Being a mom is not easy.
Being a mom before you enter college is hard.
Being a mom and going to college is harder still.
Being a mom, going to college, spending the better part of a year in the hospital fighting Ewing’s Sarcoma, and losing your leg as a result? Impossible.
But this mama is doing it.
Who you are: Irene Blum
What you do: Mom, college student, childhood cancer and limb loss awareness advocate.
Where you do it: Stamford, CT
Tell us your story.
I was born and raised in Stamford, CT. I used to play softball, volunteer at my local hospital, and was very social. I got pregnant at 16 years old. I had my son Jason during my senior year in high school. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I wanted to be a good role model so I became very motivated. I worked in social services helping at-risk youth and went on to study at the University of Connecticut. When I was 20 years old I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of pediatric bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. I had to stop working and going to school because my treatment was a year of high-dose chemotherapy and countless surgeries. I had many complications along the way, the most significant one resulted in an above-the-knee amputation. I have been in remission for 10 months now and am very blessed to be alive.
You have had more than your fair share of challenges and trials. What do you consider your biggest challenge? What got you through it?
My biggest challenge in life was my battle against cancer. The chemotherapy drugs I was given were so toxic that I became debilitatingly sick. I spent nearly 10 out of 12 months inpatient. I was working so hard to just stay alive that I couldn’t be the amazing mom that I wanted to be to Jason. I went from being his primary caregiver to being lucky if I could see him during weekend visits at the hospital.
Treatment became so brutal that the folks at the hospital called me “Murphy’s Law Girl” because everything that could go wrong, did. I wanted to quit so bad and just go home to be with my son. My doctors talked me out of quitting because they would remind me that if I did, the time spent with Jason would be short because Ewing’s Sarcoma is aggressive and would most certainly return with a vengeance if I did not finish my protocol. If I finished treatment, I could return home and live a fulfilling life with my son with little chance of relapse.
If Jason weren’t here, I would have quit treatment because it was torturous. I wouldn’t be here answering this interview if my son wasn’t born… Fun fact: The name Jason means “the healer.” I definitely feel like he popped into my life early and unexpectedly for a reason. Another reason why I am lucky to have him is because my cancer treatment ruined my reproductive system. I am technically infertile. I would love to have children in the future but will probably have to adopt.
If you could have coffee with any woman, historical or living, who would it be and why?
Mayim Bialik because she’s brilliant, progressive, outspoken, and has a great sense of humor.
Who is your favorite Disney Princess?
Mulan because she was one tough chick. Instead of being a damsel in distress, she protected her disabled father from going to war and saved her entire country.
What is the best song to sing to in the shower or when you are alone in the car?
“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten
What was the best piece of advice you have received? What was the worst?
“You can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first,” was the best piece of advice I have ever received. The worst would probably be, “don’t do chemo, just pray and eat papayas.”
What books or TV shows do you think everyone needs to read/watch, like, right now?
Grey’s Anatomy is my all-time favorite show. Grey’s is the best part of every Thursday. Jodi Picoult is my favorite author and after going through treatment, I re-read “My Sister’s Keeper” with a newfound appreciation for it and was moved to tears multiple times throughout the book.
What is your definition of beauty? Or, when do you feel most beautiful?
Going through treatment taught me to find beauty in absolutely everything. I define beauty as anything or anyone that provokes positive emotions when you look at it/them. Before cancer, I would look at a rainy day and think “jeez, what an ugly day.” It was a rainy day in March when I got discharged from the hospital after being inpatient for nearly 5 months. I cried tears of joy as I felt raindrops on my bald head. A year later, I still look at rain and remind myself how much joy rain brought me. I can look at a rainy day today and think, “what a beautiful day.”
I feel the most beautiful when I watch myself in the mirror during physical therapy. I feel so much pride when I see myself mastering things I never thought I would be able to do again after my amputation like standing or walking. I see resilience in the mirror and I think resilience is beautiful.