it going for as long as possible.

As I am coming to the end here, I am realizing that I just talked myself out of the pain I was in. I reminded myself that I’m still here and I still have time. I am still so loved and have so much love to give. I have been given the gift of clarity by having to face my mortality. I have been able to slow down and be the mother I want to be, not the mother I thought I had to be. I may not be cooking fancy hot meals every night and keeping the house looking like Better Homes & Gardens, but I am emotionally and mentally present for my kids. They know they are loved so deeply and they know that they may come to me with absolutely anything and I will give them my unconditional love and my undivided attention to guide them through. My hope is that I am able to give them the tools they will need to create beautiful lives for themselves and strength to overcome life’s many adversities. I believe they will flourish with those tools in their minds and my love in their hearts forever.

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