"It’s cancer.” This last November, my family received the inconceivable news that my mom had breast cancer. And while I’m not the one who is physically battling the diagnosis, I wanted to share what I’ve experienced as the loved one of someone who is.
- Complete Disbelief: A cancer diagnosis never makes sense. For me and my family, it was incredibly perplexing. In my head all I could think was—but my mom is active, she doesn't smoke or drink, she mostly cooks at home—she just didn't characterize what healthcare professionals would deem as high-risk for any kind of disease, let alone cancer. Then I heard the statistic—every 2 minutes, a woman in the U.S. is diagnosed with breast cancer. Can you believe this staggering number? As horrific as it is, we felt strength in numbers. We found comfort and support in all of the different women who were going through the same battle, women who were just as dumbfounded as we were from their own baffling diagnosis.
- Fear of the Unknown: Knowledge is key—researching, talking to doctors and finding support in others who’ve been touched by cancer really helped. We learned fast that arming ourselves with as much information as we possibly could was the best way to manage the anxiety that comes with the diagnosis.
- Do What You Can: Each member of my family is doing what we can. We all have different strengths and have found our own way to utilize them. Whether it’s finding doctors, contacting insurance companies, tracking bills, cooking, cleaning or just being there by her side—we’ve all found our own way to be supportive.
- Give Space and Take Time for Yourself: Just like the airplane safety instructions say, put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others. It’s hard to do this, but absolutely essential. In the beginning I wanted to do everything for my mom, I wouldn’t let her lift a finger. Then I realized 1) I was hovering 2) she probably needs to move around and 3) I just might burn out. All I want is to be there for my mom. Help her in any way that I can. Selfishly, it actually made me feel better. But there came a point where I was hurting more than I was helping. My mom who is very self-reliant, always cooking up a storm and taking care of the house, wanted to feel normal, and I was taking that away from her. So I backed off, gave her the space she wanted and needed, and took the time to recharge and find my own balance. Now, I stay with her immediately after she receives her chemo treatment and only provide help for however long she wants me to.
- Learn and Grow: As a nutritionist, this diagnosis really shook me. While I have worked with cancer patients in hospitals before, having it hit so close to home really made me pause. What more do I need to know? What more can I do? It jump-started a drive in me to learn more, not just about what to cook and eat, but to find out what else we can do in our lives and in our environment to help prevent this disease from affecting us again.
Facing this diagnosis has definitely been a challenge, but it’s really helped that my mom has chosen to see the brighter side. Each time we see her she lovingly says, “I feel so lucky I have each of you. I’m so happy we're together.” I really believe that it’s her positive outlook that’s keeping her healthy and getting her through each hurdle, (the diagnosis, double mastectomy, and chemo). And though we’re still going through chemo and have a ways to go in her recovery, we’ve all definitely taken something away from this experience—life is full of surprises, it truly is precious, and thank goodness we have each other to help get through the rough patches.