My Mom Has Breast Cancer and I Feel Helpless

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.

Kristen is still in the middle of her love story. She and her best friend of four years gave in and finally decided to date. Two years later, she was engaged. Two years after that, she was married. She’ll celebrate her 17th wedding anniversary this May. Mom to Ellen (8) and James (5), she works full time in Human Resources outside of the home. Her children have taught her that motherhood is hard. And wonderful. And HARD. A proud alum of LSU and Johnson and Wales University, she also collects college degrees. (BS in Psychology, AS in Culinary Arts and BS in Culinary Nutrition). She’s lived in Baton Rouge a majority of her life, with sojourns in New Orleans, Charleston, SC and Providence, RI. The south is clearly home. Recovering from a nearly crippling case of adolescent insecurity, she is still the most likely to have the heel of her shoe caught in the hem of her pants.


  1. My Mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer on the 26th of September. She is my absolute best friend in the entire world. I couldn’t have described my feeling of helplessness any better if I had written this myself. I just want to say thank you for writing this. Now I see that I’m not the only one struggling with these feelings. God bless you and your Mom! ❤️

    • Kayla,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. Sharing this wasn’t easy but I knew someone else out there was going to relate. I’m so sorry you did (and glad it was there for you just the same). God bless you and YOUR mom, too.

  2. New normal. I’ve clung to that phrase for years; thinking everything would be okay if I could just get used to the new circumstances, emotions, limitations.

    More often than not, though, I wasn’t able to adjust to the new before another new hit. What I didn’t account for was that life still goes on. Job changes, new babies, kids starting school – major life events that take so much energy and brain power. But when Mom was fighting the battle of her life, my challenges just paled in comparison.

    Instead of Netflix, I’d get lost in romance novels. The story lines reinforced how amazingly patient and supportive my husband was during a time when I clearly wasn’t the same woman he married.

    Unfortunately, we lost both of our mothers to cancer within a year and a half. I hurt for my girls because they won’t grow up with those sassy, smart, loving ladies. But my girls have learned so much. They have compassion for the hurting; understanding of cancer, sickness and healing; and grandfathers who go above and beyond to do everything their wives of more than 30 years would want them to do. Above all, our daughters’ strength in faith is a soothing balm. Their grandmas have protected them from so many owies!

    I’m truly sorry that your mom and everyone who loves her are going through this. It sucks rotten donkey eggs. But thank you for sharing. Reading your experiences, and writing this, has helped me process a little more.

    • Kate,

      Thank you for these kind words. I wish there weren’t so many of us that related to each other – that this was a less common circumstance. Cheers for supportive husbands, man. Couldn’t have done it without him. Glad to know you’ve got one of those, too.

  3. My mom had cervical cancer. When she was diagnosed she was stage 4. They gave her a month to live. She lived for almost 2 years, she passed away this July, after it had continued to move back to her lungs, to her brain, and liver. She was diagnosed right when my first child was turning 1. A year ago, when I was 8 months pregnant with baby #2, she had a seizure at my daughters Halloween parade at her daycare. It is perfectly normal to think about how your moms cancer affects you. You see how I just did that, listed all the ways it affected my life, too? I had guilt because I lived out of town, guilt because I needed to be with my young family, guilt that she got sick almost everytime her grandkids(my babies) went around her. Cancer doesn’t care. It affects so many, it reaches so far. And, my mom and your mom and everyone with cancer fights SO HARD so hard for time….for another day, week, month, year. I really just wanted to say, I commend you for putting into words what I felt and what so many felt. Prayers for you and your family and your mom. Prayers for peace and lots of time.

    • Erica,

      Thank you for the comment and the validation. My mom passed away a few weeks ago now. This post was published just as we found out it had reached her bones. It wasn’t long after that. Yes, I certainly wish I had JUST ONE MORE DAY. That says to me that we really do need to make a piece of every day a reflection of who we want to be and what we really want. It’s impossible to decide to live every day as if it were your last – but a PIECE of every day? Yes, I’ll start with that! Sorry about the loss of your mom, too. It’s certainly a club I wish had far fewer members.


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