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Childhood Cancer & Mental Health- One Mom’s Perspective

Jessica Ladd, mom and childhood cancer advocate, has had a looming feeling in her heart regarding not just her little girl, Kacey and her battle with childhood leukemia, but with childhood cancer as a whole. Ladd felt that her positive attitude throughout a grueling journey would keep her and her family afloat, but when her daughter hit long term maintenance, the reality of childhood cancer hit their family like a ton of bricks. Ladd is sharing her story with us in hopes that if anyone can relate to her story, they can find comfort in not being alone. Ladd tells her story below:

Before diagnosis I prided myself on being “mentally stable” and didn’t give much credence to the importance or significance of mental health. After Kasey was diagnosed I spent the first 9 months of treatment laser focused. I was a rock. I actually thought how easy it was at times. We had so many appointments and meds and I was organized and well prepared for anything that happened.

Kacey hit long term maintenance in November of last year and things slowed down- way down- down to one appointment per month. I thought that would bring relief, but quite the contrary happened: I fell apart. I had time to think about the whirlwind of what just happened. I had time to process everything. The words “your child has cancer” started to sink in. I started to become agitated and short tempered with the kids. I became frustrated with minor things and unmotivated to do much besides the everyday tasks that I had to do. I didn’t lay in bed all day and cry- which is what previously presumed depression was. I was snapping at everyone and feeling so guilty and crappy at the end of the day. Each night, I promised myself that I would do better, but by 7:30 in the morning I was screaming at the kids already. Yes, screaming.

It took me a while before I decided things couldn’t continue this way and I couldn’t “push through it” on my own. I finally gave in and decided therapy and medication were the only way to help. Never in my entire life would I have ever thought that I would have needed medication for anxiety and depression. It was somewhat of a punch to the gut. Why? I guess there is such a stigma around it.

I am still learning how to “grieve”. I say that because I have such a hard time allowing myself to feel sad that Kasey has cancer because she is still here and doing so well. How can I feel sad when I’ve watched my friend bury her son? How dare I. It wasn’t until recently that I realize that I can be sad for both. Sad my friend will never get to hold her sweet baby again, sad for all the moms and dads who don’t get to watch their children grow, sad for the kids who will have lifelong disabilities from treatment and sad for kids like Kasey, who look at clinic and needle pokes as normal. The biggest guilt that I have on a daily basis is the fact that I know each moment is precious and I should enjoy every minute of their little lives, but when you’re fighting anxiety and depression it’s hard to do that. Each night I think of how much more engaged I could have been and how I could have done better. And then guilt rushes over me. I’m trying to be patient with myself.

I’m beginning to take better care of myself. One small step at a time. Through all of this I have learned so much about compassion and empathy. I want to help others walking the same path in any way I can but first I have to take care of myself. I say all of this because childhood cancer affects so much more than just the child fighting. If affects everyone in the family so deeply and the effects last long after treatment is over.

I hope that I can do my part to raise awareness. I hope that we can get more than 4% funding. I hope that we can make September as gold as October is pink. But most of all I hope that in my lifetime we will see an end to all the suffering that childhood cancer causes.

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