My Mother’s Cancer Story + Tips for Living With a Loved One Who Has Cancer
My mother has had cancer since I was 16. We didn’t know what was wrong with her at first. She didn’t feel well and couldn’t stay as active as she had been. I had a sinking feeling in me that whatever was going on, wasn’t going away anytime soon and it was no joke.
She scheduled doctor appointments. They told us that she had spots, tumors, but they weren’t positive if they were cancerous. Around the same time we found out the spots were cancerous, my mom passed out.
She passed out in the middle of the night while she had gotten up to go to the bathroom. She walked out the bathroom door into my parent’s bedroom and fell face first on the floor.
I was there with my dad, helping him bring her back to consciousness, which took a good five to ten minutes. It was terrifying.
It was all so much happening at once. We didn’t know why she had passed out, if it would happen again, or if it did happen again how serious it could potentially be. My dad was particularly worried about her falling and hitting her head. I was afraid she would pass out while my dad was at work and I was alone with her.
She ended up needing a hysterectomy to stop the constant bleeding, which was what had caused her to go unconscious. After this procedure, doctors told us to treat the stage one cervical cancer, she would need chemo and radiation treatments.
Chemo was once a month for 6 months, and radiation was once or twice a week.
She was constantly sick. She could not cook or clean or get out of her chair. Her hair began to thin from the chemo. She was always cold. She lost fifteen pounds. She was pale.
I loved my mom and wanted to be around her but it was hard watching her physically deteriorate before our eyes.
Members from our church brought us meals and prayed for us frequently. My dad did his best to balance continuing work while going to all of her doctors appointments with her, while my younger brother and I focused on school and helping her with chores around the house.
But after the chemo and radiation treatments, we had good news: the treatments had worked and she was cancer free!
It felt like a gigantic relief. She was cancer free and our lives could return to normal. We could put this behind us.
Or, so we thought.
Fast forward two years later, and my parents were walking out the door to visit the doctor. My mom hadn’t been feeling well in general and a doctor’s appointment was inevitable when she had what appeared to be a stroke at home.
What was supposed to be a quick trip to the doctor turned into a five day hospital stay. During her stay, the doctors ran all sorts of tests: CT scans, blood work, biopsies. My parents returned without any definite answers, but we knew the outcome wasn’t going to be good.
A few days after the hospital ordeal, my mom called me into her room. She sat me down on their bed and told me, “It is cancer. It’s in my lungs now.” She told me that we were going to my dad’s work to inform my brothers.
When we arrived, we met with my dad and brothers and discussed what the future would look like. She let us know that this second round of chemotherapy would be harsher and she would lose all of her hair this time for sure.
Her hair loss was quite possibly one of the hardest things to watch throughout this cancer journey. She noticed it was coming out rapidly in chunks, and asked my dad to just go ahead and shave her.
She always wore a hat or bandana after that. She was worried that us seeing her shiny head would upset us. It wasn’t until a week before my wedding that she finally ditched the coverings, with the encouragement of a friend (and I must say, she looked absolutely stunning). Her head was covered in a short layer of soft hair. Seeing her hair slowing growing back was significant because it showed that she had finally finished her chemo treatments.
Several months passed after the chemo before she went back to her doctor for a check up. They called a few days later to tell us that the tumors in her lungs were growing and spreading.
My parents came to the conclusion that they should try immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy lasted for around 5 months before our family sat down for yet another meeting.
My mom wanted to stop all treatments. The immunotherapy had not stopped all of the cancer from growing and spreading, and she was weary from the continual doctors appointments, scans, tests, and treatments. She said that she was simply done. She would take a more holistic approach: stay physically active, eat healthy, and take extra supplements her body might need.
That was six months ago. She has not progressively gotten better, or worse. She is simply being.
Watching my mother struggle through cancer has been one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever experienced. I have never felt so helpless or weak before. There is nothing you can do when someone has cancer except watch it gradually consume their body.
But, she is strong. Physically she’s the weakest and frailest person I know, but spiritually and emotionally she is by far the strongest. She has continued to display admirable courage in spite of her life being threatened by this disease.
She still reads her Bible every morning, prays, and goes to church. She spends her free time encouraging her friends to stay consistent in their relationship with God.
My mom’s cancer story is unique to her but in many ways similar to millions of people in the US. Cancer is no joke, it does not play around, and it will challenge you like you’ve never been challenged before.
Below I’ve added a few tips on how to keep yourself strong and stable while living with a loved one who has cancer.
1. Set a schedule
If you suddenly find yourself under new responsibilities in your home, you may be overwhelmed with how much work it actually takes to keep a home clean and running. I suggest tackling this by getting organized and making a schedule.
For example, Mondays are for grocery pick up. Tuesdays are for cleaning the bathrooms and mopping, and so on. Each day has a designated task to keep things running smoothly and prevent you from burning out.
2. Take care of yourself
Do not neglect taking showers, brushing your teeth, and getting dressed in the morning. This is easy to do if you’re in a position where you’re always home with your sick loved one. But I encourage you to keep up with yourself physically. It’s easier to feel down and depressed if your hair is greasy and you’ve been wearing the same sweatpants for three days. Maintaining yourself will improve your mental and emotional health.
3. Find a community
Do not go through this cancer journey alone. Find people that have been through or are going through your situation that can understand you and give you wisdom. Reddit is a wonderful online place for this, as would be a Facebook group. If you’re someone who desires face to face interaction, some churches have small groups specifically for cancer.
4. Have days for yourself
Maybe on Tuesdays you go to Starbucks with your journal and write for a few hours, or maybe you put in your earbuds and go for a mile long run. Whatever floats your boat, have at least one day a week appointed for yourself where you leave the house and do something you enjoy.
5. Give yourself gentle distractions
Have distractions for yourself at home. If you like to bake, keep a supply of common ingredients on hand. If you read, order a few novels online and keep them in your room. I recommend this because if you are finding yourself stressed or mentally burning out but can’t leave the house, you have some form of relief there with you at all times.
6. Stay hydrated and sleep well
If I find myself getting easily upset, irritated, and weepy, it’s usually because I need a nap. There’s no purpose in making yourself (or the people around you!) suffer from a lack of sleep. Rest when you need it. And drink water! Staying hydrated can give you energy and mental clarity.
7. Take help when people offer it
Chances are, you will have different people offer you services: a home-cooked dinner, taking your loved one to the hospital for a chemo treatment, or help with groceries. If someone offers something like this, take them up on it! You’ll need help and now is certainly no time to be turning it down.
Living with someone who has cancer isn’t easy. However, I hope I’ve provided you with tips on making it an easier journey. I also encourage you to find other resources that will give advice on making it through these tough times.