Cancer. It’s astounding how one six-letter word can alter someone’s life.

Cancer entered my family’s life when I was a mere 12 years old. 12 going on 25, as my mom would say; she has always told me I an old soul in a little body. Once I found out that my mom had breast cancer, as the oldest girl among my siblings, I felt obligated to fulfill a motherly role. I quickly matured because I felt as if I had no other choice. I began masking my emotions entirely. No matter who asked, where they asked, or why they asked, when I was questioned about how I was dealing with my mom’s sickness, I without fail always replied “I’m fine” or “I’m good”, even though I knew I wasn’t.

I felt as if admitting that I was having a difficult time with everything going on at home would be a burden. I constantly thought about how I couldn’t add more to my parents’ plate, which was clearly already plentiful. I feared telling them because I often thought to myself, “How could I say I’m struggling when I’m not the one who is sick?”

I consistently reminded myself that I needed to be strong, that I needed to be tough for my mom. I had a preconceived idea that I wasn’t allowed to not be okay. I was wrong. Dead wrong. My parents were just as concerned with the wellbeing of me and my siblings just as much, if not more, than their own wellbeing. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to admit to a friend, a family member or a teacher that you are having a difficult time with everything. It’s okay to have bad days, not everyday is going to be a walk in the park. It’s okay to go to Mom and Dad to express your concern, or to tell them the things that are most difficult for you. You don’t need to mask how you’re feeling because you think you need to be tough. I thought that masking your emotions is what made you tough, that it made you strong. But, it actually did the complete opposite, it made me weak and I crumbled under the weight of my own emotions. Being able to adequately express your emotions is a strength and a sure sign of maturity. Something I wish I had realized much earlier.