4 questions with Kristin Snyder, mother and 2x cancer survivor. She received a cap wig from the Verma Foundation during breast cancer treatment at St. Francis Hospital/Dana Farber in Hartford, CT.
How has cancer impacted your family, your children?
Cancer is such a difficult battle, one that impacts me, as the patient, but goes beyond that to all around me, especially my immediate family. I love being a mom, it is my greatest accomplishment in life, and also right now, my biggest motivator. I am married, with two kids, at impressionable ages, 11 and 14, that still need me. Normally, I am the organizer, the gate keeper, the calendar maker, the taxi driver, chef, housekeeper.. all while I work part time. I wear and juggle a lot on an everyday basis, but don’t most moms? For me, it’s innate in who I am. I am a hardworker and caretaker, in all aspects of my life.
However, because of cancer, I am out of work and life at home is affected too. I am typically actively engaged in my family’s life. My kids are athletic, and I normally don’t miss a sporting event. I enjoy outings and games, time spent with family and friends. I like to travel, swim, read. Right now, I can’t even focus to read a book. These days, I am more and more tired, the cumulative fatigue from the chemo becoming more and more apparent. The mom who rarely sat, naps more and more. I cannot make dinner many nights, nor drive the kids where they need to go. Thank goodness for the help and support of my husband, parents, family, friends and neighbors.
Cancer has impacted all aspects of my life. This is not who my kids know, nor who I want to be. There is no more normal, only an unpredictability in each day, with how I will feel and what I can do. And as I mentioned, I have kids at impressionable ages who are sensitive to my battle and worry about their mom fighting cancer, but also can’t help but to want mom to just be mom. Feel like her. Act like her. Look like her. Yet I am strong and positive facing one of life’s most difficult challenges. And they will learn from this experience, too. I make sure the kids know that I am ok and confident in who I am. But I also make sure they know that this is hard and its ok to have times of struggle and ask for help too.
What challenges did you face as a mother undergoing treatment?
Cancer isn’t something you sign up for or get warning of. It comes out of left field and it takes over your life. Cancer changes people, not just those diagnosed. A mom is the one who takes care of everybody else; it is extremely difficult when the mom that kids see as invincible is suddenly vulnerable. I think that was my greatest challenge. As moms, we are supposed to protect and care for our kids, not be a source of worry and concern for them. My kids now have an underlying and added burden to their lives, whether it be how will mom feel today or as deep as will my mom survive this. I hope for my kids that they find strength in how I face cancer, that my strength and positivity gives them courage and hope. I also have had cancer before, battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 19, and beating it. I think and hope this knowledge makes cancer a little less scary for them, and gives my kids the power to believe that their mom beat cancer once and can and will beat it again.
How did the cap wig help you as a mom?
Having a wig was very important to and for my children most of all. Don’t get me wrong, losing my hair was hard and emotional, it is so much a part of our identity and who we are. However, I am strong and confident, and I can rock the bald and be ok with that. However, I knew that would maybe not be the case for my kids. They handle my bald head, or even tendency to wear a turban (a bald head gets quite cold in the winter!) alright when I am home, but my kids, especially my teenage son, feel best out in public when I wear my wig. A wig helps me to look like the other moms, helps to avoid unwanted questions or looks, that a teenager is especially sensitive to.
What do you want other moms out there to know who might also be battling and reading your story?
Be your own best advocate. Make sure you get all the necessary medical information, seek second opinions, insist you get answers and start treatment ASAP, with a provider that you are confident with. For example, I have a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer, one that is less familiar to the local doctors near to me. I therefore sought a second opinion at a specialty hospital, and will get surgery and radiation out of state. This is my life, and I intend to go and do whatever I need to, fight my greatest fight, with the greatest team to come out victorious on the other end.
There are many resources- look and ask for them. Cancer is costly. Whether it be medical expenses, time spent out of work resulting in less income, travel and lodging. I researched online for breast cancer resources, financial aid, freebies and found quite a few on my own. It gave me a focus, and a positive way that I could help myself and my family. I also connected with social workers/ resource specialists at both my hospitals for help.
Listen to your body. This is the time to take care of you. My doctor told me to “be a princess” and I have tried to adhere to this advice, hard as that might be for us moms, who tend to put others first. It is ok to rest. You will need to, your body is fighting really hard against this cancer.
Remember people want to help. Let them. Cancer is not something to fight alone, find and use your village. I initially kept my diagnosis more quiet and only those closest to me knew. However, after months of chemotherapy, I decided to share a little more publicly. I have now completed all my chemo, which is phase 1 of 3 for me (as I still face surgery and radiation) and am at a point where I find the extended support of my community both powerful and empowering. It has only helped my strength and resolve to fight. But, each patient, each family, needs to decide what is comfortable to and for them. And remember not everyone handles this illness in the same way. Some people you expect to be there will, others may not, but try not to let that bring you down. Some days and times will be harder than others, but try to stay positive. This will help you too, not only mentally, but physically, to fight and win.