After years of trying to conceive, my husband and I were overjoyed when we found out I was pregnant with a healthy baby boy. I had an easy pregnancy, and we welcomed our son, Brayden, into the world on April 5, 2014.
As any mom or dad will tell you, little babies change lives in big, significant ways. So when I got a sore throat a month into parenthood, I brushed it off because I had more important matters to tend to. When the pain persisted, I felt my neck and noticed a lump that wasn't there before. I went to the doctor assuming it was strep, but was quickly told it looked like a lot more than that. A CT scan and four days later, I found out I had stage IV medullary thyroid carcinoma.
Since then, I've been through an invasive surgery and traveled from my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, to MD Anderson every six months for checkups -- all while caring for Brayden and maintaining my responsibilities at home.
I've learned a lot along the way. Here's my advice for other moms who are undergoing cancer treatment:
1. Stay positive. It's easy to become negative about your situation. But as a mom, you can't let yourself go there. It's important for you, and it's crucial for your children.
After receiving my diagnosis, I remember going home and holding Brayden. As I looked down and took in how tiny he was, it hit me: I had to get through this for more than myself. Our little ones depend on us. As I've discovered, they also make us stronger throughout this process.
2. Accept help from people who are willing to lend a hand -- or a lawnmower. At first, you feel fine and think you can maintain your pre-diagnosis pace. But with the busy schedules we moms keep, it's crucial that you learn to accept help.
I've been consistently overwhelmed by the support my family has received. People have sent emails and flowers, brought over food and offered to babysit. My best friend's husband once came over and mowed our lawn without saying anything. It's the little things -- the day-to-day stuff -- that really help.
If your friends and family can't help, find out about resources your hospital provides. MD Anderson, for example, offers child care, psychiatry services and spiritual support.
3. Pray and take time for yourself. Cancer has made my faith in God a lot stronger, and prayer has become a large part of that. It's my time to verbalize whatever is overwhelming me, and it also offers me a chance to express my gratitude.
I encourage moms who are being treated for cancer to find an outlook like this. Whether you're praying, meditating, exercising, it doesn't matter. What's important is that you find or make time to regroup and give thanks on a daily basis.
I often think about what my experience with cancer would be like if I didn't have Brayden. There's no doubt that he's my miracle baby and that his timing was perfect. He was meant to be here so that I would stay strong for him. He's getting me through this.