Sam’s Story: The Guilty Milestones

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Each day a different guest blogger will be featured who will generously share their personal experience with childhood cancer.  Stories are always more potent than statistics.     

By Pauline Grady 

The guilty milestones.  It sounds crazy, I know.  But let me explain.

I feel guilt.  A ton of gut wrenching, tear producing guilt.  It’s this God awful emotion that is confusing, yet justified, all at the same time.  What is this guilt about you ask?  My child survived.  That is my guilt.  It’s a warped form of survivors guilt.

I don’t expect anyone on the “outside” to understand, but I am fairly certain that those on the “inside” do understand.  When Sam was diagnosed with cancer, my very first thought was, “he’s going to die.”  I prayed, I begged God not to take him, I held him close to me many nights watching him breathe, crying, pleading for him to never leave my arms, the ones wrapped around him.

What I did for those 3 1/2 years my son was in treatment is exactly what every cancer mom does.  We all beg.  We all plead, yet some of us make it to the other side, still holding our children, when others cannot.

Why?  How is that fair?  This is where my guilt comes in.  Why, if I am doing the same thing that other moms are doing, did Sam “survive” and their child didn’t.  I don’t have an answer, I don’t think anyone does, but you can clearly see how this might fuck with your emotions.

While packing up the boys’ back packs tonight, an overwhelming sadness came over me, as it has in the past few years.  I get to pack Sam’s back pack, I get to make his lunch, I get to tuck him in tonight, I get to put him on the bus tomorrow.

I’ve been asked all week if I am excited about the boys starting school.  Of course I am, I need a break.  I am looking forward to going to breakfast with my friends.  But breakfast will come after I put the boys on the bus and go back inside my house and cry for a while.  Cry tears of happiness that Sam has made it to first grade, tears of sadness for the moms that can’t put their kids on the bus and tears from the anxiety that I feel every single day that one day this monster will come back.

Sam on the soccer field.
Sam on the soccer field.

September 2nd marks one year that Sam will be off treatment.  The farther away we get from his last treatment the more likely he is to not relapse.  He looks healthy, his numbers have been great and he is generally thriving.  That is my short answer when people ask me.  My long answer is, he quit soccer because his legs hurt too much and his stamina still hasn’t returned; he’s angry and nothing holds him back from letting you know; he has anxiety that ebbs and flows, and we are still dealing with stomach issues.

The really long answer I’ll save for therapy when I’m ready to go.

In the past year I’ve had a lot of what I like to call “epiphanies.”  Oprah used to call them her “ah ha” moments.  The dust continues to settle and I am seeing more clearly than I ever have before.  I think I am where I am supposed to be or at least heading in the right direction anyway.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  The color is GOLD.  The inequality as far as funding for childhood cancer as compared to other cancers is pathetic.

What will you do this September?



Pauline Grady is a 39 year old mom of 2 living in Northeast Pennsylvania. She is happily married to her husband Rick and spends her down time cooking, writing and garage saling.  You can read her words at her blog, Chemo and Donuts.


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