In 2006 my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 22, a newlywed and terrified. I decided really early on that the only way to get through it, for me, was to only allow myself to lose my mom once. I won’t dwell on that possibility ever, because when it is time for real it will be horrific enough for me that I don’t have to spend one second of my time thinking about it before necessary. Because of that decision, I was able to stay strong and be there for her. I did everything I could. I took her to every single pre- and post-op appointment. Waited in the hospital during her surgery and spent the night in a hospital chair to keep her company. I took her to each chemo appointment, baked cookies for the other patients and the nurses. I took her to radiation and cried with her when she got her radiation tattoos. I did the grocery shopping and pitched in with my aunt for a house cleaner. I don’t say all this to pat myself on the back- I just did what needed to be done. It’s my mom, you know? I think it was hard for my mom to see me in this position. My mom was in her late teens and early 20s when she lost her mom and then dad to cancer (bone and lung cancers, respectively). The thought of missing out on my and my sister’s lives was almost worse for her than thinking about her own life ending, I think. I know that now that Hayley and Damien are here the thought of her potentially missing out on their lives devastates her.
My sister was only 15 at the time. She keeps her emotions to herself for the most part but this was obviously really hard for her. I wanted her to have as normal a life as possible, and she largely got to do that. My step dad had a really hard time with it all. He did his best, but he was so scared of losing her and he didn’t at that time know how to cope or how to support her. He didn’t know how to take care of himself first, so he could then be there for her. It was mostly my aunt and me there for my mom. I don’t think about it very much- just a couple times a year when I take my mom in to the “house of horrors”, as my sister calls it, for her mammogram. Things still look really good for her and now that we are 6 years out she’s able to breath a bit easier.
Last summer my mom was diagnosed first with Graves disease and then, after a post-op biopsy, with thyroid cancer. It was instantly terrifying to hear “cancer” again, and after the year I’d had thus far I just couldn’t deal. The kids had just returned home and I was starting to piece my life back together. I couldn’t take this on. I just couldn’t. I feel so ashamed. I feel like I let my mom down this time- and right after she’d done SO MUCH for me and my family. I took her to a handful of appointments. My sister and I took her and waited in the hospital during her surgery. We brought her food in the days that followed. My sister did most of the heavy lifting this time around. At 22 she has done so much in the last year for her family that I’m in awe. She took mom to almost every appointment I didn’t. She’s done the cleaning and grocery shopping. My step dad has come a long way and figured out how to control his emotions about the situation and has been so great. My aunt has been right there through it all, just like before. I’ve had to protect myself a bit by stepping out of the primary caretaker role, and I think my mom understands, but I hate myself a little for it.
My mom didn’t have to do chemo this time, “just” radiation. Radiation treatment for thyroid cancer is very different than any other radiation and I think I was pretty naive about that. It has been really hard to see my mom during this recovery. She’s so, so, so tired all the time. She just seems sick, you know? It’s scary and I wasn’t prepared. Things are on the upswing now, hopefully, and I’m so ready to have things just be normal again. Things haven’t been normal, one way or another, for SO LONG now.
I’m writing about all this now because one of the current story lines on “Parenthood” has really brought back a lot f memories from 6 years ago, and made me face some of my feelings/realities about the current situation. It made me remember shaving my mom’s head for her midway through her chemo treatment because she couldn’t take seeing it come out in clumps any longer. That was maybe one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, which sounds so silly and petty but my heart broke with each buzz of that razor. It made me remember bringing extra socks and blankets to the chemo center because the IV liquid always made mom get so cold. It reminded me of cleaning up my mom’s barf all over the bathroom or hallway because she couldn’t quite make it. It reminded me of telling nurses not to take her blood pressure from her left arm, for fear of lymphedema. It made me remember taking my mom to Hawaii (with my sister and aunt) after treatment for a week away and a U2 concert. She was still pretty weak and the venue had messed up the ticketing. I remember them trying to make us move to other seats and being like, there is no way I’m going to ask my mom to hike across this stadium so figure out a Plan B. (They did. I think they knew I was super serious.) The show has made me really realize what we all went through. I often find that I stop processing trauma or difficult situations as soon as it is “over” because it seems easier that way and I don’t think I’ve dealt with all of this fully. I don’t really know what to do with it all now, but hopefully when I hit publish I can at least stop writing this post in my head every night as I try to fall to sleep.