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I remember the night like it was yesterday. I was just twelve years old and was at cheerleading practice when our team mom pulled me aside in the middle of our routine to let me know that my mom was coming to pick me up. It wasn’t normal to leave practice early, especially that abruptly, but I honestly didn’t think much of it.
My innocent little twelve-year-old self didn’t even fathom the possibility that something was wrong. My twelve-year-old self had no idea that my life would change forever.
You know, it’s funny—I don’t actually remember what happened after that. I don’t really remember my parents telling me the news, and I don’t have any memory of our conversation or how I reacted or any of it. Maybe my mind just blocked it out from my memory because nothing in my life was as near as terrible as what was happening. Or maybe it was just too long ago to remember the details but, after leaving cheerleading practice, the one thing I remember is my parents handing me a little pamphlet to read.
I looked through it on my own and my twelve-year-old naïve self was scared to death that my mom was going to lose all of her hair. Seriously. It sounds so funny to actually say it out loud, and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever told anyone how terrified, sad and scared I was that my mom was going to lose all of her hair, but that’s what the pamphlet told me and that’s the worst thing I thought would happen.
And it seemed like a nightmare.
Up until then, I hadn’t experienced anything terrible in my life. I was lucky. I was extremely fortunate. And little did I know that, seven years later, I would experience the unfathomable.
My mom had cancer for seven years. It started as colon cancer, got into her lymph nodes years down the road and then spread uncontrollably to the point where there was nothing else doctors could do. There was nothing else we could do to make it stop.
And it’s kind of strange that, looking back, it didn’t really seem like my mom ever had cancer. I don’t have very many memories of her being sick. Either my brain decided to block it all out because it was too terrible for my young brain to fathom, or she did a great job at hiding it. Of course, there were bad moments and terrible moments, and moments when I was scared to death, but, to this day, I feel like my mom was never sick. In a way, I’m so glad that that’s how I remember her.
Everyone says that you should live life without regrets, but through this experience, I do have regrets. I know that I cannot change the past, but what I can do is pass on my story to those of you who may be going through similar circumstances—a parent with cancer or a friend who is sick—or maybe you’re experiencing a life-threatening or terminal illness yourself. I cannot take back the past, and I am not going to dwell on all of the things I wish I had done. But what I can do is learn from my mistakes and pass them on to anyone who wants to listen:
So here they are, the four things I wish I had done differently through my mom’s battle with cancer:
1. Talk it Out
I never talked about cancer. Not with my mom, not with my dad, not with my family or even friends. I think that was my way of pushing it out and hoping it would just disappear. But looking back, I should’ve talked it out.
I’m one to keep it all inside, but talking it out and even writing it out here is so incredibly helpful. It helps me realize my weaknesses in life and helps me improve myself in all aspects of life moving forward.
2. Take Time Off
I went off to college, lived my life to the fullest while I was there and really didn’t even think about cancer. When my mom came home on hospice, she was given two weeks to two months to live and you know what I did?
I stayed in college.
I came home for a short break, and the day after my mom passed, I flew back to Los Angeles to take my finals, just like everyone else.
The following Friday I went to my sorority formal, drank too much because you know, my mom’s funeral was the next day, and hopped on a 6 am flight the following morning to say goodbye to my mom.
I didn’t take time off, and really, I needed some time off. I needed a break.
And that leads me to my next point . . .
3. Ask for help and accept special treatment
You know how I mentioned I flew back to school the day after my mom passed away? Well, the real reason I left so quickly is because finals week started on Monday. I was not going to be the student who asked my professors for a break or to take my finals later. No way I would be “that girl” who asked for special privileges and special treatment.
I’m sure I did just fine on my finals, and heck, I’m sure I got A’s on every single one, but could I have asked for a break? Yes. And should I have? Probably.
Mentally, I needed a break, but in that moment, I didn’t want to accept reality. I was strong, and I didn’t need a break . . . says my 19-year-old-self.
4. Live in the Moment
Every single miniscule, insignificant moment is important. Every laugh, every smile, every dinner you have as a family and every game of make-believe you get to play with your kids. Moments may seem so insignificant while you’re experiencing them, but let me tell you, the second they’re gone forever, they become the most significant moments of your life.
This is my biggest regret, and I really just wish I could go back to those two last weeks I had with my mom and just sit there with her and hold her hand. I would do anything in the world to laugh with her again, to lay by her side and to just tell her I love her, one last time.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t accept reality at the time, and I really just pushed it all out as if nothing was happening. Of course, I told her I loved her every single day, and I knew what was coming, but, in some cases, we don’t see what’s coming.
My twelve-year-old self never would have predicted that my nineteen-year-old self would be saying goodbye to my mom forever. Never in a million years would I have imagined that, and to this day, I still have to wake myself up from dreams and remind myself that I won’t see her again until I am dancing in heaven with her.
So, it may sound cliché, and it may sound redundant, but seriously, live life to the fullest. Every single conversation you have with a friend or a family member or a child is a special moment. Each and every second of every single day should be cherished, and that is one thing I wish I had been able to nail to my twelve-year-old self’s brain.
Life is precious, and you just never know when it’ll change forever.
Sorry for the novel, but I will just leave you with this—
Whether you know someone who is sick, or you’re sick, talk about it, educate yourself and do what you need to do to accept it and get through it together. We are all different, we all grieve differently, we all respond to pain and to hardship differently, and we all accept these types of circumstances in different ways.
Whether you’re twelve-years-old or 112, dealing with the emotions and the hardships and the grieving that comes along with it is not easy. It’s not easy for anyone, and I don’t wish the experience on my worst enemy. But there are resources out there like This is Living with Cancer™ that may help make the process more manageable.
Pfizer offers This is Living with Cancer, a national awareness program that includes a free mobile app for anyone living with cancer called LivingWith™ . It is designed to help manage some of the daily challenges faced by people living with cancer.
LivingWith provides a calendar where you can keep track of all of your appointments or where you can see all of the upcoming milestones of a loved one who is living with cancer so you’re able to be there to support them and encourage them through each appointment, each round of chemotherapy and radiation, and each milestone that comes along with it. It provides health resources, a notepad to keep track of everything your doctor throws your way and the ability to arrange rides or meals or whatever your loved one needs help with through this journey. It is a helpful resource to keep everything organized in one place.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER, and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.