Our Differences Make Us Stronger

Jen Kofford
04/26/19 | 4 min read
My breast cancer diagnosis turned my life and parenting upside down. But I soon learned there was no “right way” to do things. And accepting where I was helped me be more present.

A couple of months ago, my daughter and I were talking about snowflakes. She expressed doubt in the belief that “no two snowflakes are exactly alike.” She wondered how this could be possible when there are just so many of them. And how could we even know for a fact they were all unique if we didn’t look at, compare, and analyze every single one? Well, that made me stop and think, and I had to admit—she had a point.

Unlike snowflakes, I don’t have to inspect every single woman and mother throughout the world to know that we are all varied, different, and unique. I can confidently say that “no two women are exactly alike.” Our circumstances, experiences, choices, and sometimes things totally out of our control shape and mold us. When analyzed and compared, our snowflake may look very similar to the other snowflakes around us, or it might look very, very different.

A few years ago my world was turned completely upside down when I was unexpectedly diagnosed with an aggressive and rare form of breast cancer. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom, and my children were nine, five, and two years old.

Needless to say, the timing was not ideal.

I endured multiple surgeries, hospital stays, chemotherapy, and the most mentally and physically challenging two years of my life as I fought through and recovered from the disease. I was sick. I was exhausted. I was drained. I was impatient. I was limited. I was sad. I was frustrated. I was lonely. But despite all of my day-to-day struggles, my young children still needed me to show up and be their mother. That was not easy.

For me, the most difficult part of going through a long-term illness was not the disease itself but the effect it had on my ability to mother in the way I thought I should. And in the way I thought other people expected me to. I spent a long time feeling like I was failing every single day because I couldn’t organize fun and educational trips to the library or the zoo. Or go outside and toss a football. Or wear matching aprons and bake cookies from scratch. I couldn’t even do the basics like drive my kids to school or help them get dressed. And lots of other moms around me could. If I was able to drag myself down the stairs to see if everyone had scavenged something to eat every morning, it was a triumph. I was not a poster child for the daily grind of “momming” during the time when I felt like my children needed me the most.

When I became a mother, this was not at all what I pictured. It wasn’t what I had planned for my life or what I thought would happen. But it did. There are some things I wish I could have done differently. But I couldn’t. I cannot go back and reclaim that time in my life or in my kids’ lives. I have to be at peace with knowing I did my very best in very trying circumstances.

It’s been a few years now since my diagnosis. Now that I have a little bit of perspective, I realize that I wouldn’t trade that experience—or the lessons it taught my family and me—for anything. Going through it changed me. I love more, forgive more, laugh more, understand more, let go more, and listen more. I try to remember that in the grand scheme of things, there are only a few things that really matter. If I focus on those and don’t worry too much about the rest, everything finds a way of working out. In short, I think it has made me a better and more present mother.

Does my snowflake look similar to yours? Or not even close?

Regarding the great diversity found in our homes and in our lives, Sister Chieko N. Okasaki described it best in a talk called “Strength in the Savior.” She reminded us that not everyone’s circumstances or family make-up is the same. But as she says, “All of these homes can be righteous homes where individuals love each other, love the Lord, and strengthen each other.”

To further illustrate her point, she goes on to describe two different quilts. The first has an orderly, predictable pattern. Drawing a parallel to our lives, she says, “Sometimes our lives seem patterned, predictable in happy ways, in order.” Then she describes a second quilt, one called a crazy quilt. It is made up of odd shapes that come together at odd angles. Some of the pieces are the same color, but the quilt is unpatterned and unpredictable. Our lives can look like that—unpredictable, unpatterned, or sometimes even crazy.

She goes on to say, “There’s not one right way to be a quilt as long as the pieces are stitched together firmly. Both of these quilts will keep us warm and cozy. Both are beautiful and made with love. There’s not just one right way to be a [Latter-day Saint] woman, either, as long as we are firmly grounded in faith in the Savior, make and keep covenants, live the commandments, and work together in charity.”

Isn’t that beautiful? And comforting? There’s not one right way to be a quilt. Or a snowflake. Or a mother. Or a woman. So be the one that you are right now. Embrace your uniqueness and individuality on your journey through life. Because, if you ask me, the world would be a pretty boring place if none of our quilts were crazy and all of our snowflakes were the same.

Jen Kofford
Jennifer Kofford is a full-time wife and mom and part-time high school substitute teacher, writer, and serial side hustler. She lives with her husband and three amazing kids in Layton, Utah, and is currently working on her goals of visiting every continent in the world and getting at least one good night’s sleep.