A Mom, A Wife, A Warrior
Those who know Ileana would most definitely agree that she is the picture of strength. As long as I have known her, I have known that she is a woman who is not afraid to live life and stand up for what she believes in. She is a natural leader in every aspect of her life and motherhood is no different. Just one meeting with Ileana’s kids will demonstrate just who she is. In one of my first encounters with her son, I immediately took notice of his strong character and warm, sweet personality. Her daughter is a replica of her, with an outgoing, brilliant, take charge persona that is astounding for her young age.
Last August, Ileana and her family attended my children’s birthday party. We chatted and enjoyed good laughs together. She looked healthier and happier than ever. Just a few weeks later, I was winded by the news that Ileana had been diagnosed with cancer.
For the last year, Ileana has been mustering up all her strength to fight this beast of a disease, all while continuing to be a great mom for her two children. Earlier this year she completed her first round of chemo-therapy, before undergoing a double mastectomy. We're honored to feature Amazing Mom Ileana Cohn and share her story.
On receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer
The call came in early in the day on August 30th. The kids were off from school and I had taken the day off from work, to take my mom for eye surgery. The kids were with me in the packed waiting room when I saw my OB calling me. A week prior, she felt a lump during my checkup and sent me for a precautionary ultrasound. I figured she was only calling me to check in and make sure I got the ultrasound. But that was not the case. I can’t even really remember her exact words. She didn’t use many, but just said that the biopsies came back positive for breast cancer. I turned my head to the wall as tears streamed down my face. It was pure disbelief. I felt the weight of the word cancer sit on my shoulders. It’s such a heavy word with a dire connotation. I said "okay" and promised to come see her in the office within the next few hours. The kids saw the tears as I quickly wiped them from my face and I smiled and told them everything was okay. I knew saying the word cancer would only make me cry, so I texted my husband Andy the news immediately. It took weeks for me to talk about the cancer without crying.
On the challenges of her cancer journey
At one point, a few months into my treatment, it just hit me. This could literally kill me. Such an obvious fact. But I never thought about my mortality in such a real and concrete way. Thinking that there is something inside of me that could slowly kill me was completely terrifying.
Albeit less severe, the loss of my hair has also taken a toll on me. I find myself so upset when I see friends or strangers with their long hair. I sometimes get upset that they aren’t appreciating it more. When I see someone with beautiful hair, I sometimes long for it. I calculate in my head how many years it will take me to grow mine that long again. It sounds so silly when you think about it, it’s just hair. But being bald sucks sometimes, except when you’re having a hot flash, then it’s pretty damned convenient.
On how cancer has changed her philosophy on life and motherhood
A couple of years ago, I made a very conscious decision to be more present. Work is important, because it provides the finances necessary to support my family. But you’ll never get those moments back. Whether it’s a Thanksgiving party at school or a field trip with the kids, I want to be there. The feeling has grown even more now. I want to savor every little moment. I’ve been sick, sick, sick and I would still get in the car with the kids and drive to watch them at their activities. I don’t want to miss a moment. In some irrationally, fearful instances, I want the kids to have moments to remember me by, if I do pass. It’s almost like stocking up on mommy moments, in case I leave them earlier than I’m supposed to.
If I’m feeling good, I’ll ask Andy if we can invite friends over for a bon fire outside. It feels like an immediate need. I just want to be surrounded by friends. Although I know I’ll probably see them soon, I want and need to see them in that moment.
I feel passionate about working with cancer warriors and survivors. This is such a scary time and I want to wake up every day and make a positive impact. Our Rabbi told us early on to keep doing mitzvahs (good deeds), and it’s true. When we put good out into the world, we feel great. So, I keep trying to do good, to help others and to heal myself. Whether it’s within the cancer community or just planning an activity with my Girl Scout troop, I need a life with purpose. I can’t have my life be work, homework with the kids and going to bed.
On getting through the tough stuff
My husband Andy has been my biggest help in getting through the toughest moments. When I was too sick to eat, or too weak to move, he pulled up a chair next to my bed and fed me before he ate himself. He stayed in the bathroom with me while I showered because he knew I would cry if I was alone. Every night before he gets into bed, he asks me if I need anything, knowing full well I will most likely ask him to drive to the grocery store for a random craving. Sometimes I am so filled with anger, that I say things I don’t mean, and he just loves me.
On her advice for other moms
Be honest with your children. They love you and they can feel when things aren’t right. After our diagnosis, we sat the children down. It was a few days before the first surgery, to put in the port for my chemo-therapy. We were honest and told them exactly what I had, and what the next few months would look like. It’s not MY cancer, it’s OUR cancer. I notice the days I don’t feel well, Sofia cleans her room without asking and David just sits by my side. It’s a conversation without words. They know I need to lean on them sometimes. It’s okay to lean on your children when you are weak. I think they’re stronger and more resilient than we give them credit for. I include them in most decisions. From letting Sofia pick my scarves to bringing David with me to an appointment. It makes them feel in control and an important part of the family.
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