Disclosure :: our Breast Cancer Awareness series is sponsored by Baton Rouge General.
My Mom Has Breast Cancer and I Feel Helpless
This is one of those posts that you dread writing – because you know you’re going to have to unpack a lot of the feelings you’re uncomfortable feeling because there’s someone else out there that will relate. It’s also a pretty selfish perspective so putting it ON THE INTERNET feels a little raw and gross but YOU’LL KNOW that I know so … we’ll all agree to start there.
My parents have been married for 43 years. They’ve lived in the same house for 39 of them. Not super-big on change, my folks. Last year, their house flooded with almost six feet of water. Their lives changed overnight. Almost everything they had was gone and I couldn’t fix it. That was mid-August. My husband and I (and our children) flooded too, so that made it even harder to be able to “fix it” for anyone. Mid clean-up and muck-out, my mom was having what she thought were chafing issues under her arm. With all of the unusual work and circumstances, it was easy for her to assume an ache or pain was flood clean-up-related. Stubbornness eventually gave way to the need for pain management, and she went to the doctor. She was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in mid-November.
Our lives changed overnight. Again.
Already raw from our post-flood “new normal,” I had a hard time dealing with the barrage of fear I was experiencing. I didn’t want to process it. Wave after wave of fear-induced nausea was handled with Netflix. I couldn’t be alone with my brain. I almost didn’t care WHAT I watched, as long as there was a next episode. I watched episode after episode after episode of WHATEVER until I couldn’t hold my eyes open at night, while I was getting dressed in the morning, even just *listening* in the car – anything to be SOMEWHERE ELSE in my head. I was present at work and with my children, but once those worthwhile distractions were gone and my early-to-bed husband was asleep, Netflix. Headphones. No blinking.
My mom started chemo and I started binge-watching Gilmore Girls.
The cruel thing about cancer is that it really is a journey. I still have a hard time holding down my lunch when anyone refers to anything as a “journey” that isn’t an actual trek across actual land (and I may roll my eyes real hard if it doesn’t involve a horse). No one gets a cancer diagnosis, a prescription and is told, “That should take care of it.” NO. Cancer is tests and waiting and needles and surgery and waiting and pain and uncertainty. It’s not a direct route, and it isn’t always clear where you’re going. To beat this analogy to death, I can’t carry my mom’s bags or draw her helpful maps or even go WITH her on this “journey.”
I feel completely helpless.
I’ve done the things you can do to make this not all about me, but I still have to deal with the reality of it. My mom’s cancer AFFECTS me. The more selfish I feel considering this, the more I have to grant myself permission to process it and live through it, too. I have to explain to my children why Nana has no hair or why she’s now using a walker. I hate that I have to tell them to be gentle with her. I feel so selfish when I think about how watching my mom use a walker is hard on ME. I complain to myself about not wanting to think about how to answer questions my children will have about why God didn’t answer their prayers without handing them an idea that God has limits. I’m mad that I have to think about that. Selfish much?
How about this? My own skin crawls when I catch a glimpse of my mom’s radiated skin. I can’t look at it. It hurts to feel so guilty all of the time. You read that correctly – my mom is suffering through the violence and pain of cancer treatment and I’m MAD about feeling GUILTY. I’m MAD about feeling HELPLESS. I feel helpless in my guilt and mad about all of it. I love my mom and I want to fix it. I have all of the righteous anger of a child banging her fists against the bricks screaming, “It’s not fair!!!” because I don’t want my mom to go through this. I think my brain might shut down from exhaustion some days just cycling through in the background – constantly looking for a “solution” to this “problem.” There isn’t one.
It’s uncomfortable to admit these feelings, but I’m not apologizing. They’re honest and I can’t see my way around them. For those of us with sick loved ones, we’ve got to give ourselves some grace to feel what we’re feeling, too. It’s emotional overload to watch someone you love hurt.