What happens when you suddenly need to be the parent and the parent becomes the child?
This is a question I had to deal with last year, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I actually spent hours reading other people’s experiences, especially whenever I felt I was flying blind and didn’t know how to deal.
I send love, prayers and virtual hugs for anyone who chanced upon this, hoping to find this helpful. And if you need to talk, hit me up and I’m more than willing to listen. <3
Don’t treat your parent like a child
First things first: your parent is still your parent. Granted, she’s still in the healing stage and she’s not yet in tiptop shape, but my mom is still my mom in many ways. It’s just that we have a new component in our relationship, where I’m now multitasking more roles other than being her daughter.
Do things together
My mom is on an extended sick leave so she can fully focus on getting better. We’re also taking advantage of her free time to do things together and just like most things in our household, it mostly revolves around food: having brunch at Salcedo Weekend Market, going on grocery runs with her, her teaching me how to cook my favorite dish.
Don’t be afraid to ask
Ask your oncologist about the side effects of chemo. Ask the nurse why it’s taking forever for someone to check your mom’s temperature. Ask your family to cover for you for one day so you can take a break. Ask your parent how she’s doing, if she feels nauseous, hungry, or tired. Ask friends to pray for you and with you. Ask for some leeway at work so you can spend time with family.
Frankly, I’d rather raise both my middle fingers to cancer. This is the second episode in our family – my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 (she’s a survivor), my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer last year (we’ve recently wrapped up all 12 chemo sessions and we’re in post-chemo recovery mode). While getting angry is part of the healing process, it is much, much healthier to arm yourself with information.
Like I said earlier, don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. You can also support this with some research on the Internet, but take note that whatever you read online should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s not a one size fits all situation – there’s still a lot of uncertainty that goes with cancer. It will get easier if you let yourself accept that life will never be the same again and you let yourself adjust to and cope with your new normal.
Because there’s so much uncertainty, you’ll probably find yourself holding on to faith more than ever. I’m not one to preach about praying and religion, I believe it’s something personal that only you can decide for yourself. What I’m talking about here is having faith in general – in the beauty of life, in the power of prayers, in the healing magic of medicine, in the people around you willing to lend a helping hand.
Last but definitely not the least, something that’s often hard to do in the midst of challenges: have faith in yourself. You’re not the one who’s sick and you’re not the one going through the treatment, but you’re the one who’s going to have to rally and support your sick parent. You’re going to have to keep an eye for symptoms, force her to eat when she has no appetite, give her back rubs even if you’re not in the mood for it. Have faith that you will also pull through.
It’s counterintuitive to be telling you to slow down when you feel like you’re running out of time. I know that’s what we do – the sooner we deal with chemo, the sooner my mom gets better. But there’s also beauty in slowing down: in waking up late, in catching the last full show of a movie, in skipping a check-up so you can rest instead.
Go to your parent’s check-ups
I decided to take a break from traveling last year because I wanted to make sure that I would never miss a check-up, work-up or chemo session if and when I need to be there. This also goes hand in hand with asking questions and understanding cancer.
Personally, I find it easier to accept things and I feel more at peace when I know and understand what’s happening with my mom and her treatments. It’s also a way for me to learn how I can support her as we go through her treatments.
Do things for yourself
It can be as simple as reading a book while your parent sleeps or taking a day off from caring duties. I honestly find it hard to detach sometimes – As you guys know, I work from home, so there are more opportunities for me to hover over my mom and badger or nag her, haha! When I do go out on the rare occasion, I keep myself online the whole time so my family can reach me.
Recently I also went on a short trip to Hong Kong. When I booked the trip late last year, I thought we’d be done with chemo by the time my travel dates rolled around. I didn’t account for schedule changes and health issues, so we were still in the midst of treatment when I left for Hong Kong. The good thing is I got lucky and I picked the right dates, as my four day trip coincided with the period when my mom was off her chemo. I wasn’t as worried and let’s be honest, guilty, of leaving her and the fam.
REMEMBER: LIFE DOES NOT STOP HERE
Once my family and I embarked on this journey, we kept dealing with surprised comments on how well we were taking it. I guess most people thought we’d be depressed or in denial, choosing to drop everything and have life revolve around the big, scary word CANCER.
But see, that’s the thing: we choose not to. We choose not to let it be the thing that defines our life and our family. We choose to live, to be positive, and to be brave than to be worried and scared. It’s just another hurdle for us to get through, the same way that some of you might be dealing with your own personal hurdles in life. We remind ourselves that life does not end here, it’s an opportunity for us to grow and to become better, stronger people.
And while it’s probably easier said than done, I’m confident that you, who probably Googled his or her way to get here, will eventually get through this. You’ll break down and you’ll fall apart, but you’ll also put yourself together and become whole again. There will be good days and there will be bad days, but you’ll find that you’re more than capable of dealing with both. Choose life, love and light, in all days and in all ways.