I was eleven years old when my mom was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer.

Unlike my older sisters, I didn’t realize how serious it was. I was just happy that people kept showing up at our house with food and treats. I particularly remember a basket of Tastykakes and how much I enjoyed eating them. To this day, whenever I see a Tastykake I am reminded of the support system my family had, even if I was too young at the time to realize it.

Six years have passed since my Mom was diagnosed and now that I am older I have a much better understanding of what she went through, and how it impacted my family. I am able to see now how worried she gets every August before her bloodwork and annual scan. Over the last few years, I have had friends whose parents were diagnosed with cancer. I have tried to be there for them and let them know I understand they are scared. I still get scared and worry that one day my Mom’s cancer will come back.

What I have learned is that not everyone deals with their feelings the same way. Some people do not want to talk about their parent’s cancer and just want everything to go on normally. I understand this and try to follow their lead. Distractions like a movie or a girl’s night might be just what they need to help them cope. Other people need to talk about it to process what they are feeling. This is when I just listen and do my best to comfort them.

I remember how differently my sisters handled my Mom’s diagnosis. My oldest sister who was 16 at the time, held in her emotions. She felt she had to be strong and didn’t want my Mom to see her upset. My 14 year-old sister wasn’t afraid to show her emotions. She needed to ask questions and wanted to know every detail of my Mom’s cancer, and what the treatment would be. She cried a lot and yelled a lot, but I guess that is what she needed to do to cope.

Looking back, even though we all dealt with my Mom’s cancer differently, the one thing that helped all of us get through such a difficult time in our lives was the great support system of family and friends that we had. It wasn’t just the Tastykakes (although they were my favorite), it was all of the meals, rides, help with schoolwork and all the other thoughtful things that really made a difference for everyone in my family.