The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
In January of this year, the dreaded word no one wants to hear entered my life yet again: cancer. I found out my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt I was somewhat prepared for it, because my Dad also dealt with cancer during my senior year of high school, but in reality it was like a sucker punch to the gut. My mom is my person, she is my rock and the one I always have gone to for advice and guidance. Learning about the diagnosis through Facetime, alone in my dorm room, was the worst feeling. I couldn’t hug her; all I could do was stare at my screen with tear-filled eyes. After hanging up with her, I laid in bed, and decided to listen to some Taylor Swift, because that always helps me when I am feeling down. I randomly shuffled my playlist, and the first song that came on was, “Soon You’ll Get Better.” Taylor wrote this song about witnessing both her parents deal with cancer, which now hits close to home for me as well. I was staring at my ceiling listening to the song and it summed up everything I was feeling at the moment. Specifically, the lyrics, “and I hate to make this all about me, but who am I supposed to talk to?” were ones that resonated with me.
Many people, including myself, struggle when witnessing a parent grapple with cancer, because it reverses the roles you have filled your entire life. You become the source of comfort and stoicism, which can be difficult when you are worried and anxious about it yourself. It makes you feel guilty, because you aren’t the one who is fighting cancer; who are you to feel pity for yourself? However, I have realized that it is vital to acknowledge these feelings. Cancer doesn’t only affect the people diagnosed with it, it also affects those surrounding them. It is one of the most difficult experiences to see the person you have looked up to your entire life go through the process of cancer treatment. Especially when you are almost 800 miles away from them. Ignoring your own feelings does not help, and it is important to remember that your feelings are valid and to engage in self-care as well as being there for the person dealing with illness.
So, following my own advice, I have created some tips for people who have a family member struggling with cancer or other illnesses and how to be there for the person, while also preserving your own mental health:
- Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT, look up the illness on WebMD, or any sites like that, because trust me, it will send you down a rabbit hole of worry. If they are comfortable with it, ask the person questions about it and what they have heard from the doctor. You are more likely to hear a set game plan, and certifiable facts about the disease.
- Do not be afraid to confide in a trusted friend or family member about your feelings and your worries. It helps so so much to get things off your chest and receive reassurance from those around you. My friends have been my home away from home and have helped me so much with sorting through my feelings and worries. Therapy can also be a great way to share your feelings and worries to someone who will keep it completely confidential.
- Check in with them. I know this goes without saying, but it really does help to talk to the person who is ill. Facetiming my mom has become a part of my daily routine, even if it is just for ten minutes. I love seeing her in good spirits, and it helps to calm my anxiety about her disease. She says that she likes hearing about my day and trivial teen drama, due to it being a distraction, and it makes me feel like I am doing something to help her, even if it is just slightly.
- Most importantly, remember you are human, and you are allowed to feel what you feel. Everyone’s experience with cancer is different, and whether you have it, or someone you love, it is an extremely difficult situation. I said this earlier, but your feelings are completely valid, and it does not make you selfish.
I send so much love to all of those who have ever experienced something like this, or are currently experiencing it.