Some birthdays are milestones and this October 28th is a big one for me — I turn 50 years old. But more importantly, I’m celebrating my 10th anniversary of being cancer-free! This overwhelming concept has been swirling in my mind for the past decade.
Just before my 40th birthday, my world got turned upside down when I was faced with a stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis. My sons were three and six years old at the time. I felt like I had fallen down a deep dark hole with no ladder to climb out.
Recently, I was scrolling through my Instagram and came across a meme of a paraphrased Vincent Lombardi quote. And it hit me — these past 10 years, these milestones I’ve reached, have been a mountain I’ve been climbing. And I have reached the summit! The past decade of my life has been a bittersweet journey of climbing out of that crevasse of a cancer diagnosis and rising to the biggest accomplishment of my life – 10 years cancer-free.
Becoming a cancer survivor and a children’s book author (while being a mom to my two boys) has been an eventful journey. I have reached many milestones that have taken me to this very special birthday summit.
Milestones along the journey of being a Breast Cancer Survivor
My physical fight with breast cancer was intense. Chemotherapy and reconstruction were awful. My family helped me find the bright side. We marked the time I stopped vomiting after each infusion as a milestone to celebrate. And after each lifting restriction from surgeries ended, my boys and I went on an outdoor adventure. But the milestones did not end when my hair started to grow back.
I wanted to give my children the opportunity to feel secure and confident through picture books. Because I never found an age-appropriate book about cancer, I figured out how to explain what was going to happen to me in my own way. Using a garden analogy made it easier for them to understand. Finishing my physical cancer fight with children who stayed optimistic gave me the confidence to share our story.
Milestones along the journey of being a Children’s Book Author
Self-publishing Our Mama is a Beautiful Garden is a milestone I am so proud of reaching. My breast cancer book for children is written in the voice of my two young sons. I hope having my sons tell our family’s story will give other families the strength and courage they need during an awful time that can feel quite hopeless.
My personal goal of my book is to help families find bravery and optimism during a time that can be so dark and hopeless. Over 1000 copies of Our Mama is a Beautiful Garden have been sold and I have partnered with organizations such as Young Survival Coalition, Hope Chest for Breast Cancer, Gilda’s Club and Patterson Dental’s Grins for a Good Cause program to donate books to help families start a discussion on the topic of cancer.
In recognition of helping mothers navigate their cancer battles with their children, I was named a ChangeMaker by the Minnesota Women’s Press. Mom’s Choice Awards® has awarded Our Mama is a Beautiful Garden their Gold Seal of Excellence, naming my book one of the best products available for families. Most recently, I have been awarded the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards silver medal in the health issues category for my dedication to inspiring young people to read and to love books.
Milestones along the journey of being a Mom
Being a mom, my children have always been my first concern. The milestones I’ve reached the last half of this decade were painful, challenging, as well as celebratory. I got out of a failed marriage and made a big career shift. I also healed publicly. I was a model for Of Scars, a photo project that explores all facets of living with the emotional and physical scars of breast cancer. Artist, Barbara Porwit created a larger-than-life painting called Wonder Woman Katy for her Breast Cancer Superheroes portrait series.
Uplifting stories became a priority in our household. I am always on a mission to find stories with characters who overcome fears; stories about hope and peace and love. Having a venue to share the titles I have found is important to me; please visit my blog for articles on books about grief, loss, separation anxiety, and books that can help prepare us for future challenges and “bumps in the road.” I believe reading to and with your children inspires them to become lifelong readers and learners.
My sons have been my heroes on this journey, celebrating all of the milestones with me along the way. Hard to believe, they are teenagers now. Over the past 10 years, Louis and Maxwell have each done school projects and written essays about “the time Mom had breast cancer and Gramma Charon and Grampa Bill moved in with us.” My sons know more about perseverance, survival, and charity work than most kids their age. A special milestone they reached this past decade was when The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis named them Young Heroes, recognizing how they faced their mama’s breast cancer with the courage only a true-to-life hero has.
I celebrate my birthday more thoughtfully now since being diagnosed with breast cancer. I will always be 40 + the number of years I’ve been cancer-free. I am overcome by the accomplishments I’ve made; the view from my summit is breathtaking. I am hopeful my next decade’s milestones will lead to a much less challenging mountain.
Katy Tessman has partnered with organizations to donate her breast cancer book for children, Our Mama is a Beautiful Garden, to help families start a discussion on the topic of cancer. She was awarded a Gold Mom’s Choice Award and her book can be purchased here. Katy is passionate about literacy, maker education, and transforming school libraries. She is a new school library project manager and a blog contributor at Mackin Educational Resources. Katy and her two sons live in Minneapolis.