If you follow me on the Gram, you may have thought I have been in Malibu for over a week. I haven´t. I am in Mexico for another of my Mother’s operations – but I can’t post about it.
My mum has had Breast Cancer three times now. I have been living abroad throughout all of her treatments. We never told grandma due to her heart condition (I am sure she won’t read this but I can’t write anything on Social Media because she follows me). Most of my extended family was kept on a need-to-know basis mostly due to my Mum’s choice: she refused to give in to Cancer and wanted to keep life as “normal” as possible.
The first time she told me was over the phone. We talk almost every day since I left home. She told me after a few minutes of chatting about everyday stuff as matter-of-fact as one tells anyone about any ordinary occurrence.
“So, The other day I was driving to meet a friend for lunch and they described the breast cancer symptoms over the radio. They were offering free consultations next to the office so I got checked. Turns out I have advanced Cancer and have to get it removed … quite urgently, next week., actually“
WHAT!? – I shrieked. . . . “wait. what!?”
Denial. Mom keeping it cool on the surface while paddling like hell underneath.
She continued casually …”you don’t have to come to the Op if you’re tied up that week. I don’t want to make a big deal about it. I am sure it will be fine. Oh, and FYI, I have decided not to tell grandma. I don’t want her to worry”. She also asked me not to post about it.
Still in shock, I boarded the next plane to Mexico City. When I arrived my dad was distraught. My brother was heartbroken. Mum kept her cool most of the time with the exception of rare (pretty severe) nervous breakdowns.
That first operation was a success. The doctors said it was a close call. Too close. She then underwent chemotherapy for a few months. The strongest radiation available. It lead to liver diseases, temporary deafness, migraines, vomit. Thinning of the skin. Hair loss. Oversensitivity. Obesity.
She loved her job and decided to keep working for the first 5 months – even if she had to Uber when she couldn’t drive. She said it kept her mind off things. My esteem for her shot through the roof even though I didn’t know if it was a matter of toughness or a combination of stubbornness and denial.
Doctors said she was in the clear just before my wedding. We celebrated both things. A few months later a second tumor was found. And then another. Operation after operation came. She could not taste anything and could not tolerate daylight. Eventually she was forced to retire.
On Sundays she would wear a wig and go out for coffee with my aunts and grandma – sitting as far as possible to avoid suspicion. Sneaking away with a different excuse every time as she began to loose strength.
Dad had a heart attack before one of her operations. Out of stress. Out of heartbreak.
At the time we lived in different countries. Dying of guilt, and trying to balance my life and my Mom´s cancer, I would fly back to see the family as often as I could. My brother moved back home. My dad aged like never before. She kept optimistic and fighting.
I dreaded going back. It felt like an alternate reality. A reality I tried to avoid. A reality that I didn’t want to face. Unlike my mother, I felt as emotionally weak as I had ever felt before. I would come in to her dark bedroom to give her guided meditations, green juices and all sorts of natural elixirs. Some people pray. I got my yoga teacher training then, as an escape from it all and looking for some sort of solution.
The hardest part was not being able to do anything when I was away. I would call everyday to keep her mind of things. She would give me updates and then ask me to talk about anything BUT. It was hard. I would burst crying every time I hung up. I never told her.
Matthew, my husband was super supportive. I don’t know how my mom went through this without HER mom. We are a super close family. So selfless not to tell her. Masochist. Godlike.
I questioned everything I knew during this time. I reinvented my life. Gave it more purpose. Became more grateful for everything. I also became fearful of loosing her. I for one could never go through that the way she did. To avoid it I plan to remove my breasts as soon as I am done breastfeeding (whenever that might be).
As I write this, she is on the operating table, under reconstructive surgery. She says this will “close her cycle”. Dad is nervous sitting next to me, staring out a window. Grandma thinks we are on Vacation. I avoid her phone calls. I can’t lie. I would tell her in a second and burst out crying.
Its been 5 hours waiting. And let me tell you, waiting is the hardest part…
How we survived: Dealing with your Moms BC
1.Emotional Support system.
Although we were very reserved about who we told, this brought us closer than ever. We were there at all times. She knew she wasn’t alone and she knew she could tell us anything and feel anything without being judged. She heard our concerns too.
2. Encourage a strong, positive attitude
The patient’s outlook is everything. Self pitty is their worst enemy. You can tell right away, when you walk into the oncologist´s office, who has given up and who wants to keep fighting. It´s crazy.
Mom found that considering this illness an invasion to her body helped a lot. She was NOT the illness. She didn’t HAVE anything – it was an uninvited guest in her body and she was doing everything she could to kick it out.
3. Stay normal and have a routine
Do not treat them like invalids or they will begin to feel like one. Spoil them but realize they are frustrated of not being themselves. Make an effort to make life as normal as possible -but consider their limitations.
Its easy for them, amongst migraines and operations, to loose track of the days. Treatment feels eternal. Its easy to lie in bed without motivation. Have a routine. Little goals and achievements make them feel productive and valuable.
4.Give them space
Sometimes company is not wanted. They just need to recover in darkness and silence. Give them the time and space but let them know you are around if they need you – and mean it.
Know that the cure is worse than the illness.
I can´t begin to explain how vicious and harsh the Chemo sideffects can be. Its a Russian roulette. Sometimes they kick in, sometimes they don´t. Its heartbreaking. Be prepared, try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand their choices.Stay strong and know it is a temporary state. It all passes.
5.Be patient. Always be loving.
They get grumpy as fuck. They hurt. They hate their body. The last thing they need is negative arguments. Learn to be a little bit selfless. Chemotherapy affects the brain functions and emotions so don’t take things personally. Just flow and give love when they are the most upset – and sometimes the best way to do this is from a distance, letting them know you are there whenever they are ready.
6.Find an outlet.
Cancer is depressing for the family but I cannot stress how massively important it is to stay positive and lighten the mood. It changes everything. Don´t make them feel like a burden so make sure you take a break for yourself when you need to. Take turns to stick around. Be a distraction and find a distraction and your own support network.
And above all, stay strong. You are not alone.
Leave a comment. Tell us what you are going through and if you have found other ways to cope.