There is no way to be truly prepared, but James Woodruff shares what he learned when his mother was diagnosed with cancer.
No matter how much research you do or how many support groups you anonymously attend, hearing that your parent has cancer becomes a phase in your life. Certain decisions will revolve around the ugly C word. Your life’s coping mechanisms will go through ebbs and flows as you watch your parent fight the disease.
1) Everything becomes urgent and immediate: As I’ve watched my mother go through different rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, I find myself fantasizing about my own bucket list. I also find myself considering some of the things she hasn’t gotten to do yet. At face value, she got married and had children. But there’s so much more to living life, and specifically being a woman, than that. I think about the fact that there’s an entire globe that she’s never seen. As a result, I’ve become more proactive in my life as well. A cancer diagnosis is scary. Once it enters an advanced stage, you automatically begin to treat every day like it’s your last.
2) You form unlikely bonds: Chemotherapy centers are hotbeds for interaction; mainly because you feel comfortable bypassing the “get to know you” conversation. Instead of introducing yourself by name, people introduce themselves by their type of cancer and where they are in treatment. The crazy thing about cancer is it transcends age, race, and gender. I exchange pleasantries and have quirky conversations with this 15 year old brain cancer patient that same way I do with the 72 year old who is getting ready to be transported to hospice. The traits that separate people on the outside world are nonexistent.
3) There’s a constant cloud of fear over you: Recently, my mother had a nagging cough. When she visited me three days later, the cough was the exact same. Ordinarily, you’d take something over the counter and stay hydrated unless it got worst. You can’t do that when the person you love has cancer, though. I called the doctor to describe the symptoms and he advised me to bring my mom in so they could check her white cell count. It turns out that she had the flu and needed to be hospitalized. I breathed a sigh of relief that it was “just the flu”. Even when things aren’t as bad as they could be, you worry.
4) You’re going to get tired of peoples’ questions: Everyone means well. When they ask, “how’s your mom?”, it’s genuine concern. However, there’ll be many days when I can’t even muster a response. Whether it’s because I’m physically tired from being up all night because she was vomiting or I’m emotionally tired from figuring out how to hold the tears in. It’s comforting to be embraced by support and prayers. Although, you will be overwhelmed at times by the frequency at which inquiries come. One thing that I’ve learned is that it’s okay to tell people you don’t want to talk about cancer.
5) You know they’re going to die: I recently finished Stuart Scott’s memoir, Every Day I Fight. He shares the in-depth struggle he endured before succumbing in January. One of the things he lamented about is the fact that he wouldn’t be around for his daughters. For every success story of a long fight, there are 10 stories of loved ones who were gone way too soon. My mom has lived a full life. Now she’s in for the fight of her life. I see her toughness every day. Even though I can see that she’s physically weak, nothing has broken her spirit. This disease won’t diminish her will to fight. Yet we all know the truth. We all know that there’ll come a time when the medicine stops working. We all know that the day will come where we’re sitting by her bedside with a heaviness because we have to make a decision; with or without her help. When your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, you don’t consume yourself with the idea of death. But you’re smart enough to know that eventually it’ll come.
Fighting cancer is a constant, a daily part of your life. Since my mother’s cancer has advanced, my brother and I have to plan our lives around doctors’ visits. Our family is very helpful in the times where we can’t be there. When my mother isn’t feeling well, I wonder if it’s because of the medication. I used to put off returning her calls. Now? I answer no matter the time or what I’m doing. One of my biggest fears as a man, as a son, is that I won’t be there for my mother when she needs me the most. That’s what people never told me about the disease. Cancer will make you wonder if you did and are doing enough for your loved one.