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Losing and Finding My Identity as Wife, Mother, and Friend

Real Talk

December 06, 2023

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Photography by Milo Zanecchia/Ascent Xmedia/Getty Images

Photography by Milo Zanecchia/Ascent Xmedia/Getty Images

by Maggie Hundshamer-Moshier

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Julie Scott, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP

•••••

•••••

by Maggie Hundshamer-Moshier

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Julie Scott, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP

•••••

•••••

Breast cancer changed me and my family for good. Some of those changes are still hard to accept. Others helped me recognize how every moment matters.

On August 28, 2023, I celebrated four years cancer-free at just 38 years old.

I felt like it was my first anniversary as the new person I became after cancer. It’s taken me every single day of those four years to figure out who I am now, who I want to be in the future, and to mourn the version of myself I once was.

We all know that cancer treatment takes a toll on the body, but for me it took a harder toll on who I was as a person.

It changed the things I could do from day to day, the people I could interact with, and the job that I loved going to. It affected my ability to parent and to emotionally support my spouse—and that doesn’t even begin to explain how it took a toll on how I viewed myself.

Losing your identity can be hard, but knowing how to prepare for it can be instrumental to coming out the other side of treatment stronger than you went in.

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How the world sees me

The first time I looked in a mirror after shaving my hair, I cried. I’m not talking about a tinge of sadness, but waves of tears and snot running down my face as I mourned the death of my hair.

I had been one of those girls that took great pride in my appearance. I bought serums and deep conditioners, lotions, and tonics all to make myself into what I thought was the best version of me.

When I saw it circling the drain, I felt like a piece of me—who the world knew me to be—was just gone.

As I celebrate four years with no evidence of disease (NED), I now know that the world perceives me as me. The ones that love me most don’t see my hair or my skin care routine, but that the best parts of me are on the inside.

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Who I am, not what I “do”

The first noticeable part of me to change during treatment was my ability to work and learn outside the home. I had become immune-compromised and was sleeping up to 17 hours a day while the poison of radiation ran through my veins.

It was hard having to take a step back from going to an office and doing a job I enjoyed, as well as attending school. My brain had started to fog and comprehending abstract information became next to impossible.

We all tend to identify ourselves by what we ‘do’ in this life. One of the first questions asked when getting to know a person is, ‘What do you do for work?’ I could no longer answer that question with anything resembling ‘normal.’

While I know that many cancer patients continue to work and study during treatment, I was not afforded that option. It was hard having my husband care for me. I started to lose what I thought was my purpose in society.

I was eventually able to go back to school when my body started to heal, so I picked a major and started on it full force. Still, progress was slow, and my brain fog lasted much longer than I anticipated.

Four years after treatment, I still don’t work in the capacity I once did, or that I would like to. However, we all make do with the cards we’re dealt, and my cards allow me to work from home.

The same roles, but different

The harshest hit for me during cancer treatment was my ability to be a wife and mother.

I was no longer able to run around with my seven and eight-year-old children, who were unable to understand what I was about to go through. My spouse felt badly about laying his problems on my shoulders while I fought for my life.

Simply standing in my kitchen making dinner would leave me shaking and unable to eat with the rest of my family. I often couldn’t keep down solid food, and my husband would gently guide me back to bed. I would have sleep for dinner sometimes.

Our routines went from long hikes through Joshua Tree National Park to movie nights on the couch where I would fall asleep ten minutes into it.

Not being able to be present for many things my kids took part in was hard on my soul. I had previously been a very hands-on mom, often taking my kids to sports events or trips on the weekends. That just was not possible any longer.

I spoke to my pastor daily about how I felt like a failure as a mother and as a wife. Eventually, I realized everything I sacrificed to be here for my family, and that my best just had to be good enough.

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Friendship shifts

They say the people you are closest to are your circle of influence, but what happens when that circle gets smaller? When you’re no longer invited to places because you constantly have to turn the invites down?

Resentment happens—and it happens on both sides of the fence.

I resented my husband for getting to sit up in his office all night, have a glass of whiskey, and play video games when I could barely stay awake. He resented me for having to completely take care of me just four months after our wedding.

I felt resentful as my circle got smaller during treatment. While friends stayed, acquaintances didn’t. It took me months to realize that friends and family tend to distance themselves to protect their own hearts from heartbreak.

It dawned on me that no one’s struggle is more important than another’s, even the one with cancer.

My community was just as scared to lose me as I was to lose myself, so I had to understand they needed positive words too. They also had things to live through and vent, and I learned to listen.

Every moment matters

Four years later, I don’t take a moment of preparing dinner and eating with my family for granted. We move differently, our routines have shifted, but we understand that every moment of every day together is a gift not afforded to some.

I know that while pieces of who I once was don’t look the same, the core of who I am remains. I believe we all need bad days to remind us of what truly good ones feel like.

We need to remember to be thankful for the valleys as much as the peaks. I identify as being alive these days, and that’s exactly the right version of me I need to be.

Medically reviewed on December 06, 2023


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Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

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About the author

Maggie Hundshamer-Moshier

Maggie Hundshamer-Moshier is a freelance writer, breast cancer survivor, veteran, and marketing manager who strives to make a positive impact on the world. She published a book entitled “When Daddy Comes Home” to help the children of veterans cope with PTSD. She gained notoriety on her Instagram @misadventures_of_maggie in 2018 for her raw portrayal of her cancer journey which led to her being the subject of a documentary filmed through National University. She has been featured in Welcome Home Blog and Glamour Online. She’s currently pursuing a degree in nursing with National University in hopes of helping others cope with the stresses associated with their diagnoses.

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