Motherhood. I entered the club almost 7 years ago. Cancerhood. I entered the club about 4 months ago. 

It’s an interesting thing to have been a part of the hood of mothers prior to being diagnosed with cancer because I catch myself thinking, “wow… thank goodness for motherhood,” often. I’ve even told some friends that not only did many things about (specifically) early motherhood prepare me for this cancer adventure but also, sometimes, I am appreciative to have been put through the rigors of raising a human before needing to fight off this toxic visitor because there are lessons now in my arsenal that have proved beyond valuable for this fight. 

I don’t mean at all to say that people who don’t have kids can’t kick cancer’s ass. In fact, I’ve watched many without children do it quite proficiently. I also don’t intend to completely compare something as beautiful as the privilege of seeing human life in action and watching it unfold to a disease that infiltrates and kills people. In fact, I’d guess that the lessons learned from motherhood are pretty applicable to all sorts of lives, not just those with cancer. 

Because motherhood is the hardest best thing I’ve ever done. It is tiring. And trying. It is rewarding. And life-affirming. Motherhood has taught me more than any other single thing I’ve done. And it has most certainly gifted me important lessons and perspectives I apply daily as I take on breast cancer with chemo, surgery, appointments, and healing. And for that, I am thankful.

20 Lessons from motherhood that I’m using to battle cancer

1. Life is short. 

Surely we all know, the days are long, the years are short. When I held my first baby for the first time, I could hardly believe how apparent that was. And when I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that it can all be gone in an instant. Life is short. Truly. Live for this day.

2. Everyone’s idea of hard is different.

My babies screamed and screamed and screamed. I thought it was hard. Other people don’t find screaming babies to be that big of a situation. They just roll with it. Everyone has the right to feel how they want to feel about their circumstances. What one finds difficult, others may not. That doesn’t mean it can’t be hard for you.

3. Things always seem worse at night.

When your kid barfs at night or won’t sleep for hours on end, it feels like the dark of the night will never end. But it will. Things always seem worse at night.

4. But every day is a new day.

One day, your baby naps like a champ. One day, he won’t eat squash. Then, he naps terribly. Or he yucks up the squash like it’s his job. It’s exciting to be reminded that every single day is a new day. There’s always a better day ahead. Even if everything seems worse at night.

5. Bodies are miraculous.

Many bodies can hold babies. Can grow them enough to give them life. Can then, sometimes, feed those lives. Love those lives. Care for them. That, in and of itself is amazing enough. Our bodies can also get attacked by disease and there are ways to fight those off. Miraculous.

6. It takes time to heal.

You have to heal from having a baby. You have to heal physically. And mentally. You have to give yourself the proper tools to do that. And be respectful to your body for its service to you. And when a disease, situation, or circumstance attacks your body, you have to realize the same to be true. 

7. Sex and dishes will always be there.

Don’t fret too much over the lack of sex in times where life isn’t that sexy. The sex will be renewed, restored, and rejuvenated when the time is right. And don’t fret too much over the dishes. They will get clean eventually. Or someone will wash them for you. Regardless, don’t worry too much about things that you just can’t do today. Every day is a new day.

8. Things always seem better after sleep.

We had a baby in the NICU and it was my easiest postpartum recovery out of three. Why? I believe it was because I was getting sleep at night. Consistently, normal-ish sleep. In motherhood and in cancer, things always seem better after real, rejuvenating rest.

9. Take help when you get it.

Life is too short to suffer through it and be a martyr. Whether it’s someone who wants to wash your dishes, take a night shift with your newborn, or offer you a nap, help helps

10. Find something that is for you.

It doesn’t matter what it is. But find a way. If it’s reading a blog you like at night while you nurse your babe. If it’s playing the guitar for 20 minutes every night in a room alone. If it’s giving your child an iPad so you can talk on the phone with a friend that you need. YOU still have to be you. Whether you are a mom, a cancer fighter, a human — you need to still have you. 

11. Love the body you have. 

Feed your body fresh foods. Enjoy your meals. Love to see how your body works. Exercise. Celebrate the way bodies move. Bodies. Are. Amazing. Don’t shame them for being out of shape after a baby. Don’t stress over “getting that body back.” It did you a tremendous duty. And when your body is working hard to kick out an intruder like cancer, you should love your body for taking on the treatments and continuing to stick with you.

12. Make your bed every day.

Maybe, for you, it’s not making your bed. But find something that makes you feel like you achieved something every day. It’s amazing how something little can give you such a sense of normalcy. And make you feel like you have some amount of control. 

13. Take the meds.

Talk to someone. Find a counselor. Seek help. Take the meds. I didn’t do this with my first. I didn’t take meds until it was a post-cancer diagnosis discussion. And now I wonder what I was so scared of… the stigma, the idea that I can’t cope alone. You can’t just drift through life. So if you need the Lexapro, take the Lexapro. 

14. Don’t stop dancing.

Babies smell good. So good that you want to hold them on you and not let them go. But don’t forget to dance as you’re holding them. I remember wanting my babies to feel my rhythm. To learn my movements. To find me familiar. And to find me as their safe haven. And now, dancing is always my safe haven. My happy place. Never. Stop. Dancing.

15. Wine and Netflix are known cures.

Whether it’s watching Fixer Upper for hours as your baby sleeps on your chest or it’s having a glass of wine while the baby is in the Bjorn… wine and Netflix can cure what ails you. At least as a band-aid after a hard day. And you shouldn’t feel guilty. It’s just for a time. It’s just for a moment. 

16. A clean space will make you happy.

Decide on one space that you need clean. Mine is my kitchen counter. If it is cluttered, my mind is a mess. Let those who are helping you know what your space is and they will help make sure your happy space is clean. Having one space you can look at and see it fresh and so clean clean, it will boost your outlook for the moment… and maybe for the day.

17. Find someone who’s been there/done that.

Misery loves company? No. But finding someone who has gone through what you’re going through –  finding someone who has felt what you’re feeling – it’s priceless. And imperative.

18. Fake it until you make it.

No one knows your baby. It’s a guessing game – what works with one kid may not work with yours. Some days, you just have to fake it — pretend you know how motherhood works, how babies operate — and before you know it, you’re rocking the gig. This is true in all sorts of life scenarios. Don’t be fake. But if you take charge of the day, of the tasks, you will soon become the one who can do them.

19. Playdough makes everyone happy. 

Use your hands. Play. Create. Feel. Look at bright colors. Playdough can turn just about any day around. Give it a whirl and I dare you to prove me wrong.

20. Trust in your tribe.

Who is in your village? Who can you call at literally, three am? Who gets you and won’t judge you ever? Who will make you frozen pads for your hemorrhoids? Who will take shifts with your screaming child or your fussy toddler? These people are your tribe. Love them deeply. Trust them with your life. And never let them down.

And with that, a huge thank you, motherhood, for these lessons. Thank you for the hard stuff. For the beautiful moments. For the happy tears. And the appreciation you’ve given me for life. Thank you for helping me fight cancer. And for giving me the children to fight it for. You’ve given me more than most anything else. And oh, I thank God for that. 

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Ashli Brehm

Ashli Brehm = Thirtysomething. Nebraska gal. Life blogger. Husker fan. Creative writer. Phi Mu sister. Breast cancer survivor. Boymom. Premie carrier. Happy wife. Gilmore Girls fanatic. Amos Lee listener. Coffee & La Croix drinker. Sarcasm user. Jesus follower. Slipper wearer. Funlover. Candle smeller. Yoga doer. Pinterest failer. Anne Lamott reader. Tribe member. Goodness believer. Life enthusiast. Follow me at

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