The Mighty Logo

3 Things You Should Know If Your Parent Has Cancer

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I had just turned 20 when my mother was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2009. I walked beside her through the battle with the disease until it took her life in December 2016.

Here are some things I learned as a child (and often primary caregiver) of someone with cancer:

1. It is not your fault.

Sometimes we tend to blame ourselves for things that are very clearly not our fault. As the adult child of a woman who died of breast cancer, I know this feeling very well. Throughout her illness I often felt like many things were my fault. I felt like I wasn’t physically available enough to help care for her or emotionally available enough to support her. I sometimes even felt like this added to her stress and the presentation of her disease.

I want you to know that those thoughts and feelings are not true. It is not your fault. It is not your fault that you have a life of your own and responsibilities that you have to take care of that might interfere with the time and energy you have for your ailing parent. And it is not your fault that they are ill.

It is not your fault.

2. This is one of the most difficult things you may ever live through, but it is not hopeless.

The time in my life when my mother was ill to the time she died (a whopping seven and a half years) were the most difficult years of my life. I had to balance college, graduate school, internships, friendships, my relationship and the commitments I had to my mother. I felt like a circus performer juggling about 16 flaming batons while riding a unicycle across a wire, and I felt like it could all come to a crashing halt at any moment.

On top of that, I had to deal with the emotional impact of having a seriously ill mother and processing my own reactions to the situation while also continuing to support her as best I could. It was the most difficult and challenging time in my life, so far.

However, there was also light and joy found during this time — I just had to look for it and embrace it when I found it. This came in the form of interactions with my mother, small acts of self-care, spending time with friends and embracing my own successes, among other things.

Simply put: please know that, although it is difficult, it is not all darkness.

3. You are not alone.

Caring for my mother while she was ill and walking this journey with her was one of the most lonely and isolating experiences I have ever had in my life. I felt like everyone I interacted with would ask me, “Hey, how is your mom?” It seemed like very few people ever asked, “Hey, how are you?”and genuinely meant it.

Everyone meant well, I know, but it was very isolating.

Please know that if you are going through this, you are not alone — there are many of us who have been where you are and know what you are going through. Find one of us, talk to us. We support you and want you to know you are not alone in this.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by tab1962

Originally published: July 31, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home