Mind The gap
Trauma has a way of weaving itself into every moment of y life. But this story, although it has its share of grief and challenges, is really about the power of connecting the threads to become a better mother. Jessica Russell tries to find the light in dark times.
Jessica Russell is a Digital Marketing Specialist, but calls motherhood her calling in life. She is 13 years post a breast cancer diagnosis, and double mastctomy surgery when her kids were 10, 8 and 6 years old. Jessica battled cancer as a single mother and used the experience to help her children cope with laughter, and persevere with strength when life is not kind. As a mother, and a realist, her kids turned out to be unique, smart, and self aware individuals, who lead their authentic lives with kindness. We often talk about the circle of life; this story is about that circle and how a mother's cancer fight met a son's fight to survive in his own body. And how love and support, and laughter can save a life.
Mind The Gap
In 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a single mom of 3 young children, ages 6, 8 and 10, it was a very difficult time. I caught it early. Finding a lump at 38 you think "it's nothing, I'm too young," but you have kids and so you can't ignore it. As a parent, you want to prepare your kids to have the tools to survive in the world without you. And having cancer was as good a reason as any to teach them how to deal with some of the really bad things that life can throw your way. We did it with laughter and celebrated life in small ways whenever we could.
As the chemo caused my hair to start to fall out, Gabe, my oldest, helped me shave my head. I got a henna tattoo to cover my baldness while I looked for wigs. I ordered a beautiful auburn wig and waited patiently for it to arrive in the mail. In the box was a burnt orange mullet. We took turns wearing it and pretending to be mullet people.
We laughed until we cried. Laughter, especially together, heals.
Of course shaving my head sent my own mother into an anxiety attack. For some reason cancer isn't real until you go bald. My mother was an amazing woman who was open minded and interested in life. She was funny and cursed like a sailor. She passed in 2019, but was there for me in so many ways my entire life. She was a tough cookie, who raised an empathetic caretaker. It came in handy when raising kids, while single, battling breast cancer.
My children are unique, loud, opinionated adults, who are independent, care about the world and the people in it, and have no qualms about sharing their views with the world, and me. Parenting, for me, was about choosing battles. If purple hair, piercings and living left of center is the answer to raising some really responsible, wonderful people, then color it rainbow, all day, every day.
My kids fall all along the gender and sexuality spectrums. My oldest is transgender. It is with him that the threads I mentioned earlier connected us in ways I could not foresee. In 2017, he had top surgery. His dysphoria has tried to kill him a few times during his gender journey. First testosterone saved his life, and then top surgery helped him heal from that dichotomy of looking in the mirror and seeing a reflection that does not match who you are, inside. I had a bit of PTSD before the operation. The thought of seeing him flat chested with tubes coming out his sides, safety pinned to his shirt....just brought it all back.
My breast cancer may be "healed" but its mental effects never leave. For a selfish moment I thought about myself and wished I could take his breasts as my own. There is an envy breast cancer survivors feel for people who still have natural breasts. But for my son there was nothing natural about his, and sometimes I hate myself for ever thinking that thought. We are two people, a mother and a son, who had their breasts removed for very different reasons.
But when it comes down to it, those breasts were killing him as much as mine were trying to kill me. I'm glad they are gone. As much, if not more, than I was when mine were gone. Once his tubes came out and the ace bandage around his chest was removed, and he saw the changes more clearly, another chip fell, further reducing his dysphoria.
As his mom, I can't tell you how much it means to see my son happy. Because I remember when that feeling was unattainable and he was a moment away from choosing to end his life. Instead we took steps to alleviate his pain. After he healed, I remember the first time we hugged. It felt different than before; our bellies bumped together under a gap of air.
And surprisingly there were no feelings of loss. There was only joy as we laughed.
Then we joked about going on diets.
I'm always looking for new and exciting opportunities. Let's connect.