What Battling an Eating Disorder Taught Me About Parenting a Child With Cancer

The buttered bagel sat on my car’s console. I stared at it with tears streaming down my face. The tears had nothing to do with the bagel and everything to do with life. My baby girl was heading back to the hospital. I was once again reminded cancer is part of our world and I cannot protect my precious child.

Our three months of normalcy were up. Scans were upon us. The protocol for Marjorie’s specific cancer diagnosis is scans every three months. Our last one in January showed zero regression. It was devastating to me but not the doctors. Her medical team expected the plateau of regression and were happy to not see growth. I just wanted the cancer gone.

The days leading up to cancer scans are the worst. Both my husband and I walk around on eggshells, barely breathing. The what ifs begin swirling and never end. I had a sinking feeling in my gut about this scan, and it hasn’t gone away. Last week was filled with anxiety and fear.

So as I stared at the bagel, I became so damn thankful I had an eating disorder. I know what you’re thinking: 1) Why are you thankful to have suffered with the deadliest mental illness? 2) Why are you thanking your eating disorder while distraught over your daughter’s cancer?

My eating disorder recovery has taught me more about coping with life than any other class or person could. I have every tool in my “Life Sucks” tool box than I could ask for. And the most amazing thing is I know how to use those tools.

As I balled my eyes out behind a dumpster at CVS, I chomped away at the bagel thanking God for my eating disorder. My eating disorder taught me the most fundamental lesson we as adults (and mothers) tend to forget: We must take care of ourselves before we can take care or others.

I knew in that moment of sheer despair I needed to eat. The equation was simple: I just finished a challenging (and oh so fun) hot yoga class. I needed breakfast. Beyond that, I needed to eat to help balance the chaos in my brain.

While many of us use food to cope, so many of us shove it aside to cope in a different way. Neither scenario is effective in coping with life. Through my eating disorder I have learned this beautiful balance: even when my stomach is in knots and my heart is shattered, I know I must eat. It isn’t an option.

If anything, I eat for my children. They need their mom and they need me to be my best self. My best self is not starving or stuffed. My best self is nourished, energetic and authentic. Food helps me get to that place (and so does therapy, yoga and writing).

This past week has proven to be one of the most difficult. After crying and crying over scan anxiety, Marjorie did not have her scans. I spent hours on the phone dealing with medical and insurance issues. But at the end of the day, I cried, cuddled, laughed and honored every emotion that came. And above all else, I honored my body. In the midst of grief and anger, I fed my body, moved it and love it. At the end of the day and at the end of this life, we only have one body.

mom hanging near balloons

So yes, I thank God I had an eating disorder. Maybe it was all part of the plan to help me cope with this really shitty cancer hand we’ve been dealt. Or maybe the eating disorder was just a crappy card dealt to me and I have chosen to respond in a really positive way.

Whatever the purpose or reason, I know I am thankful. I am thankful for my own willingness to recovery and my continued willingness to never stop learning about myself and how to cope with life. Because without my eating disorder, I would not be the woman… and more importantly the mom I am today.

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