What Do You Say to a Mom with Cancer?

A few weeks after I started writing my blog about tweens for Good Housekeeping.com, I found out I had cancer. My editors encouraged me to write about my experiences parenting with cancer once a week on my blog, “Good Grief: A Tale of Two Tweens.” The blog came to an end this past June, but people still go back and read my old posts. Now that I’m coming up on two years in remission, I thought I’d re-post one of my favorites here for you.


“What do you say to a 40-year-old mom with cancer?” an old friend asked me in an e-mail message the other day. I know she’s had trouble dealing with my recent diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but I was disheartened to find out that she’s too scared to even talk to me. After all, I’m still the same old Jen, just bald. Worse though, I feel guilty that I’ve made her heartsick when even I don’t feel that way most of the time.

Her husband, on the other hand, isn’t having the same problem. That’s why he’s one of a dozen contestants in my Wacky Wig Contest, a competition to see who can make me, as he put it, “look as ridiculous as possible during your greatest time of need.”

I realize that most people don’t normally deal with cancer by taking pictures of themselves in blue Marge Simpson wigs and posting them on the Internet for public viewing, let alone voting, but that’s how I’ve chosen to deal with this tough time. I want to keep as much fun and joy in my life as possible, but how can I give my friend permission to join me when she doesn’t even know how to talk to me anymore?

Perhaps she’s afraid she’ll say something stupid. Take heart, buddy: Someone has beaten you to it. A phlebotomist, who was using a tiny infant needle to draw my blood because that’s all that would work on my chemo-battered veins, actually said to me through her chewing gum, “Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma? That’s the bad cancer, right?”

You mean there’s a “good cancer?” Can I change my order? Oh, that’s right, I didn’t sign up for this. That’s got to be why my old friend has so much anxiety about what to say to me now. Neither of us saw this coming.

It’s not normal to be slapped in the face with mortality just months after reaching the unofficial start of middle age. Forty is supposed to be the new 20, not 80. When I got my diagnosis, I didn’t know what to say, either. Mostly, I just cried and held my husband’s hand.

But since then, I’ve learned to find the funny and the wonderful in my life’s most harrowing time, and I’d like to share that with as many people as possible. I want to make people happy, not heartsick, because really, that’s how I feel most of the time.

So, what do you say to a 40-year-old mom with cancer, dear old friend? The same thing you said when my first baby was born pre-maturely. Or when I had to put down my sweet 14-year-old cat. Or when I endured several surgeries for endometriosis. Or when my beloved grandmother passed away just shy of her 95th birthday.

You simply say, “I’m here for you.” That’s all. And the wig? That’s optional

To read Jen’s blog about her battle with cancer click here

Jen will host a fundraiser and remission party with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on November 6th in New Jersey. For details click here.

No responses to “What Do You Say to a Mom with Cancer?”

  1. Arden Greenspan-Goldberg

    Dearest Jen,

    I did not know you then but could you have predicted that Marge Simpson would be the cover and center fold for playboy magazine in honor of 20 years of “The Simpsons?” You were ahead of your time with that crazy blue wig.
    As the Simpson’s are celebrating so is my pal celebrating 2 years being cancer free. A sigh of relief for all!
    What better way to be appreciative of life than have a remission party. I just love that!
    My Mom who battled stage 3 colon cancer 4 years ago and is cancer free as well, also had a very postive approach and attitude. I do believe that faith made a major difference in her recovery.
    You know what I say Jen, let’s make a toast with some champagne for a wealth of health and happiness for you.
    I love your 2 year old posting as well.

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