The Truth About Having A Parent With Cancer

The Truth About Having A Parent With Cancer

Living with having a parent diagnosed with cancer is not easy, but it's also not impossible.

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March is colon cancer awareness month and also the month with International Women's day. In honor of that, I'm going to be writing about one of the strongest women I know, who just happens to have colon cancer, my mom. This is my story about the brutal truth of having a mother with cancer.

Two days before my seventeenth birthday my parents called me and my brothers into their room for a "family meeting". My mom had been having a lot of pain in her stomach and was currently getting tests done to find out what was going on. Knowing this and having my intuition screaming at me saying something was wrong, I still wasn't prepared for what they had to say. My mother has stage four colon cancer with nodules in her lungs and liver. I felt my world come crashing down, I always thought that was just an expression, but at that moment it was 100 percent true. My mom and I would fight all the time when I was in middle school, but throughout high school, we mended our relationship and my mom truly became my best friend.

After my parents broke the news everything change. The truth is, the scariest time of the whole cancer process was the unknown. Was it terminal? Could it be cured? What kind of treatment would she have to go through? Would I graduate high school without my mom? Everyone is scared, but it's important to keep a brave face on until you get some answers. I started my senior year of high school going into an empty room in the counselor's office because I would go to school crying every day. Being away from my mom was so painful that my parents allowed me to graduate early so I could be with my mom. It turned out that my mom's cancer isn't curable, but with chemotherapy, she should be able to live a long healthy life. It wasn't the best news, but it wasn't the worst either. Finally, with some answers, I could breathe a bit easier, but then came the adjusting to my new normal. Seeing my mom absolutely miserable on chemo and not able to do the things she used to was heartbreaking. Her whole life, my mom only wanted one thing, to be a mother. My mom was very hands-on at home and having to get used to eating frozen pizzas instead of my mom's delicious dinners and not being able to go out and shop with her whenever we wanted was incredibly difficult.

Then there was everyone else. When my mom was first diagnosed with cancer my family and I were bombarded with "I'm so sorry, if you need anything I'm here for you" from just about every person my mom knew. I can't blame them, my mom is an angel how could you not like her, but I didn't want to talk about it. Don't get me wrong I was grateful for the support, but it would've been nice to have a conversation with someone without them bringing up the fact my mom has cancer. We also had to start a dinner list where some of my mom's friends would offer to bring us dinner when my mom couldn't cook. This made me feel like a charity case. It made me feel like everyone looked at us like the poor, pathetic Van Milligen kids who couldn't take care of themselves because their mommy had cancer. The logical part of me knew that wasn't true, but I still hated it.

Even before my mom was diagnosed with cancer I had been struggling with my mental health, but my mom's diagnosed sent me into a tailspin. I became deeply depressed to the point where I gave up on how I looked. The only time I would make myself look decent was for work, but only because I didn't want to disappoint my mom by getting fired. I always started to self-harm because the pain would keep the tears from falling and I felt that this pain was what I deserved. My work situation was also bad with my boss acting inappropriately with me, but that's a story for another time. The point is, this one event sent me into the deep and I didn't know how to swim and I had no one to help me not drown. I never felt so alone in my life and I wanted to know what I did to deserve this. I wanted to know what my mother did to deserve this. I turned my back on the church and still haven't gone back to this day. I isolated myself from my friends. I had no purpose in this world and my life had no meaning. What was the point?

The point was, my mom needed me. Like I said my mom loves being a mom more than anything. If I were to give up, it would crush her and she needs to stay positive if she wants to remain healthy. There's plenty of research that shows that being healthy mentally can help your physical health. I had to try, if not for me then for my mom.

I decided to start therapy, which was one of the best decisions I made. For a long time, my mom was my only support system, but I couldn't exactly talk to her about how her cancer affects me. My therapist is someone who I can talk to about how my mom's diagnosis affects my life, without worrying about upsetting my mom. I've also learned how to cope with the fact that this life is my new normal.

However, if you want the honest truth here it is. Even after 3 years, there's still a lot of days the paranoia of losing my mom gets to me. There are still days I can't help, but be angry that this is happening to my beautiful, kind mother. There are still days where I get upset that life isn't like it used to be. Everything changed: vacations, school functions, home life, everything. There are still days where I even get mad at my mom, not because I'm actually mad at her, but because I'm frustrated that things can't be like they used to be. The brutal truth is that there isn't going to be any hallelujah moment where you get used to this life. You're not going to wake up one day and be okay with how life turned out. You're going to cry, you're going to be angry, and it's going to hurt like hell. However, there will come a day where don't get mad and you don't cry as much as you used. Over time, if you get the help you need, you will learn how to cope with the pain so it hurts less.

My advice for anyone struggling with having a parent with cancer is to appreciate the little moments and to not be afraid to get the help you need.

You have two choices: you could spend all day dwelling on the fact that life isn't like it used to be or how much it sucks seeing my mom feeling so bad during chemo weeks. You could scream and cry to whatever Gods may be out there about how unfair it all is. Or you can treasure the little moments that aren't good but aren't all that bad and love the moments that are good. Maybe the good moments aren't as good as they used to be, but honestly, that's what makes them all the more special. We may not be able to go shopping as much as we used to, but that just makes the rare moment we do get to run up to Target and spend more money than we should, extra special. My mom might have to lay in bed all day some days, but that what makes watching "Say Yes to the Dress" marathons and eating ice cream in be with her some of my favorite moments of my day.

