Tiny Heroes

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Inspiration, simply put, means to have an unconscious burst of creativity; therefore, unconsciously, I was allowed the honor of creating amazing boys who thus gave me the creativity to find motivation amidst trauma. 

I can easily say my inspiration is being a mom and my two boys. I didn’t have to go far to find my motivation; from the beginning, it was staring right at me each and every day. They were the ones  I have poured all my energy into, always, and I would do the same during one of the most difficult times in my life. For parents, your children are always your inspiration. They are the ones you do everything in your power for, get out of bed on a shitty day for, and put that smile on your face for. When you’re facing cancer, the last thing you want is to have your children witness it. But, selfishly, they can also be what you need to get out of bed and put that smile on your face.

My boys experienced cancer twice in their lives, within two years. This was very unfortunate and my heart breaks for them each time this reality hits me. Luckily their first experience was a demonstration of strength, courage, and positivity that prepared them for what they would go through with me. I remember the day my brother was diagnosed and how I wished they didn’t have to see it. They were much younger and a lot of they couldn’t understand. I can’t imagine what their thoughts were during those months, but it wasn’t their parent and it wasn’t in their house. Life was still pretty normal for them. They witnessed positivity and bravery, they didn’t see the struggles he went through. They were able to see and celebrate a battle won. That experience shaped how they would see and react to my experience two years later. In their hearts and mind they knew this could be overcome and I would  be ok. They were beyond fortunate and I am beyond grateful for that. 

The moment I was diagnosed, my immediate thoughts went to them. Driving home from that appointment, in my car, I yelled and screamed about how unfair this was for them. As a parent, your life is all about your children, every decision directly affects their little lives, and, thus, every “big” illness impacts them in a way that we can’t comprehend. They would now have to face cancer for the second time, but this time it was their mom, their caregiver, and in their home. They would wake up to it and go to sleep to it. They would see it each and everyday, the good and the bad. My cousins told me this would make them stronger and I would be stronger because of them. At that moment I didn’t want to hear that. It was just unfair and I was angry they had to face it. Now I see how right they were. My boys made me strong and brave, and they were resilient and courageous. Without knowing it, I made it my mission to demonstrate positivity, bravery and strength to my boys. 

Selfishly, I became grateful I had them by my side. The one thing I was most angry about became the one thing that motivated me and got me through most days. They got me up each morning, I helped get them ready for school, make them lunch and watch them get on that bus. For the first time since they were born I was doing something I never did, a tiny piece of their day became the most important and best part of my day. I began to cherish those mornings and became grateful to be able to experience those mornings with them. Each morning I made sure to make them delicious breakfasts and lunches, looking on Pinterest for the best ideas possible. Together, we waited for that bus to pull up and I waved and watched them leave for school. Those little details kept me wanting to get up everyday, I had something important to do each morning. I can’t say every single day was that way. There were plenty of mornings my parents came over, my mom made them breakfast and I just sat and watched. I knew, and so did they, that these mornings where I didn’t feel my best wouldn’t last. After a couple days, I would be the one making them breakfast again. 

Soccer was their outlet but also became mine. Their passion for a sport was the thing they focused on during a difficult time in their lives. Like tiny men, they used it as a driving force to get them through most days. That summer, soccer camp became their home; they attended as many days as we could afford. It kept them occupied while I went through test upon test. Their games became a motivation for all of us. I attended most games, when I could, with my husband or my dad, quietly cheered them on and watched them play.  So many of those Sunday mornings I would’ve rather spent snuggled and sleeping, but watching them on that field brought me so much joy, I couldn’t pass it up. I tagged along to soccer practices, sat with my fellow soccer moms and talked. They became my motivators, they shared stories and inspired me to stay strong and positive. Their sons became such good friends to my boys, they supported them through these difficult days without even knowing it. These women, these fellow soccer moms that I cheered alongside, have now become such good friends and their boys have built true friendships with mine that will last a very long time. 

One very special night at practice, they had a celebration of the end of my treatments. Nickolas came to get me, walked me over to his team and coaches, and they formed an aisle for me to walk down while all those boys clapped and the coaches cheered. The importance of that moment for me and for Nickolas is beyond words. The thing he is most passionate about, the people he spent most of his days with, who supported him quietly, helped him celebrate this huge moment for him and his family. 

I tried very typical family activities as well, the things we read up on to keep us busy, and guess what?? They actually worked. We built forts on the weekends and snuggled in bed reading books. I typically fell asleep after one or two pages but they didn’t care, the fort was the best part for them. We watched a ton of movies and made cookies or popcorn. Family movie nights became a huge event in this house and I truly look forward to those nights. Ice cream sundaes became our favorite dessert, our freezer was full of flavors, and our pantry full of syrup and sprinkles. 

Our village, our supporters, and their biggest fans stepped in to make things easier for them, and for us.  They had sleepovers with their grandparents and uncles and aunts. It was hard for me to admit defeat, for me to say “yes take the boys.” It felt as if I was losing in a way. But as much as I needed them with me, I also needed them away from me so that I could heal. Coming to that realization, that some nights were best spent alone, was very hard. I was both happy and sad when I heard the memories they created with others. Even hearing memories they built with their dad, my husband, pulls at my heart a bit. I was sleeping during a lot of those moments, so I don’t remember the stories they’ve told me, even though I pretend to. 

That’s why all of that hurts most. It forces me to admit I wasn’t always “ok” and I wasn’t always there being perfectly positive and courageous. Sometimes, I missed moments, sometimes I needed help, but in the end it was what we needed to make sure I could fight the battle and it was all ok. They continued to laugh and to enjoy life, they continued working hard in school and soccer and they continued to demonstrate resilience every day. That was the most important thing I could have wished for, even if I missed some things and wasn’t perfectly ok all the time.

Strength and resilience don’t come without worries and fears. My boys were brave, they inspired me; but what went on inside of their hearts and minds I can’t imagine. I wasn’t always given a window to their thoughts. They quietly coped. Matthew shared stories about me with his teacher. How fortunate he was to have a teacher who listened and supported him. I am beyond grateful he was able to talk about what he saw but in a way that made it just a part of his life, not something that he had to overcome. Nickolas kept a lot of it inside and dealt with it as best as he knew how. His method of coping was more understandable to me, culturally that’s what I knew, the men and boys I was close to kept it all inside. As much as I wanted him to talk about it, he couldn’t or didn’t want to. But he got through it with quiet courage. They both experienced it and coped differently, but they were both resilient, brave and courageous through it all. The way they managed their emotions and stood by my side amazes me. Their courage inspired my courage. I had no choice but to be for them what they were showing me they needed me to be. 

Those months of treatment are hard to forget, but the way my children inspired me every day is something I will truly always remember. Their quiet resilience, their strength and courage, the bravery they had each day is motivational for any parent. These little boys kept their smile, kept their amazing kindness and sweet hearts and sat by their mother’s side without hesitation. They were proud when I shaved my head, they were concerned when I didn’t feel my best, and they had fun on all the other days. They found ways to cope, they used their passion as an outlet, they talked about their feelings if they could, and they got through it with flying colors, in my opinion. This was a moment in time for our family, it is something that has changed me and made us stronger as a unit. It will forever be with them and has forever shaped them. My wish is that it shaped them to keep that positive spirit alive, face their challenges with a smile, keep on believing in themselves and in their own strength and move those mountains.

By Matilda Portanova