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What It's Like Getting Cancer as a Young Mom

My Mom Wake-Up Call Came in the Form of Cancer

Like so many women, I, too, have always felt conflicted about the idea of wanting more. For years, I tried to so hard to win the fight that so many of us moms go through every day: have a successful career, have more time with my children, have more time for myself, and just . . . have more. At the end of every day, it all boiled down to that age-old question we all know too well: what's more important, my career or my family? I know the answer now, but honestly, I chose to ignore it for a long time.

My mom wake-up call came in the form of cancer. And when I say "wake-up call," I mean me realizing that I need to start appreciating everything I have right now instead of always wanting more. It meant that I needed to start being grateful for all the little moments of joy in my life that I previously overlooked, like chaotic breakfast routines and even, yes, tantrums in Target.

I always used to tell people that my family is the most important thing to me, but my actions didn't always reflect that. Now they do.

After my daughter was born in 2012, I wanted to stay home with her. I did, and we had so much fun . . . for a while. We'd wake up with no rush, eat together, play, go to play dates, and get to know each other. We spent every single day together, but after a while, I was tired. I didn't want to stay home anymore, and when I think back to that precious time now, I feel like I took so many of those moments — moments I'll never get back — for granted.

When she turned 2, I decided to go back to work. I was torn about my decision but felt like it was time for me to rejoin the rest of the adults and start contributing financially to my family. I also felt like I wanted to do more with my life (as if being a superstar mom wasn't enough!). So I found a job in the corporate world. I thought I was going to love it. But was I ready to leave my crying baby at a daycare? Working full-time presented a new set of problems and a different kind of stress that I wasn't expecting.

And then it happened.

It was my third day at my new job. As we were dropping our daughter off at daycare, I felt a lump in my neck. I tried to brush it off as nothing, but my gut knew this wasn't good. That day, I couldn't concentrate at work and excused myself to go to the doctor. A few appointments later, I found out I had an aggressive tumor in my neck and was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Doctors insisted we do a surgery right away. Oh, I also soon found out that I no longer had a job. Apparently, my personal life was interfering with work too much (that's a story for a different day).

Long story short, I had a thyroidectomy followed by radiation. While my family was panicking, I was thanking God. I didn't need chemo and the cancer didn't spread to my lymph nodes. It could have been much, much worse. I felt like I got away with murder (kind of ironic, right?). But I also couldn't help but ask myself questions like, "Why me? Why did I get this?" I was 24 years old when this happened. I was healthy. Not getting a straight answer made me realize there must be other reasons. I figured this was my wake-up call. It's as if God himself told me, "Slow down! Everything you need is right in front of you!"

I truly believe everything in life happens for a reason (I know, another tacky expression we've all heard before). My experience taught me that there's so much about life we don't know or understand. Cancer showed me that my priorities in life had to change. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to have it all and trying your best to be a working mother, a stay-at-home mother, and everything in between, but I needed to stop wishing for other things when the most important things in my life were there all along. I always used to tell people that my family is the most important thing to me, but my actions didn't always reflect that. Now they do.

These days, whenever I think about wanting more out of life, I mean I want more of what I already have. I want time to slow down so that I can soak up even more of the moments that I'm in. I've also gone back to work, because that's a huge part of who I am, but I make sure to put my family first. I don't stress about fighting that daily battle of being perfect at both. I just do the best I can along the way. I have time.

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