I have written about my sister's cancer journey from differing perspectives. But I’ve never had an in-depth discussion with my mom about what it was like for her to watch her daughter go through cancer. Recently, I sat down with Mom to have that conversation.
Can you tell me about the day you found out she had cancer?
I will always remember the reactions from the rest of the family – how your older sister blamed herself and your brother put his fist through a wall. I felt like I couldn't fall apart because I needed to be the glue that held it all together.
Although you didn't attend many chemo treatments, what was it like for you to watch her go through them?
It was hell. I am no different than any other parent in that I wish that it could've been me instead of my daughter.
Can you explain the emotions that you felt when she was originally diagnosed?
I was angry that she had not chosen to seek treatment sooner than she did. And I was worried about how the family dynamic would change if she were not to survive. We are only seven people and when you take away one, that leaves quite a hole.
How do you think having a daughter with cancer impacted your daily life?
It controlled every aspect at the determent to you and the rest of your siblings. And unfortunately, even post-cancer life hasn't gone back to the way that it used to be. Her own unwillingness to move on has meant that some of the family continues to care for her even when she is capable to caring for herself. If she is ever to have cancer again, I would make sure that I was her caregiver and not you or her siblings.
Was there ever a point during cancer that you felt like you couldn't handle it anymore?
No. You have to adapt and adjust in life. Giving up is simply not an option in my mind. You have to take a deep breath, re-evaluate and keep going.
Even though some time has passed, do you worry about a relapse?
Not really because I think the bone marrow transplant will hold. And I believe that if she is to get another cancer, that it will be from all the treatments that she was given. If that happens, I think it will be caught in the earliest of stages because of how close her doctors watch her.
What was one of the most frustrating things for you while you daughter had cancer?
When we were fighting for her immunotherapies and her team was telling us that we may not have much longer, they still weren't willing to let her travel. In my mind, if they weren't actively treating her, they needed to just cut her loose and let her be.
When that happened, when they thought there was nothing else, did you go through any kind of grieving process?
During the harder periods, I thought about what picking up the pieces afterward might look like, but I never truly believed she was going to die. I think with any kind of loss, grieving beforehand is a form of self-pity.
Having been through caner, what is something that you would tell other families?
I would tell then that even if the patient can't be their own advocate, that they do need to find one. I would encourage them to read, do research and to ask questions.
Lastly, when you hear the word cancer now, what do you think about most?