Be present: Life lessons from a mom living with terminal cancer

Jan 1, 2014 at 11:00 a.m. ET

Jane Schwartzberg is living with incurable breast cancer. In the face of her diagnosis, she’s embraced life as fully as she can.

Jane Schwartzberg and kids

Schwartzberg sat down with SheKnows to share her insight for those living through times of extreme stress.

Getting sick didn’t give Jane Schwartzberg a new perspective on life. Instead, it inspired her to become more present in the ways she’s always drawn strength and joy from. Learn from her story and her advice for families going through time of stress, whether that stress is a major illness or a difficult situation.

Jane’s breast cancer diagnosis

Jane Schwartzberg was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago, at the age of 31. At the time, her cancer was considered curable. Over the next 10 years, Jane juggled work and parenting with her cancer treatments and was declared cancer free. Her freedom from cancer was short lived. "In 2011, after feeling ill for many months, I was diagnosed with stage 4 advanced, metastatic breast cancer — essentially, the initial cancer had been with me all along and had spread to other parts of my body," Jane says. Her breast cancer is considered incurable and she is now living with a terminal illness.

Coping through storytelling

Now 45 and the former CEO of a start-up technology company, Schwartzberg hasn’t backed down in the face of her diagnosis.

Naked Jane Bares All

She worked with veteran writer Marcy Tolkoff Levy to write Naked Jane Bares All, a story of vignettes that document her journey. "I wanted to tell my story in a way that no one could change and that our kids could read when they were ready," she says. "I aspire to show them that life is here to be enjoyed, no matter what obstacles are put in our way. I also was inspired to teach them that we can and should share our strength and love whenever we can, and draw these things from others when we need to — that is how the world works best."

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Jane’s advice to families

When a parent is very ill or a family is going through a hard time, it’s a trying situation for kids. Children can learn and grow even during a difficult experience.

"Show them, by example, that these days are here to be fully enjoyed as much as we can, despite all the stress in the household," she says. Schwartzberg suggests that parents live in the moment as much as possible. This means avoiding getting caught up in errands, everyday household stress and expectations. Giving and receiving love has been the cornerstone of Schwartzberg's strength. She advises families to celebrate love all year long.

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Showing up every day

Jane Schwartzberg with her family

"My diagnosis is a constant reminder that I need to 'show up' in my life for my loved ones, and to make the most of the time that I have here on Earth with them," says Schwartzberg. "We wrote the book to share this message with the world, so people would ‘get it’ without having to have a scary medical diagnosis." For Schwartzberg, this can mean sharing the simple pleasure of hanging out with her family at home in her pajamas or being fully present in conversation with a loved one. You can be present in your own life by turning your attention to the connections that mean the most to you — by giving more weight to the aspects of your life that bring you joy than the aspects that bring you stress. "I know we are all here for a short time," Schwartzberg says. "I am determined to find joy in every single day."

Images courtesy of Jane Schwartzberg

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