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Living with My Mother’s Cancer

By:  Grace Green

On December 7, 2016, both my grandmother and mother were diagnosed with uterine and breast cancer respectively. My mom started chemotherapy right away because she had a rapidly spreading form of breast cancer that had already reached her lymph nodes. This was round two with uterine cancer for my grandma, except now it was terminal.

I remember crying and feeling overwhelmed when they first told me. No one knew what to say so we all sat in this kind of sad silence for a while. I eventually went up to my bedroom and smiled at myself in the mirror for a couple minutes until I started laughing. It was a trick I had learned when I was younger to make myself feel better. It wasn’t until the next day that the extremity of my mom’s condition started to settle in. At this point we didn’t know if it was life or death and that scared me.

That December was one of the worst months of my life. My mom ended up with a life-threatening infection and was admitted to Newton Wellesley Hospital on the day after Christmas and was there until the beginning of the new year. She couldn’t call or text me because she was in quarantine (I wish I was exaggerating). I barely remember most of it because it happened so fast. There was no time for feelings other than confusion and panic. It seemed like we were prepping for her death then. My dad made calls to everyone, I wrote a post to put on my mom’s Facebook, I even remember briefly thinking about what I might have to say at her funeral. I visited my mom in the hospital once on New Year’s Eve and felt nauseous and anxious the entire time.

The year dragged on and only seemed to get worse. My mom’s treatments became more taxing, my grandma was suffering, my uncle Paul had a paralyzing stroke, and two of my friend’s mom died from breast cancer all before May. I particularly remember when our good family friend, Valerie died. My parents waited to tell me because they didn’t want me to hear more bad news. My mom ended every conversation with “When it rains, it pours”, and it was definitely pouring.

One of the hardest parts for me was the “parental pity”. It was the look that was always on my parents faces that screamed “my poor kid”. I know my mom was sad that she missed so much. She didn’t get to come to my prom pictures, she couldn’t watch the two theater productions I worked on, and it hurt that we couldn’t participate in our every year traditions like our annual trip to D.C.

I began to dread social events. It was awkward because people never knew what to say or what to ask, or if they should even ask anything at all. I really had to grow up and be able to address the elephant in the room and tell people that there was no pressure to talk about it. I didn’t always want to talk about cancer, but sometimes I wished people would just check in and ask how I was doing that day.

Something positive that sticks with me from this past year has been the people and support that I have found in my community. From my therapist, to teachers at school, to friends, to parents, and even strangers, I always felt like people were there for me. It was the support I received from others that made me want to keep going and stay positive. There is no shortage of ways to be kind and reach out.

So what now? My mom says that I’ve learned how to “be a person”. I can ask for help, use others as support, figure out what I need mentally, and have learned that everything is temporary. I was never a very touchy-feely person growing up, but I’ve now learned to recognize that hurting is okay and that you need to be patient with yourself. Whether I was feeling sad, angry, or resentful I had to be able to tell myself that it was healthy to feel that way and to let myself feel it. It became too frustrating to try and push my feelings so far down in hopes that nothing would come out.

It sounds cliché, but I see a lot of things differently now. Life doesn’t take pity on anyone and can sometimes seem excruciatingly unfair. People can be taken from you in a split second without you getting the chance to say goodbye, plans will change, and sometimes life will hurt you so badly. But despite all the bad stuff life slams on you, there is a silver lining. I didn’t see it until now, a year later. I’ve learned to seize every opportunity I can and remember to appreciate people and moments because you don’t know how quickly things can change.

Do I think that I solved all of life’s mysteries and learned the key to being a superhuman? Absolutely not. But what I realize now is that life can get pretty ugly. Sometimes the ugly can drag on, but you will make it out alive. There will be bad days, bad weeks, bad months, and yes, bad years, but if you keep going you will eventually get to the good part. Last year someone said to me, “You don’t drown by falling into the water. You drown by staying,” and I think that there is a truth to that. It’s not always easy or fast, but the fight back up to the top is worth it.

And as I’m writing this a year later, I can say that things are different and mainly good. My mom is in remission and is doing well while getting back into “regular” life. My grandma has a lot of good days and texts me all the time. So for now, there seems to be an ending for this chapter that I’m not taking for granted.


7 Responses to Living with My Mother’s Cancer

  1. Roseanne Kurposka

    December 16, 2017 at 7:34 am

    A very moving and expressive piece of writing. Very real, and beautifully written. You’re an old soul, Grace Green, who has amazing insight into life’s trials and beauties! Namaste!

  2. Susan C Daigneault

    December 16, 2017 at 8:15 am

    Hello Grace,
    I am a friend and classmate of your Mom’s and just want to tell you that this is absolutely beautiful. Breast Cancer has affected most of the women in my family and my Mom is a two-time survivor. Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience – I have told your Mom what a rock star she has been and it is very obvious she has passed that trait on to you!

  3. Janna Frelich

    December 16, 2017 at 10:51 am

    Grace,thank you for sharing this journey and your lessons learned with us. There are tears of joy in my eyes for you!

  4. Michelle Choate

    December 18, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Grace, you are so appropriately named. What grace and poise and strength you have shown in the face of things that many of us adults struggle with so much. A couple of years ago, when I was 47, my mom had a catastrophic stroke and has been severely disabled as a result. As you know, life for all of us who loved her changed in a second. I cannot say enough how much I understand and empathize with everything you have said. And I am amazed that the insights and wisdom you have at your age, knowing what a struggle it’s been to find those same insights at almost 50. I was so moved by what you wrote, I just had to let you know of my admiration.
    I met your mom when we were at Wheaton. She’s always been her own person. Your Mom is a strong lady and very brave. I’m so glad to hear she is doing better. She is in my thoughts and prayers for a continued recovery. And she is very lucky to have you.

    I hope you and your whole family are able to have a much more Merry Christmas this year–and a 2018 filled with health and happiness.

  5. Julia Neiva

    December 20, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Such a moving and emotional story. I wish you and your family the best. Happy holidays!

  6. William Burger

    December 20, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    This piece of writing was very influential and moving to me. Grace, you did a fantastic job writing this and I only hope for the best with you and your mom. I loved reading your perspective of the situation!

  7. Sarah Corcoran

    January 2, 2018 at 11:28 am

    This piece is truly such a moving piece and it gives such a great perspective on both life and having to overcome obstacles like this!

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