A Young Adult Learns from Lung Cancer Caregiving

October 9, 2017

Snapshots of emotions experienced and lessons learned from a mid-20s, Chinese-American daughter of a patient.

It’s so painful and heartbreaking. I feel so sad, scared and hurt for my mom. I don’t want to see her suffer, and I can’t imagine how painful the varying forms of aggressive treatment must be. I can’t fathom how brave, how strong, how full of the best things in life she is. She’s been increasingly coughing and short of breath over the past few months. Her waning ability to communicate with us seems even more cruel. Yet she continues to teach us, even as she goes through this unbearable experience. I think back to the first time she received chemo. My brother, father and I were all in the hospital room, and we spent that afternoon laughing and chatting, while my mom was tearing up at times.

For the first 20-odd years of my life, my mom emphasized success, achievement and being able to make something of yourself. That day in the hospital, my mom told me to do whatever it took to be happy and take care of myself. I didn’t realize this at the time, but she had given me her blessing to be whatever I wanted in life, and helped accelerate my own process of resetting my trajectory. In the past, it had been so hard to honor old-world values and balance them against my own dreams. Now I was free-wheeling, careening, trying to figure out how to finally, suddenly align my life according to my own values and against constraints that had been lifted. I had my work carved out for me, and I wanted nothing more than to course-correct in one fell swoop.

More than crying, more than talking, more than writing, I find taking action as the thing that makes me feel most alive and helpful. There is nothing that anyone can say or do that would change my feelings. There is nothing that I can say or write that would change the reality of our situation. All I can do is focus on making the changes I need and live according to my values. I need to share the experiences that have brought me so much pain and growth. These experiences helped to bridge so many gaps that a younger version of myself didn’t know how to cope with. I previously turned away from these experiences and feelings, but then I grew up. Cancer has shown me how I let my life be shaped by forces outside of my control: cancer, mental illness, generational and cultural gaps, language barriers. I have hidden and run from them in the past and felt so isolated in their shadow.

But I don’t feel the need to do that anymore. I don’t need to be scared. I don’t need to run. I don’t need to hide. I don’t need to be alone. Instead of giving into fear, anxiety and external pressures, I can choose to make decisions where I stand up for myself and my interests, protect my time and energy, and contribute to causes that I care about. I can see now that these experiences are human and universal, bigger than you or me. These things are a part of life, and all of them lessons to learn. Isn’t it worth my discomfort and vulnerability to be open and honest about them?

Even during her hardest days, my mom is still giving to me, teaching me, STILL giving to ME. That thought kills me, and I feel so lucky, so full, to have a mom like her. This weekend, I’m going to go home, and I’m going to spend time with my mom and keep her company. I’m going to share laughs with her, and likely shed some tears, for how flawed and beautiful life is.


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