Supporting My Mom Through Breast Cancer

It was February 14, 2011, Valentine’s Day. My parents gathered my brother, sister and I in the living room, and my mom said these life-changing words: “I have breast cancer.” Now I want to preface this by saying that this story has a happy ending. My mom is wonderfully breast cancer-free and has been for 7 years now! So for anyone worried about reading further, don’t be!

Related imageCancer has the power to make you feel helpless. It makes the person with cancer feel helpless as they can’t control what’s happening to their own body, and it makes their loved ones feel helpless as they can’t do anything to ease their pain. As an 11-year-old, I felt especially helpless watching my mom go through this. I barely understood what was happening, let alone how I could help her. I couldn’t drive her to her appointments, I couldn’t cook her dinner, I couldn’t help her change her surgical dressings; it felt like I couldn’t do anything.

However, what I could provide my mom was emotional support. Cancer not only takes a physical toll on your body, but it also takes an emotional one. My mother had a double mastectomy as well as reconstruction that involved both her breasts and her entire abdomen. She was on bed rest recovery for over 6 weeks. During that time she was basically on house arrest; not allowed to go out to dinner or even to get the mail, and that kind of isolation combined with physical pain can have a traumatic effect on a person. Therefore, I knew that the best way that I could support my mom and help her through this isolating time was to simply be there as her daughter, and as a friend. 

My mom had her surgery in June, and that summer, we watched A LOT of television. We made it through all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls (which is still one of our favorite shows) and watched the Women’s World Cup as a family. I made sure to do things for her that I knew made me feel better when I was sick: I brushed her hair, I read books to her and I made sure to get along with my siblings (as best I could). Image result for gilmore girls

Now there were definitely still moments that were hard. As an eleven-year-old, I didn’t fully understand why my mom couldn’t come to my gymnastics practices anymore, or why I had to be quiet to let her sleep so often. And during those moments I remember feeling really confused and even angry. But the way that I got through those moments was thinking about the bigger picture. My mom couldn’t come to my gymnastics practice that night because she was trying to recover so she could come to all my practices in the future. Staying optimistic and focusing on the future was one of the things that helped me support my mom even when I felt helpless. It’s not an easy thing for a child, or anyone really, to rationalize; but once you start, it makes the process much less frustrating. 

This is not meant to serve as a guidebook for how to support someone with cancer because let’s be honest, 11-year-old me didn’t have that much work to do. However, if anything can be taken from my story, I want it to be a reminder that everyone can provide support; no one is truly helpless. Cancer is really good at making you feel helpless, but the important thing is remembering that you’re not. Not everyone is good at or able to provide the physical support it takes to care for someone with cancer, but we can all provide support in some way. My sister showed her support by taking part in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure walk, which involved raising over $1500 and walking 60 miles in 3 days. My brother showed support by taking care of household chores and yard work. We all have different strengths, and being able to use those strengths to support a loved one is a truly amazing gift, and one that shouldn’t ever be taken lightly.