Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide with one in eight women being diagnosed in their lifetime. One of the great difficulties of cancer is how it affects not only those diagnosed but loved ones as well. In this entry, a daughter recounts her personal story, her response to her Mother’s diagnosis and the events that followed.
Q: Describe what it was like for you to find out your mother was diagnosed with cancer.
A: I was in grade five and remember my parents’ telling me like it was yesterday. We were sitting at my kitchen table and my dad told me my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t really know what was going on because I was at a young age, but I remember looking at my parents’ faces and my older sister looking as if she was about to break down, and so I knew it wasn’t good news. To be honest, I didn’t think of it as very bad, because I thought my mom would get better; they found the cancer so early on.
Q: How did your life change while your mother was sick?
A: During the years my mother was sick, our lifestyles changed. When we went on trips, my mom couldn’t go into the sun, she was always feeling weak. I also remember the first day she came back from chemotherapy, she looked so different. She started losing her hair and always went to bed early, her eyes were constantly watering; she just wasn’t the same. I started becoming depressed and felt I couldn’t go to anyone about the problems I was having because my support system had minimized drastically. I was also very angry, which is what I regret to this day, because I didn’t know how to cope.
Q: How did friends and family respond?
A: To be honest I didn’t have great friendships when I was young. I usually gravitated towards people that weren’t good for me or weren’t supportive enough through situations; to this day I have never really figured out why. I also tended to not talk about my mother’s death only because I didn’t want to make people feel uncomfortable or have them treat me any differently. I also felt they wouldn’t understand unless they had been through the death of a parent.
Q: Tell me about the circumstances surrounding her death.
A: In the summer of 2002, we thought my mother was cured and we went to Dominican to celebrate. I remember being so happy, the energy in my family had completely changed. A few months later, she went to the hospital, not feeling so well. She was diagnosed with pneumonia, and was later told she would have to get well on her own because there was nothing else they could do. If she wasn’t to get better, she’d have three months to live. A week later, I was sleeping and woke up to her coughing during the night; the next day she was rushed to the hospital.
My sister and I went to visit her, she seemed to be doing well. When I was leaving, about to step onto the elevator, I got this strange urge to go back and give her a hug. The next day, Easter Sunday, there was no answer in my mom’s hospital room. When my dad came home and woke me up later that night, he squeezed me tight, and told me the news. I just froze and had no emotion. After about thirty seconds, I ran into my bathroom, locked the door, and slept there all night.
Q: How did the loss impact your life?
A: My life changed; the loss left my dad, sister and I to live a life we did not expect. My dad and I fought a lot, which is disappointing…but we were both hurting. Because there was so much going on, it forced me to become an independent person, emotionally and mentally.
Q: What aspect in your life was the hardest, and how did you cope?
A: Not having a mother figure in my life at such a young age, especially in my pre-teen/teenage years, which is the most crucial because you’re growing into a “woman,” I felt lost and didn’t know who to go to. I couldn’t ask my sister because she was never home, and my dad found woman stuff to be gross. I would say feeling a sense of confusion and loss of identity would be the most difficult.
I also started to fear losing my dad. I would have dreams of him not being there, or would get strange feelings of something happening to him, which I know was my insecurity because of losing my mom. I also found it hard losing all the little things my mom use to do with me that no one else did. For example, she always used to rub, tickle, scratch my back before I went to bed. Or whenever I lost something, she always knew where it was, or cuddling and watching a movie or reading me a book, or her great tuna casserole…little things like that.
Q: Have you ever received therapy to help you through such a difficult time?
A: Yes, I saw a psychologist for about a year and a half. I would talk about issues that were going on with me at the moment, but not my mom because I knew that if I did, I would cry. She started pushing me to talk about my mom so I stopped therapy. I guess it wasn’t my time to open up. I think I’d be ready now, but back then I was still coping within myself and wasn’t ready to express my emotions to someone else.
Q: How do you think you have changed as a person?
A: I have seen positive and negative changes. On one hand, I am more independent and intuitive in a way where I am more cautious about my actions and the emotions of others. And I can help people in a similar situation. On the other hand, I don’t know anything more painful than the death of a parent. So I am a bit emotionally unstable at times because I feel that someone can just pick up and leave my life, and that’s what I am scared of the most. I am scared of getting too close to others for that reason.
Q: What advice would you give someone who has a loved one diagnosed with cancer?
A: Everyone’s situation is different so I couldn’t really say. Everyone has different support systems and copes differently. For example, my sister was constantly with her friends or had boyfriends, while I was angry and insecure. But if someone was going through the same thing as I did, I would tell them the truth: It’s going to be hard at first. I look back now and I’m like holy shit, I went through that? I would also tell them that they’ll never “get over” the pain they experienced, but they’ll have a better head on their shoulders in their future. You never “get over” a situation like that, but you learn to deal with it. I would also tell them that their loved ones would want them to be happy, to live life. I know my mom is constantly around me.
If you have been touched by cancer and want to be part of the cure, please visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website at http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/ and learn how you can build hope against cancer.
-Stephanie Rhys, Contributing Writer