Also, NEVER be afraid to get the help you need. Whether it's therapy, exercise, self-care activities, or just venting to anyone you can, it's important to remember to take care of yourself. As cliche as it may sound, it's true that if you can't take care of yourself, you can't take care of your parent. They need you to be as okay as you can be. That doesn't mean being perfect, happy, and shoving your true feelings to the deepest corner of your mind. Being ok means taking care of yourself and taking things day by day. Being ok is realizing that sometimes all you can do is just survive today and tomorrow and the day after that If your parent sees you are fighting, they will have the strength to fight. Break down and cry if you need to, scream if you need to, crying in front of your parent is always better than plastering on a fake smile. You may not have cancer, but your health, mental and physical, is still important. At the end of the day, you still need to live your life and you can't truly live if you don't try to take care of yourself.

If you've found yourself in the same situation that I have, or one day in the future you find yourself in this situation, know that you aren't alone. The brutal truth that no one tells you is that the pain and the fear will never go away. However, there are ways to ease the fear and pain. It's not about getting rid of the pain, it's about learning to cope with the pain. Sometimes all you can do is just get out of bed and face the day, and I know how hard that can be sometimes. It's ok if all you do is make it through the day, in fact, you're a complete badass for getting up and surviving each day. The goal isn't to have it all figure out and not feel any pain, the goal is to be able to say "this sucks ass, but this won't break me, I will get up every time this knocks me down". The truth is: you are strong, your parent is strong and you can do this.


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To The Dad Who Didn't Want Me, It's Mutual Now

Thank you for leaving me because I am happy.
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Thank you, for leaving me.

Thank you, for leaving me when I was little.

Thank you, for not putting me through the pain of watching you leave.

Thank you, for leaving me with the best mother a daughter could ask for.

I no longer resent you. I no longer feel anger towards you. I wondered for so long who I was. I thought that because I didn't know half of my blood that I was somehow missing something. I thought that who you were defined me. I was wrong. I am my own person. I am strong and capable and you have nothing to do with that. So thank you for leaving me.

In my most vulnerable of times, I struggled with the fact that you didn't want me. You could have watched me grow into the person that I have become, but you didn't. You had a choice to be in my life. I thought that the fact that my own father didn't want me spoke to my own worth. I was wrong. I am so worthy. I am deserving, and you have nothing to do with that. So thank you for leaving me.

You have missed so much. From my first dance to my first day of college, and you'll continue to miss everything. You won't see me graduate, you won't walk me down the aisle, and you won't get to see me follow my dreams. You'll never get that back, but I don't care anymore. What I have been through, and the struggles that I have faced have brought me to where I am today, and I can't complain. I go to a beautiful school, I have the best of friends, I have an amazing family, and that's all I really need.

Whoever you are, I hope you read this. I hope you understand that you have missed out on one of the best opportunities in your life. I could've been your daughter. I could have been your little girl. Now I am neither, nor will I ever be.

So thank you for leaving me because I am happy. I understand my self-worth, and I understand that you don't define me. You have made me stronger. You have helped make me who I am without even knowing it.

So, thank you for leaving me.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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Blocking Toxic Family Members Can Be Just What You Needed

It isn't an easy choice but it can be the most rewarding.

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I haven't written for the Odyssey in quite some time due to this large issue in my life that I feel some people may also need to hear. Watching your parents go through a divorce can be difficult in itself, but what about having to remove one of your parents from your life at the same time? It's something I don't think many people could imagine doing. However, sometimes you are forced into the position between choosing what is best for your mental health or what is expected of you. For me, I realized that I needed to put myself first.

I realized that I am my own person. How I present myself and how I act and what I choose to believe in is how the world perceives me. I was faced with a parent who did not let me be who I am. The way I thought had to be in line with theirs. What I openly spoke about had to be in line with that parent's thoughts. This also, in turn, meant I had to revolve how I was perceived to the world around that parent's family. I had to abide by these societal norms and do what someone else expected of me. I realized that was ludicrous.

This parent was also abusive. They were toxic and manipulative and I could not stand idly by and just take that from them while also trying to become an independent young adult. I was forced to sit and watch one of my parents transform into someone I didn't recognize anymore. I had to watch them ignore any kind of reality checks and continue to feign innocence. I watched one of my parents mentally manipulate people I once called family into believing lies. I kept my head down and shut my mouth and kept taking the abuse. Now I'm at a point where I can confidently say that I am no longer afraid.

I was forced to cut ties with a parent that raised me, cared for me, attended school functions, fixed toys, bought me my first phone. I was forced to chuck out priceless memories for my own sanity. I could not sit idly by and allow myself to endure one more second of lies or abuse. I had to stand up for myself for once in my life and I blocked most of my family. I blocked cousins, aunts, uncles, and godparents. I changed my phone number that I had since 6th grade. I gave no warning and disappeared from my family's lives. Do I have regrets? No. I would do it again if I had to because I am so much stronger than sitting there and taking it.

I will have one less parent at my college graduation, which I am fighting so hard to achieve. I will have one less parent at my wedding. My future children will have one less grandparent. I mope in these thoughts but then I have to remember the other side of things. I will not have an unsupportive parent at my graduation and instead will have those that were there every step of the way. I will lack someone who was toxic at my wedding. My future children will never have to face the same abusive, toxic situations that my parent put me through. It was a difficult decision to make but one that I know in my heart is worthwhile.

Cutting a family member out of your life is difficult enough but cutting a parent is unimaginable. However, no one deserves to go through abusive situations. It shouldn't matter who the person is; if someone is treating you less than you deserve to be treated, they have no use being in your life. You should always be your first priority. You should never have to endure something for the sake of others. I am here to tell you that you are more than that and that cutting out a family member could actually be the best thing for you, even if it's incredibly difficult. I did it and I'm still here. It made me realize who my real family was, and there will never be enough thank you's in the world to show my mother just how much I appreciate her.

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