‘BOTH girls were diagnosed with cancer. They’re only 3. I created a way to celebrate their courageous lives.’: Mom of twin daughters battling cancer creates Etsy shop, ‘It will make us, and others, happy’

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Read Maryann’s backstory here.

“Trying to cope with depression and anxiety, start a small business, and raise twins with cancer is what my daily life now consists of. Sometimes, I just don’t even know where to begin as I stare at a blank, unwritten white page. But I continue to write, as I find it it be a coping mechanism. Also, this chapter of my life is still left unwritten, with no end in sight. So I must continue on.

I’ve pretty much struggled with anxiety and depression since my late teens. It’s so scary when it first occurs, as you just don’t know what to make of it and are left with countless panic attacks. I’ve chosen the wrong coping methods for many years, as I just wanted a quick escape. These terrible coping methods only exasperated the daunting panic attacks and endless depression. I tried several medications with no resolve.

Courtesy of Maryann Oakley

Everything just kept spiraling out of control. I think at the root of it was being bullied as a child. I am also a cancer survivor.  While this sounds so amazing and courageous, it really never felt that way. Other kids would bully me because I am permanently scarred from the cancer I endured. I looked different, and to everyone else, that was different. The bullying continued for so many years, and I never told anyone. I hated going to school or even going into the public.

The anxiety just kept creeping into my life, like a bad nightmare. I didn’t know how to cope and I certainly didn’t know how to live a functional life. Then, my mother passed away after a grueling battle with cancer. It was a brisk September morning when I received the call she was gone. Now what?

Just as imagined, the anxiety and depression only worsened, and this continued for years. And for those years, I relied on terrible outlets to maintain my panic. Nothing seemed to be working and I felt so hopeless. I couldn’t understand why cancer had, and continues, to plague our family.

I met my current husband while in the midst of my depression. He is truly amazing and supportive because he stuck by me. We got married while my life still felt out of control. It took hitting rock bottom to work my way back up. It was by chance I found my current amazing therapist. She has been my therapist for over six years. She helped me to get on the right path and taught me what it meant to process and cope. Things were feeling a little easier, and life was becoming more manageable.

My husband and I waited three years before trying to start a family. We both wanted to make sure we were grounded and in a good place. A place where we could flourish and raise a child, or in our case, children. We got pregnant with twin girls and they are now our only two children.

Courtesy of Maryann Oakley

Then, anxiety and madness entered my life once again when our only two children were both diagnosed with cancer. Yes, both of them. They’ve endured more than some may go through in a lifetime. They are only three, and they are still fighting. They’ve had chemotherapy, treatments, hospital stays, blood transfusions, surgeries, infections, hair loss, and so much more. One of our twins, Eve, suffered a twisted bowel which almost claimed her life. She suffered septic shock, organ failure, seizures, cardiac arrest, ostomy bags, feeding tubes, and had to be put on life support. Eve also has hearing loss and dangerously high blood pressure, if left untreated.

Courtesy of Maryann Oakley

I don’t know how anxiety affects others. But for me, the worst part is the mornings. I wake up everyday with this excruciating anxiety and panic. I don’t know how I am going to get through each day. And I find myself relentlessly counting down the days until Ella and Eve’s next anesthesia cancer scans. They are coming up on March 10th. I am sad and I am scared. But, at least it’s me who carries this unimaginable burden, as they are just too little to understand. I have nightmares of handing them off to the doctors and nurses. I am often frightened our time with our twins is numbered.

I remember when Eve was on life support. And I was in a full-blown panic. I told the doctors I needed help. I needed help so I could help my children survive. But there is nothing that could be done for me. I had to suffer through in silence. I had to fight through for my children. They are my world now.

Courtesy of Maryann Oakley

The current pandemic hasn’t helped our current position. My husband has been laid off, Ella and Eve’s appointments are cancelled or delayed, there is heavy financial hardship, continued frequent travel to hospitals, and we are in quarantine as Ella and Eve cannot get sick from this virus. They have come so far and are fighting so hard; I cannot have a virus take this from them. Such hardships come attached to a cancer diagnosis. We must make sure they are safe, and we must make sure financial ends are somehow met.

Courtesy of Maryann Oakley

While Ella and Eve nap, I found myself sitting in a chair and worrying, every single day. I had to think of something I could do to help occupy my ever-wandering mind. So, I decided to put some of my energy into creating a small business. It’s small, but it’s something. Something I can focus on and something I am good at. I created a store on Etsy and I titled it in honor of our twins.  I named it SweetSorelleCo. Sorelle is Italian for sisters.

My father’s family originated from Italy and my maiden name is Italian. So, why not include our twins in the title of my shop? It’s a personal way for me to celebrate their courageous lives. I try to come up with sweet creations that make me happy and will hopefully make others happy. And I hope it does. This is all I want and strive for—happiness. Maybe this business can help our family make ends meet while our twins continue to fight cancer. Maybe it will go places, and maybe it won’t. But, I know I am not willing to throw in the towel. I will fight and our twins will fight.

Courtesy of Maryann Oakley

I would lie if I said my days are better. They really aren’t. I’ve found a medication to help and I see my therapist regularly, via Zoom. I post updates about Ella and Eve’s journey on their Facebook and Instagram pages. I create new ideas for my business. I am on calls with Ella and Eve’s medial team daily. I give medications and care for our girls. But, the anxiety and depression are still there. My only two children are still chronically ill. And this always takes the forefront.

Courtesy of Maryann Oakley

I have to put on a brave face for them, as I don’t want them to be scared. I have to smile when I am sad. But, with all of this, I have learned a few things. Never take a moment for granted, as tomorrow is not promised. Always be kind to others, as you do not know the burden they may be carrying. And try to just embrace the day, no matter how hard it is.

My writing may sound depressing or sad, but it is our life. I often say how lucky we are, while others may call us tragic. Our twins are true miracles, and they make me smile every single day. They bring light into my life, even if it’s cloudy. They were chosen to be mine, and I am forever grateful. They give me strength when I feel lost. They are my heroes.”

Courtesy of Maryann Oakley

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Maryann Oakley of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Etsy, and their GoFundMe. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about mental health:

‘I have a loving husband. My life is a fairytale. I should be smiling. I have no sob story to garner support.’: Mom suffering from depression gets real about mental health stigmas

‘I think something’s wrong.’ He’s been here 7 years and I feel like we’ve just met. I struggle to get out of bed.’: Special needs mom advocates for mental health, ‘It’s okay to not be okay’

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