I never thought I would be featured in a mother/daughter cancer battling role in my life. It’s strange that I went through breast cancer and my mother has been battling her 2nd cancer for years. Understanding what her oncologist says is almost as scary as not understanding. Knowing all we’ve been through scares me. Mother hasn’t been this weak since her back surgery last year. I truly despise cancer and what it has done to us physically and to our relationship.
My mother battled her first cancer, ovarian, when she was pregnant with me. She had an amazing oncologist who tried an experimental treatment, which is why she is still alive. Fast forward to 1997, my sophomore year of college at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. That’s when I found out my mother had a second cancer. This time it is a blood cancer . Essential thrombocythemia (ET) is a rare, chronic blood cancer in which a person’s bone marrow makes too many blood platelets (also known as thrombocytes).
She tried to protect me by hiding it, but I knew something was wrong. I felt like my world had come crashing down. I’m an only child of divorced parents who don’t speak to each other. I immediately felt very “heavy” in a sense because she’s all I have, my rock. At that time mother continued being protective of me and was determined that I live my life. I graduated from college and moved to Los Angeles, CA. I was determined to spread my wings far and wide and mother was and has always been completely supportive.
When I came home for Thanksgiving in 2002, I knew I would move back to Georgia to be closer to her. She never asked me to give up my life in LA. My mother is biracial and was even paler than usual that particular day. Since I am an empath and sensitive soul, I made the decision to move back to GA in February 2003. Let’s be clear, I did not move in with her, I moved just a few hours away from her.
It’s hard being a caregiver to someone who never wants to ask for help. My mother is a strong and brilliant woman. I respect that wholeheartedly. Those qualities also made it difficult to really be there emotionally for her. She didn’t want it.
Before she medically retired, she went to Kabul, Afghanistan for a year in 2013 as a gender human rights advisor for the vulnerable population (women and children). I was a wreck. Now I know exactly what military families go through when a loved one is in a war zone. Add cancer to the mix, and I was even more anxious and afraid. Mother’s oncologist in Georgia found an oncologist in Germany who could refill her oral chemo and take her scans every three months.
I admire that mother didn’t let her cancer treatments stop her from living her dream, but it was deeply frustrating and scary to not be part of that decision.
Fast forward to September 2015; I was officially diagnosed with stage IIA invasive lobular breast cancer at 39 years old. In my mind, I could no longer be the caregiver because I was now a cancer patient about to face some truly grueling treatments and battling for my life.
I thought my mother would be able to relate and help me. That wasn’t the case. I drove us to all my chemo treatments and doctor appointments. I did. I continue to carry a lot of anger about that time, which she knows. I remember the first time I walked into the infusion center; mother and daughter cancer patients. I expected support. I expected my mother to show up and bring me comfort. Instead, we would often fight and get to the point where my infusion nurse would ask mother to sit in the waiting room for a bit because my stress level was rising to a dangerous level for me.
When I asked her why she refused to learn how to get to and from the cancer institute for my treatments, she said she needed me to tell her each time because she wasn’t good with directions. What I couldn’t comprehend is she understands the utter fatigue from chemo, even though hers is oral, so I didn’t the energy to tell her every single time how to get to and from the cancer center.
Fast forward to February 2017, I had to get a bilateral salpingo oophorectomy and hysterectomy because my medical team felt I should be medically induced into menopause because the post treatments for pre-menopause weren’t working in my system. At that same time, my mother hurt her back.
Six months later, she had major back surgery. It was a very tedious and tricky surgery because she is allergic to every single known pain medication. The pain she was in was excruciating after the surgery. They had to take her off the oral chemo for three months because her system couldn’t handle that kind of pain on top of the chemo side effects.
I was not even close to being fully healed from my own major surgery or even from my whole breast cancer battle. I was driving almost every day to her, bringing in her mail, emptying her garbage, developing a schedule for her friends from church to bring meals and communion to her.
I had no help for my own physical healing. I wasn’t supposed to lift anything for three weeks. I needed rest and time. I needed my mother.
My mother is 70 years old now and still a brilliant and difficult personality. I make her show me her lab results because I understand everything because of my own cancer experience.
Caregiving for my mother is physically and emotionally draining, especially as I still need not just my mother, but my own caregiver. I love her unconditionally. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
Our cancer worlds continue to collide.
Until next time,