My friend Ines is vivacious and colorful. Open and charming. She is also the mother of a childhood cancer survivor, her bubbly and bright daughter Emi. In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness month, I sat down with Ines to learn how her life has changed since her daughter’s cancer diagnosis. Thank you Ines, for your honesty, vulnerability and ever present joie de vivre!

Ines and her two children

I remember the days following Emi’s diagnosis as being chaotic and adrenaline filled. When you think back to that time, how do you remember it?

Ines: Emi was diagnosed on July 5, 2018. We knew right away that we were headed for a big fight, but we also knew that there would be a day when we would be out of it. Emi’s doctors had a clear understanding of how to effectively treat her cancer, which made us one of the lucky ones. We benefited from a very standardized treatment path. The doctors assured us that we were “signing up for a cure.” We just had to endure it.

Emi’s treatment plan framed my life for the next two and a half years. We knew the first nine months would be intense, and once we got through that we would enter maintenance. We believed that eventually the days would get easier, and they did.

So how did you get through those difficult early days?

Ines: Community was so important. We hadn’t lived in the area for long and honestly, we didn’t know we had such a strong group of people who would be there for us. It was amazing to see so many people find creative ways to care for us. You were a large part of that! I had another friend who would send me silly memes just to make me laugh. Our former nanny would visit us and give me time to take care of myself. People helped us in so many different ways, which had a huge impact on our well-being.

We also didn’t want to live in a 24/7 “cancer world.” My perspective at the time was that when we are in the hospital, we are in the hospital. But when we leave, we have fun. I tried hard to fill our lives with fun stuff that was not cancer. That was really important to me.

That’s amazing, and also a testament to how wonderful you and your family are. How do you refer to Emi’s condition now?

Ines: Emi is cancer free! A big milestone for our family came in September, 2020 when she officially ended treatment.

I have goosebumps. I’m wondering… now that a few years have passed since treatment ended, how has being the mother of a childhood cancer survivor changed you?

Ines: Cancer made me fearful. I was never a fearful person, but all of a sudden I found myself being deeply afraid that this horrible thing could come back. At one point, a few years ago, I met the parent of a child who initially survived cancer, but the cancer came back. That concept planted itself in my mind and I became hyper obsessed with it, even though I knew the circumstances were different (it was a different form of cancer). The first few summers following Emi’s treatment were hard. I would be easily triggered and felt so much anxiety.

I’m so sorry. Where does the story go from here?

Ines: I am a therapist and I realized I needed therapy to deal with my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was very humbling. Cancer scarred me in that way.

Therapy was 100% critical to managing my anxiety. In addition, communication with my spouse helped a lot. I would tell him how I was feeling. I would cry when I needed to cry. Eventually, I learned what my triggers were and found patterns, which helped me minimize their occurrence. Still, I needed to repeatedly remind myself that the chances of Emi’s cancer coming back are almost zero. Little by little, I would find myself feeling better for longer periods of time. Periods of anxiety would be spaced further apart, and would be less intense.

Both at that time, and now, it has been my challenge to determine how I show up for my children. I do not want to pass this fear on to my kids.

What is one thing you wish people knew about how pediatric cancer impacts families?

Ines: Being the parent of a cancer survivor will forever change you.

In our case, Emi’s cancer was treatable which meant it did not need to be an entirely bad thing. It was up to us to make it what we wanted it to be, and to be comfortable with life going on. Cancer can be just one moment in a long story. During the early days, I would picture Emi walking down an aisle to receive her high school diploma as a coping mechanism. By the time she entered kindergarten however, nobody thought about her having cancer anymore. It’s crazy. She hardly even knows about her cancer!

Ultimately, a cancer diagnosis feels long and hard and difficult, but you get through it. That is the gift that hard things give you. It helps you prioritize and see what is important, and what is not. I want a healthy child and a family and a future. That is what matters. Everything else is just noise.

More About Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the Vaniman Family

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is recognized every September by childhood cancer organizations around the world with the goal to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research.

The Vanimans are now actively involved with the Meg Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides families with strategies to manage pain and medical anxiety, interventions that were critical to their daughter’s positive treatment experience.

Childhood Cancer Survivor
Ines and Emi

In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness month and our founding story, we are donating 10% of proceeds from children’s cancer support quilts purchased by 9/30/23 to charity. Learn more here.

It was my honor to record this special conversation. While I deeply understand that not all cancer experiences mirror that of the Vaniman family, it is an uplifting story to share and for that I am so incredibly grateful. Has someone close to you been treated for cancer? How did that experience change your life? I would love to hear from you if you are comfortable sharing.

As always, thanks for reading.


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