When You Become the Mom Others Turn to After a Child’s Diagnosis


My friend’s child just got diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Unfortunately and sadly, I get that message often because my own daughter, Reese, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2012. My friends come to me for advice and want to know if their friend can message me, if there’s anything they can say to their friend and what should they do. More often, I get messages that a friend’s child was diagnosed with another form of cancer, and they want to know what to bring to the hospital.

These messages are never a bother. They are so welcomed. I consider the fact they come to me as a compliment of sorts. It isn’t a compliment I necessarily want to receive, since I wish I knew nothing of the subject, but it’s one I take anyway. The people who message me trust me enough with their hearts and emotions to invite me into their private lives.

I say a lot of the same things to the people who want to help their friends. I remind them to do things instead of asking what they need. I tell them to bring food or give their friend a Visa gift card. Pay for a maid service, pick up their other children from school or give them a hug.

But when I finally say hi to the new mother whose world has been thrown upside down, I can see who I was. I can see how far I’ve come in many ways and how time doesn’t change things.

I notice how quickly these mothers adapt. Three years ago, I was that mother who felt as if I were in some sort of cage where no one could see or understand me. There were tears in their eyes with absolute sympathy and love, but they were still on the outside. I had a few people around who did understand, and really, that’s all that I needed — someone to say, “Yes, I know.”

And now I’m that person. The blessing of it all is watching how these moms grow and change. Once scared mothers now throw medical dialogue around as if it’s their native language. They list procedures and talk about medicines like a nurse studying for a test, but they’re just moms like me.

I’ve had one-minute conversations with people who had a question about chemo or a test. I’ve talked to people for hours just about nurses or hospitals. They ask me, “What would you do?” All of this goes both ways, since we need each other.

But I’ve also talked with mothers late into the night about their child, only to pray into a puddle of tears as their child takes their final breath months later. I’m so grateful these moms have let me into their lives for that tiny sliver of time. And I’m even more grateful when they let me continue to stay in it with them.

I talk to friends of those mothers who just want to understand. Sometimes they come asking medical questions that I try to answer as best as I can. Sometimes they feel desperate to help them, and the only thing I can do is say to love them. That is often the hardest thing to explain.

All of this reminds me how much our journey is about others. We aren’t alone in a cage. We’re part of a community where we all need someone.

I was taught early on — through other mothers’ kindness and love — that it’s important to take our own struggle and turn it into strength for someone else. Thank you for letting me be that person for some of your loved ones, even if just for a moment of time. Because no matter how much time goes by, I will never forget the fear I felt not knowing what was going on with my child. I will never forget crying until I fell asleep in the ICU.

I hope I never forget. Those feelings are what propel me to try harder when I feel as if I’m on empty. I’ll appreciate the tantrums as well as the smiles, and I’ll enjoy every day — even the terrible ones I superficially want to end.

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