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6 Things I learned growing up with a sick parent

We all know full well that college is stressful for everyone. You have a full work load, constant studying to do, many students work part- or full-time, extracurricular organizations you might be involved in, you may have landed an internship, or hope to, you’re constantly stressed about money (or lack thereof), you’re wondering about finding a job after graduation, and you feel like you have no free time for anything that isn’t school or work related.

Some of us have tricky situations at home, too. This is for those of you who are like me:

My mom was diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer in October 2014. This is her second round about with cancer. Sixteen years ago, at age 40, my mom went to get her first mammogram, thinking everything would turn out okay (the American Cancer Society recommends mammograms beginning at age 40). She felt fine. She ate well, frequently exercised, never smoked, never did drugs, and rarely drank alcohol. Much to my entire family’s surprise, the doctors found a lump in her chest. The cancer was in her lymph nodes, as well. She had Stage 2 Breast Cancer and had no idea. I was 7 at the time, and my 5 siblings ranged from 13 to barely 1 year old.  Seeing her so sick at such a young age taught me and my family a few things.

1. Don’t ignore the little things your body is telling you.

That entire summer before my mom was diagnosed, she thought the aches and pains were caused by something else. She always tells me, even if you think you’re going to be fine, go to the doctor. Don’t ignore the things that are just a little off. The National Cancer Institute reported that 1 in 8 American women will develop breast cancer in their lives (at a rate of 12.4%). You know your body better than anyone, and you can usually tell when something is off.

2. You can’t plan life

It’s great to have goals and things you would like to accomplish in your life, but can you ever really know about all the curveballs life will throw at you? I don’t think so. My mom had plans to go back to work and her cancer coming back did not fit into that plan. The most you can do when something unexpected happens is to take one day at a time. Life is messy.

3. You have to roll with the punches

When curve balls are thrown at you, you have to roll with them. Things may not be perfect, but you have to roll with them. Sometimes your plans change, and you have to go with the flow.

4. Sometimes you have to do things you dread or hate

…because your life depends on them. I’m sure my mom hates getting chemo every four weeks, but that’s what’s stopping her cancer from spreading to her organs. Sometimes, life is ugly, and it’s more than likely that you’ll have to do things you really don’t want to do once in a while. To keep yourself motivated, look at the bigger picture. What could happen if you don’t do it?

5. The tiniest things can be the biggest motivation

For my mom, it’s small things that motivate her to keep going. Things like seeing her grandkids and helping my sister plan her wedding. She’s rediscovered how much she loves painting. Although we all have problems in life, it’s usually the string of little things that inspire us to keep going.

6. Life is painful, but it’s also beautiful

There’s a lot of crap that happens in life, but amongst all that crap, there is also a lot of good that can happen. You just have to be on the lookout for it.

I was at home when I overheard my sister on the phone with my mom when I found out. The doctors said her x-rays light up like a Christmas tree. Her oncologist said that he wasn’t surprised it came back, just disappointed. I was so frazzled, I had to leave because I didn’t know what to do with myself. She already had cancer. She did her time. She saw her oncologist for regular checkups, why did it have to come back? I had plans. We all did. My mom getting sick was not a part of that plan. But maybe that’s the point – my plans literally never work out the way I envision them in my head. You can’t plan life. Crap happens. The most you can do is take one day at a time. Just go with it. Things are messy and chaotic and get screwed up sometimes. As time passes, you’ll get better at going with the flow and making the most of what you can.


Lauren Milligan is a senior English major at Kent State University. In addition to writing for Her Campus, she is also a content creator for the Odyssey. When she's not scribbling in her journal, sipping coffee and writing at Tree City Coffee, she is probably feeding her horror movie obsession or hitting up local bookstores to contribute to the small library in her bedroom.
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