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Mom story: I’m a single mom with cancer

Julie Weingarden Dubin is a Michigan-based freelance journalist, blogger and author with three rocking kids, a loving husband and a trashed minivan. She covers parenting, health, psychology, relationships and pop culture for national mag...

How I found help through strangers

Being a single parent is challenging enough, but when chemotherapy is part of the mix, it’s easy to reach a breaking point. Fortunately, Josephine Sili, 37, of Gilbert, Arizona, finds strength in the kindness of family and strangers, as she fights Stage III breast cancer, while raising two boys, ages 5 and 23 months. Learn how Josephine keeps a positive mindset in the midst of cancer treatments.

by Josephine Sili
as told to Julie Weingarden Dubin

In May of 2010, I felt a lump in my breast. I was seven weeks pregnant with my second child. The doctors didn’t want to do anything about the lump — they thought it was pregnancy-related. In January of 2011, my son, Falaniko, was born.

By July, I had a burning sensation in my right breast. I went to the ER on a Friday night and after testing, a biopsy and a visit to an oncologist, I learned on Thursday that I had Stage III breast cancer — the cancer was in both breasts and spreading to my lymph nodes.

When my doctor delivered the news, I was with my parents and kids. (Falaniko’s father is not part of our lives and I’m divorced from my older son Mikaele’s father.) I heard "cancer" and immediately felt numb and thought of my babies. Who will care for my kids? Am I going to die soon? What about my parents? If my parents weren't with me that day, I think I would have lost my mind! My dad was a huge source of encouragement and hope for me. As soon as he heard the word "cancer" he said, "Baby, you're going be fine... God will help you pull through this."

Treatment plan

I started chemotherapy in August of 2011. I had treatment once every three weeks. I went off of chemo in November and then started hormone therapy. I was on hormone pills for about six months and the cancer came back with a vengeance. I then returned to chemotherapy in June of 2012. I’ll soon start a new chemo treatment. I’ll go once a week for three weeks in a row. I’ll get a break the fourth week and then it will start all over again. Thankfully, my doctor is happy about the chemo results.

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The first time I went through chemo, I lost all of my hair. It fell out gradually, and then I decided to make it a "family affair" and had my siblings and parents help me shave off my hair. They each held onto a lock of my hair and we had a huge cry fest. The treatments make me weak and tired all the time. The first chemo treatment made me so sick, I lost about 40 pounds. This second round of chemo isn't as harsh as the first one, but it still made my hair fall out. I've become a wig fiend and I love hats, too. Since undergoing treatment, my family has helped me to care for my kids. My mother has pretty much raised my baby. And my sister and father help my oldest with homework and school activities.

The help of strangers

I found out about Singleton Moms, an Arizona-based nonprofit that helps single women battling cancer, through my doctor's office. The organization offers emotional, financial and household aid. My care coordinators have been an amazing source of support for me and my family. They've helped pay for two of my bills every month and they supply me with toiletries, cleaning supplies, household items, meals and they even bought Christmas gifts for my children. Singleton Moms has given me hope when I least expected it.

My motivation

My sons are both still very young to really understand what cancer is. I've had to explain to my oldest that I'm "sick" right now and that a lot of times, I have to sleep. He doesn't really ask too many questions, but is a very intelligent boy. He knows when Mama is going to her room that she's going to take a nap.

Being a mother has been the most rewarding experience of my life. My boys are the reason why I battle cancer. They’re my inspiration to change my thinking about living a more healthy life. And I've learned through my kids that I'm a much stronger person than I ever gave myself credit for. I feel that the key to remaining optimistic and keeping a positive attitude is my great support system and my faith that God will continue to give me strength during my battle.

mom wisdom

Don’t take anything for granted. Tell your kids that you love them every single day. Tell your loved ones that you care about them and how much they mean to you. Life may be hard right now, but things will get better.

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