Irina Musuc describes her friend Lana as an Outstanding Mom. Here she explains how she met her and shares some extracts from Lana's blog on the challenges of parenting while battling cancer.
A Mother Touched by Another One
There is nothing more comforting, reassuring and eye-opening than the testimonies of moms who managed, who succeeded, who overcame, who changed! Here is the story of an amazing mom: Lana Jelenjev. I met Lana through Facebook and what made me stop at her profile was a beautiful poem. Her words were deep and authentic.
I just want our old life back.
Back before cancer became another entity in our lives.
Another “it” to make plans for.
Another “it” to arrange our lives around.
Another “it” to take consideration.
Lana comes from the Philippines. Her Dutch journey started right after she met her life partner. She is a caring mother of two kids, and a wife who still believes in romance. She is fighting breast cancer with graceful determination and humility. And something keeps telling me - she is gonna win!
In Lana's Words: Life After Cancer
I fall into the category of having 'life before cancer' and 'life after cancer'. The shift in perspective is almost instantaneous. I often tell myself that each of us has a burden to carry. Mine happens to have a name: 'Cancer'. What makes it different in my life now and in our family’s life as well is that I hear the ticking of the clock more loudly. Some of the changes that I have adapted to are physical.
Reading the book Anticancer gave me some valuable information on how to physically address some changes in food consumption, for instance. We are not the dieting kind, so it is more of a gradual change in food intake. For the sake of the children, we do eat home-cooked meals and have restrictions on sweets, chips and sodas. There are some additional changes that we have started, or I in particular have started, because I am the main cook in the family.
Life took a different turn and, while I value having a career or building my business, I also realized that it could wait. I had to reframe my priorities. I learned to value my 'terrain' and it included filtering what I could or couldn’t say yes to - like events, going out or meeting with people, making commitments.
Looking after my 'terrain' also involved filtering people and connecting only with those who contributed positively to my wellbeing. At the end of the day, the thing that you worry about is not the illness - it's mostly the relationships that you have, people that surround you, your interaction with them. In essence, I learned to value myself more.
Three Simple Things
We are so drained chasing happiness. But that's not how life is. I had to reconsider my relationship with time. My definition of accomplishment has also changed. Now, when I'm sick and my body is so weak, I say to myself that it is enough to do three simple things to know that my day has been complete. These three things might be: putting the dishes in the dishwasher, doing laundry and cooking breakfast for my kids. That's what I can manage now and I'm not going to feel guilty I couldn't do more. I have to be gracious with myself.
My illness influenced my relationship with my kids. Not only my life, but their lives changed too, and they had to learn to cope with it. We didn't go anywhere during the summer vacation, so we just had a different summer. It was very easy for them to understand what was going on. I was very open with them about everything.
I am cherishing the moments that we have together. We have always been a tightly-knit family, doing things together. Nowadays, when I am in my down period after chemo and I cannot be with my kids because of how I am feeling, I try not to feel guilty about missing out on the moment.
My family gives me strength and courage. I want to be present longer. I want to grow old and gray with my wonderful husband and see my children grow up as adults. Seeing grandchildren is definitely a bonus. My mom never got to see her grandkids. I know, if she were alive right now, she would adore them!
There are quite a lot of eye-opening moments in my parental experience. One of them is learning to recognize that your child is not an extension of yourself. This also means redefining the language that we use with them. A simple, but very profound, experience is not asking my daughter to brush her hair. One might say: “Why not?” When I started losing my hair because of the chemo, I decided to have my hair shaved. The time I first took off my beanie in public it felt so liberating. I felt that I was seen, no matter if I had hair or not. I even blogged about that incident and how I felt, even though some people were looking at me. Then I realized I kept on asking my daughter to brush her hair, and why? Because people would think that she was not taking good care of her grooming and there I was feeling liberated for my lack of hair and not caring what others thought! It is so refreshing to have moments like that where I can pause and re-evaluate my language with my children.
A Message for Struggling-To-Be-Good Moms
My message to other mothers, who struggle with illness or themselves, would be: Don’t be afraid to lose the “good mom” title. Trying to be perfect puts pressure on what we should and shouldn’t be. When, in fact, by being enough and acknowledging we are enough, we can give more of ourselves as parents. It’s still a struggle for me to affirm every day and to remember: I am enough. And, with all the struggles: “This too shall pass”.
Why Not Me?
I may die tomorrow, but it's not only my reality – it's everybody's reality. I never asked the question 'why me?' Everybody dies. We just don't know how, where and when. The question 'why me?' is quite arrogant. Why not me?! What is there in me so special as to be exempt from something? This helped me acknowledge that illness was my reality at the moment and it made things a lot easier. And it's not strength, but rather a strategy of survival.
P.S. If after reading this interview you felt that you wanted to glance into Lana’s soul, here is the link to her poem “I just want our old life back."
Irina Musuc is a Moldovan living in the Netherlands, married to an Italian, bringing up two rebellious boys. She is a journalist and editor who loves writing. She moved to the Netherlands and started a blog to express her thoughts, feelings, worries and doubts and to share the lessons she learnt every day as a mother.
Lana Kristine Flores-Jelenjev is an early years curriculum innovator, engaged parent and a passionate educator. She writes about her experiences with cancer at GoodnessGraceandGratitude and shares her insights on engaging activities for teachers, parents and children at SmartTinker. She is the cofounder of the HUG Compassion Conference for women whose lives are affected by breast cancer. To sponsor an attendee, go here.
Photos by Alex Chalkley Photography