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  • Crystal Leonardi

Casualties of Cancer

Babies. They are my kryptonite (along with all things that sparkle). I love babies. I am honest to goodness a mascot for all the clucky people out there who just cannot get enough of life’s little cherubs. Especially my own, but also any chubby-cheeked, chunky-legged bundle of squishy-ness, I just cannot get enough. My heart flutters when I see a cute baby, and it seems the more I have of my own, the more clucky I get. God help my future grandchildren!


I found this photo last night by accident when scrolling through an old message trail. It’s Sebastian and me when he was just 4 weeks old. I was feeding my baby with my body and enjoying the sudden absence of my well-ripened 9-month-old 'baby bump'.



Immediately my focus was on how adorable Sebby was as a baby and how I'd forgotten how squishy and healthy he was for a newborn. After a couple of minutes though, my eyes moved over to me. The youthful, glowing, oblivious me. Still in that beautifully blissful bubble us mothers are in after having a baby. When so much time is spent staring at the miracle we created, adoringly watching on as every sound and movement they make generates heart explosions of love, over and over again.


Sadly though, it was like stumbling across a photo of someone I used to know. A young mum and her son, who'd since lost their lives. For the first time in a long time, I unwillingly found myself feeling really sorry for myself. The flood gates opened and I sobbed. The grief was overwhelming and I cried, and cried, and cried. I was abruptly reminded by the youthful, innocent face in the photo that cancer has aged me both physically and emotionally. I feel it every day, but I don’t 'see' it ever. Cancer has also matured me, which for the most part, I can live with and see as a positive, rather than one of cancer’s casualties.



I avoid looking at baby photos of Sebastian usually because I just feel sad. It’s like I’ve grieved for that child and instead of remembering, I shift my focus to the little boy in front of me today. Because sometimes, life’s ups and downs leave us feeling really let down and betrayed. No matter how ‘up’ I’m feeling today, the time’s I’ve been ‘down’ still cripple my spirit.


I have written before about grief in Boy of Steel, and how cancer forced me to grieve Sebastian, the Sebastian that you see in this photo. But I suddenly realized last night, that I haven't grieved for myself. Not even begun to grieve me. I think about it a lot, how my life has changed, and the optimist in me only ever sees growth. I'd almost forgotten about the other side of me that is lost forever. The innocence in this photo is cripplingly tragic. Both Sebastian and I are completely oblivious to the true definition of trauma and that our lives would change forever over the next 20 months.



In those days, back in 2018, I spent my days enjoying my children and genuinely loving being a mum and all the mundane tasks that came with it. Now I spend my days driven by a need to make every day count. To relentlessly make sure that not a day is wasted. I literally force-feed my emotions, to keep them from bubbling out. Willingly pushing myself so far out of my comfort zone, in an effort to better myself professionally and distract myself from what’s really going on with me. I rarely look in the mirror these days, fearful of realizing that my reflection is unacceptable and so far from the high standard I used to live by. Terrified that I'll notice the extra 30kgs that my body now carries around. I call it my trauma weight and I just can't seem to shake it.



I disguise myself in bright colours and fun clothing, trying to distract any onlookers from just how sad my soul is, and how truly exhausted I am. My work is a welcomed distraction for sure, but the absence of self-care and time spent on my own health is taking its toll. I guess I was choosing not to see it until it slapped me in the face with this photo last night. The 'slap' burns my cheek and haunts me like a guilty plea to a crime I didn't realize I was committing.


I’ve been successfully nourishing my mind, to distract from my neglected heart and body. Overwhelmed with the enormous task of repairing a grieving heart and a broken body. Mostly because every 12 weeks, my heart is broken all over again when Sebastian’s MRI reveals a healthy tumour, nestled in and feeding off his brain and healthy cells. It’s a revolving door that keeps hitting me on the way out. An unsubtle reminder that trauma is still present, an end is not near, and that I need to remain on guard.


It seems I have let cancer win. Unbeknownst to me, Sebby’s cancer is desperately trying to take my life now too, and slowly breaking me down.



If anyone knows how to help, let me know. And no thanks, Jenny Craig, Lite 'n' Easy, or radical weight loss surgery, as some have suggested, can't fix my broken heart.


I get it. Science tells us that healthy eating and good choices can increase the levels of serotonin in our body, which in turn, regulates our anxiety and mood. On top of that, exercise helps the body release endorphins, which make us happier and help us to feel more 'alive'. But what happens when you don't feel like you have the strength to focus more on balancing your time between nourishing your heart, mind, and body in equal amounts? This is where I’m at. I just feel like I don’t have the energy to face what has become of me in nearly 3 short years.


Maybe it’s just not my time. That my life is about getting Sebastian better. Mending his broken brain is Priority 1. My time will come. I truly hope we both get the time we need to mend. But how much breakage can a soul and spirit take before it too is a casualty of cancer?

Boy of Steel, Little Sebastian's Big Miracle is available to purchase through my website www.crystalleonardi.com/shop. Proceeds from sales go to the Children's Hospital Foundation.


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