Staring Down Cancer

Cancer's Impact on Empty Nest Syndrome

This Saturday, my last child graduates from high school. I prayed to be alive to see this day – and now it is here. When my cancer became metastatic, I was told I would have five years at most, and this year will be my 10th year living with cancer. But as most of us living with Stage IV cancer know, we have to keep fighting the fight on a daily basis knowing that we may not be here to see our children grow up, get married, experience successful careers and play with our grandchildren. We don't have the luxury of "time" on our side.

To see those you love the most get on a plane and fly far away to start a new life is a pretty dark experience. Of course we will keep those feelings locked up inside as we love, hug and smile our way through the process – all the way to leaving the dorm with "I'll see you for Christmas!"

If there is a positive side for me, it's that my kids feel free enough to leave for college, to be normal even though cancer has made their life less than normal. My daughter was 10 when I was diagnosed and my son was 8. To this day they do not want to talk about my cancer. Yes, it rears its ugly head now and then, like the time Madeline cried and told me how hard it is to be in 7th grade knowing you're the only one who has a mother who might die before you graduate. Or the time my son, a 9th grader, used my cancer as the reason for some questionable behavior. He said he sometimes feels like his head is going to explode from the pressure of private school, homework, trying to stay popular (a full-time job for him), and knowing that he could never be a normal kid because his mom had cancer.

All through high school he said he was going to stay in Los Angeles for college, which worried me, because I knew that deep down he was afraid to leave me. I am thrilled he has decided to go to New York University. You cannot imagine what a huge step this is for my son. He has always wanted to play basketball in college, and when NYU offered him the opportunity, he said yes. He needs this independence and time away from me to grow as a person – basically to grow up.

So how do I keep from jumping off the deep end? The answer is Gigi and Colette, who are my 9-year-old and 3-year-old nieces. I have said it before, laughter heals, but so does innocence. They are joyous, happy children who jump up and down with delight when I walk through the door. 

I went camping with them over the weekend and totally forgot about my cancer. Colette saw a mole come out of a hole and then dive into another. Now, that’s not something you see in L.A. She was thunderstruck. She found a stick and sat by the hole with me for 30 minutes to see if it might come out again. The conversation we had was priceless. That night, Gigi sang in the talent show, and she was fabulous. When I'm not raising money for cancer research, I will be with these beautiful children, enjoying their innocence and their laughter.

I'm not going to pray to be alive when my children graduate from college – not this time. Instead, I'm going for a home run – to make it to 90 – then peacefully die in my sleep.

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Noreen Fraser is living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. She is co-founder of STAND UP TO CANCER and co-produced the TV show, which raised 100 million dollars for cancer research. Noreen went on to create the Noreen Fraser Foundation to raise money and awareness for women's cancer research. The 'Men for Women Now' program enlists men to ask the women they love to make appointments for their mammogram and pap smear. Noreen can be reached at

Noreen Fraser is living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. She is the Founder and CEO of the Noreen Fraser Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to funding groundbreaking women's cancer research. To stay in touch with Noreen, please 'LIKE' The Noreen Fraser Foundation on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.  Noreen can be contacted via email at