When my parents told me my mom had cancer, I wasn’t sure what to think. I was in 6th grade and knew of a few people who had cancer. My friend’s uncle had cancer, and he passed away. But another friend’s mom had cancer, and she was fine. I was 11 and very matter-of-fact. My mom looked fine. She still got up every morning, drove me to school, and made me lunch. I thought maybe the doctor had made a mistake. But after a few weeks, I noticed a change. She seemed tired, and my dad told me she had to have an operation and would be in the hospital for our birthdays. My mom and I were both born on September 3rd and always celebrated our birthdays together. I was disappointed that this year would be different, but I was looking forward to my grandmom coming and staying with us. On the day of her operation, I hugged her goodbye before I left for school. That morning on the loudspeaker, they prayed for my mom. Everyone’s eyes seemed to be on me. At lunch, a classmate told me her mom was going to the prayer service that night for my mom. That’s when I started to get scared. Was my mom really sick? It seemed like everyone else knew what was going on but me.
Looking back, I know my parents were struggling with their own emotions, and my sisters were trying to protect me, but it was the “not” knowing that caused me anxiety and fear. At a young age, I may not have been able to comprehend as much information as my older sisters, but I was old enough to have questions. So, I started asking. I was surprised by how open and honest my parents were in answering and explaining. I wasn’t sure why they hadn’t been that way from the beginning.
But I know now the situation was new to them too. They were unsure what to say and when the right time to say it was. I think it was a relief for them when I started the dialogue.
Since then, my sisters and I have been very involved with my mom’s health. A few years ago, she let us come to one of her doctor appointments. In the true nature of my mother, she introduced us to her oncologist “these are my three girls, and this is why you need to keep me alive.” He gave her an awkward smile. I am not sure he gets my mom’s sense of humor. Cancer affects everyone in a family, not just the person with the diagnosis but their loved ones as well. Looking back, being able to speak openly with my family helped me express my sadness and fears. Having a parent with cancer is never easy but having the support of my family helped me cope.