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Possibly the biggest worry a single parent has

I found a lump in my breast. My doctor kindly listened as I explained that I found it on the last day of my vacation, that I was scared, that I often overreact about my health when I am stressed. Then she examined me and, thank goodness, felt the lump but didn't feel concerned. To be sure that I am healthy, she sent me to get a mammogram.

The doctor called and spoke softly and steadily into the phone, telling me my mammogram results came back "perfect." There was a pause in her sentence, and my stomach dropped. I felt the same fear that welled up as I cried in her exam room a week ago.

"I'm a single mom," I confided with tears running down my cheeks. "I am terrified something will happen to me."

I love this doctor. I clearly trust her, not just with the health of my body, but also with all that's racing through my head. She doesn't make me feel silly or crazy or out of line. So when she said she wants me to get a diagnostic ultrasound to be "overly cautious" and put our minds at ease, I knew she was addressing my physical and emotional well-being. I appreciated that.

I breathed a sigh of relief, but I've not yet exhaled completely. But the reason I've chosen, after a long week of contemplating all of this, to put myself out there so nakedly, is because it is scary and real and today, OK.

I know that if my health was or is in that kind of jeopardy, the kind I don't even want to say aloud, that I would call on the fortitude and faith that has gotten me through other crises (the real kind, I swear) that have been scattered over the last couple of decades. I know I have a deep and enduring strength. And I know that I would be lifted up by the many people who support and love and tend to Lil E and me.

But the idea - the very idea - is almost paralyzing. Not so paralyzing that I am not doing everything I can to take good care, to be sure all is well in there, but enough that I don't even want to graze that breast when I get dressed in the morning. And here it is: I am so scared that something will happen to me and my son will be raised by his other parent.

Of course, to think that is to jump twelve steps ahead of where I am walking now. And the path I am on is pretty lush and green today. Even as I pull those "what if" questions out of my head and repeat over and over, "I am healthy and today, this is all OK." and stay open and positive, I wonder how many single mothers like me are worried, too. I wonder how many of us are more concerned about how an illness or injury might impact who cares for our kids than how it might impact our own bodies or health or lives.

When I was happily married, I did have some of those same worries. They were tempered, though, by the thought that my then-husband would carry on and carry our family with him. There was grace and calm in that. Today, I am scared and not soothed by that thought. As a single parent, there is just so much more at stake.

So what is a mama to do? Have another mammogram, I guess. Do some yoga. Talk to my mother. Call my girlfriends. Play with the kid. Pray. Take it one day, one step at a time. Laugh. Tell all of the interwebs what's going on underneath her bra. Try, try, try to trust.

I realize this is all raw and not very pretty. But it's what's happening and I think it is time to talk about this kind of stress rather than avoid touching it at all.

What do you think? How can a single parent ease those very real concerns without catastrophizing? How can we quiet the worries about dying so we can live well with our children now?

One...well, two, technically...more things: I wrote on another site about scheduling my mammogram. If you are in Chicago or San Francisco (or any other city, really), I highly recommend you check in with your breast health or imaging center to see how long the wait is to get screened. The waiting time for an appointment is startling. Here's why.

« On a lighter note. Literally. | Main | This is not a shoe blog: I love knock-offs. Even if they're completely crappy knock-offs. »

Reader Comments (10)

oh, I'm so relieved for you! I think that you have to believe that things happen for a reason; that you're healthy now b/c e. needs you; and if the worst happens, he will be resilient and will shine in his own way because of the experience. that of course things should be right and harmonious and ideal, that children should have their parents, that they should live long and happy lives, but that isn't how things always go, but people survive. it will not go as planned, but it will keep going, and sometimes that is enough to hold on to.
February 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersarah gilbert
I can't imagine. I am so sorry you had such a scare and I am thinking of you. I hope you find that balance, and I'm sure it's something that just comes as you live each day for the next...

February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdventures In Babywearing
I'll be thinking about you...I know the wait is awful. I know it's not the same thing but I'm dealing with issues of mine and Ex's life insurance right now and when I think of what would happen to my kids if something ever happened to me...different triggers but the same thoughts.

I hope this will make you smile. My mother and I both have cysts in our breasts. Since my mother is much older, they watch her much closer. She has to have mammograms and ultrasounds every couple of months. So a few years ago, I went in for my annual pap smear. The doc was just recovering from her double mastectomy and chemo. She asked me if I did regular breast exams. Because of her situation, I was embarrassed to admit the truth but I did. I told her that breast tissue is lumpy and every time I try to check mine, I find something and freak out. I don't know what a lump really feels like so I finally gave up on checking. I was telling her all this as she was checking me. When I finished, she reached down and took my hand and said this is what a lump feels like...then put my hand on my own breast!! Talk about freaking out!! Then she said that because I was only 25, the breast tissue was too dense to do a mammogram so not to worry because she was pretty sure it was just a cyst like Mom has (we had the same doc) and not to worry. She did check it several times over the next year or so and it never changed so I guess she was right. It's a little scary that I'm actually relieved to be getting old enough to have mammograms now though!
February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWondermom
I'm glad you are ok. That is scary! You have a great doctor to understand you like that.

I am the same freak out way about something happening to me and him having to go to his dad's forever to live. Would he see my family, would his family arrange visits with them, would they tell him good things about me, etc. I try not to go there in my head, but I have a family history of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and cancer...I could go fast or slow! When I feel myself freaking out, I try to go read as a distraction. Nothing else works.
February 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
I have horrible flashes like this. Especially in the immediate aftermath of becoming a single parent, I would still say it was my biggest fear. Like when I'm travelling alone I can have minor panic attacks, and I try to comfort myself with stats and the fact that we are not really in control of the end of our destiny. Still does not stop it from happening, thanks for sharing.
February 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSingleParentDad
Breathing a big sigh of relief with you! So glad you tended to yourself so quickly and so well. That says a whole lot about the kind of mama you are to Lil E -- that you'll take care of yourself so you can always take care of him. Keep being good to yourself, one day at a time. Lord knows I know how hard that is right now :)
February 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDory Devlin
I totally understand. That's why it's important for you to have a Will that denotes who gets what or your son will get it all (even if it's just shoes) and thereby, your ex will get it all as his parent/guardian. Also, if you are leaving any money to your son, make sure it is left to be "used for the benefit of the child." Don't leave it "to" the child unless you want Lil E to only have it post-18, which is fine if that's what you want. Let's else can I be morbid? Make some kind of agreement, in writing, with your ex that if something happens to you, your family will still have open access to Lil E because grandparents have no rights in Illinois. For me, that worked to my benefit because of horrible extenuating circumstances - so thank God. But, in my will it clearly indicates that the guardians for my kids make all decisions as I would have had the right to - meaning they could also limit or deny contact because it was toxic.

It's terribly scary. I have not flown without my kids since their dad died. Not that I have the money to jet off, I don't. But no way am I taking that big of a chance (which is unreasonable, I know) without them. Someday I will - but for now - if we fly - it's three or none.

I think about it all the time. Too much. I am not near any family -- and I truly believe no one could raise them like I would and do.

February 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Sue Nathan
give a information
March 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfanjianzhe
Yes, I think all of us single parents are fearful of leaving our kids alone... I know I am. That's why I eat well and try to take care of myself, and also enjoy as much time with my daughter as possible! I have the same worry that 'Amy Sue Nathan' has about flying... Although I'm trying to relinquish some control to the universe. I don't want my daughter to sense the fears that I have- I think they would shake her go-getter confidence!

I'm so glad for you that your scare was only a scare...

March 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelifera
I recently came across your blog and have been reading about Child Custody. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChild Custody Agreement

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