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Mom Talk: My Daughter Has Cancer

Written by James Kicinski-McCoy

Photography by Photo courtesy of Kelly Fondots

We’re back with our “Mom Talk” column, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. In this week’s essay, Kelly Fondots opens up about her daughter’s diagnosis with cancer and her family’s new normal. -JKM

Cancer. Something you (sadly) hear of often, you may even know someone who’s had it, but it’s not something that you think could never directly affect you, your spouse, or your children, until it does, instantly. Two years ago my life was a dream—I had healthy children, a great marriage, we were settled into our new home—life was good. We had a standard doctor’s appointment for our two younger children and within three days our whole life, as we knew it, was gone.

Our daughter Ivy was diagnosed with High-Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at 20-months-old. An overall healthy baby, she was a dream (still is!). It started with a weekend of high fevers, but she was cutting all four of her canine teeth, so I shrugged the fevers off. Her only other symptom was bruising, but with two old brothers the bruising on her legs seemed normal. We asked her pediatrician for a blood test, since I naively thought she was just anemic as she was still nursing often and not eating much iron.

Her diagnosis was shocking. It was the longest three days of my life. Our world was completely rocked. I was no longer home to take care of our other two sons and my husband was not able to go to work. He had to split his time into two—life at home with the boys (our eldest was finishing up kindergarten) and life at the hospital, 45 minutes away, with Ivy and me.

I grieved for a long time, and I still do. I grieve for the way this disease took the happiness from my daughter’s eyes, I grieve for the way I am not as carefree as I once was for my children, I grieve for the lack of sleep and stress, and for making me a not so perfect wife.

I remember reading up on other families’ stories, meeting some of them, and wondering how they were so “normal” post cancer diagnosis. It didn’t make any sense to me! I was stuck in the thick of it (Ivy’s treatment is 2.5 years long), and didn’t know how normalcy would ever fit into our vocabulary again.

What I didn’t know is that as a mother you adapt. I mean, I knew that moms are a force to be reckoned with, but I didn’t know just how much of that was true. We have made it through the last (almost) two years by simply moving forward. There was no time to sit and think about what has been/is actually happening to us. It’s all second nature to us: frequent hospital stays, monthly appointments where Ivy falls limp in our arms to receive treatment, the chemotherapy we give her every night, thankfully in the safe haven of our home.

Cancer has shown me a lot of things, mostly that you don’t need much in life other than health and happiness. Simply take care of yourself, listen to your kids, and be present for your spouse. September is our “end of treatment” date and I can’t believe it. Ivy has taught us all so much. She gets doses of toxic medicine, meant for adults, and still beams her beautiful three-year-old smile everyday. She’s given us a new definition of life and a new take on normal, because now this life is simply, our normal.

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