Unlike adult patients, children require 24-around-the-clock parental care in the hospital. In some cases, one parent is trying to work still, or its a single parent situation, so that leaves the “Cancer Mama” (or "Papa") to fend for herself in the jungles of the hospital.
One must remember that a Cancer Mama's number one mission in life is to care for her child, her own well being comes second in all cases. Hopefully this will explain the following:
You spot a greasy haired woman in the washroom, she is attempting to brush her teeth with her finger. She sweeps her unwashed hair into a quick pony tail, hoping nobody will notice. She pinches her cheeks to try to add some colour to them and maybe distract from the deep circles under her eyes from days of interrupted sleep on the most uncomfortable plastic fold out chair in the world. You notice her unusual choice of footwear - Birkenstock sandals with socks.
A Cancer Mama often jumps in her child’s bed for an extra cuddle or to help with a medical procedure, so easy-off footwear is a must. The hospital air is quite dry, the socks are covering up heels that have cracked long ago from the stale hospital air and the two painted toes from her last pedicure that was six months ago.
She carries a cracked coffee cup, she washes the stale coffee ring from it and fills it up with hot water from the tap, no time to run down to the cafe, lukewarm tap water will have to do to for her cuppa soup today. She smiles at you as she rushes toward the door - she can't be away for too long. The doctors have a keen sense of when you are away from your child’s side and will make his rounds at that exact moment!
As she passes you, you detect the faintest odor of vomit. You wonder inquiringly as you look at her shirt, which seems to be clean. I wonder what that's about? Little do you know, she remembered to pack an extra shirt for her child’s "accidents" but in her rush to pack her bag, neglected to remember an extra bra. Her child threw up on her three days ago, the bra is becoming ripe. She ducks out of the bathroom, waving at nurses and staff on her way by. She knows them all, she has been here awhile.
You wonder why she is smiling?
That Cancer Mama has never seen you before, she notices the nervous way you wash your hands thoroughly, right to the elbow, she sees the big binder you are clutching to your chest. She notices a new Cancer Mama when she sees one. She smiles because she was once in your shoes, and she knows you will one day be in hers. She also knows that she will probably bump into you again in Chemo clinic or the hallways of the ward. Your children might end up playing together while you swap war stories and tips on how to keep a feeding in and staying in.
She smiles because through thick and thin, sickness and in health, us Cancer Mamas have to stick together...hug your babies tight tonight.