What I wish I knew when my mom was diagnosed with cancer

I’m a big believer in trying to find the silver lining no matter how small when it comes to tough times; the light at the end of the tunnel if you will. Sometimes it’s a small situation that feels a little gray but it’s not too hard to find the light. Sometimes it’s the bigger things that feel like the lights have been turned out on you temporarily and that silver lining is a lot harder to find but you dig and it’s there. And then there’s the time when you sit across from your mom at dinner, and she tells you she has cancer.

Not just any cancer, the late-stage, scary kind of cancer. In that moment it feels like the lights have gone out, the rug’s been pulled out from under you, all the air has been stolen from your lungs, and everything goes pitch black. Fast forward to today and thankfully my mom has prevailed. While it was a journey I hope to never be on again, if I could travel back in time I’d offer myself a couple of pointers (and some much needed tough love) to help navigate through those uncharted waters.

You are going to get through this. Really

It may seem like this is too much to handle, that you’re not equipped to take this on but you are. You’ll find strength in family, friends, laughter, tears, prayer, and Noodles and Company.

It’s OK to need help

And speaking of strength, you’ll be strong but not strong enough to bear this burden on your own and that’s OK! Even though you feel the need to be strong for everyone else, you need others that can be strong for you too to help lighten the load. It’s OK to feel like you need a support group of your own, because you actually do.

People will surprise you

There will be people you would have sworn up and down would have been the first to step up and help that simply don’t. While others that you wouldn’t have relied on in your wildest dreams, they’ll be there for you from the start. The people that show up, they’re the keepers!

It’s important to wear pants

Over time the worry will creep in, slowly and stealthy disrupting many a night’s sleep, leaving you too tired to function. On those days before you walk out the door do yourself a huge favor and glance down to make sure that in your groggy stupor you haven’t forgotten to put pants on. There’s a very real possibility you may have skipped this step.

Laughter really helps

It might not come as a surprise that in the hospital wing where your mom ends up staying for a week after some complications, most of the rooms have the blinds or curtains closed and there’s not a lot of spirited conversation going on. But the witty, sarcastic nature of your family will make you all the odd ones out in the best possible way. Your mom’s room will be filled with sunlight and you can hear the laughter spilling out into the hallway.

Feel your feelings

You’ll learn this later but no good comes of telling yourself to suck it up and push through the sadness, frustration, and anger. Do yourself a favor, set a timer for a few hours and throw yourself a full on party of self-pity. Wallow in those emotions for a while surrounded by your favorite junk foods, movies, music and friends. Then move on. You won’t have worked through all those emotions yet and that’s OK, it’s a long road. But this way you’ll allow yourself to begin working through all those emotions without getting stuck at the self-pity trap.

When people ask how they can help, tell them

Friends and family will say that they wish there was something they could do and you know you’re your response should be? Offering actionable ways they can help. Don’t be shy. Ask for things like, “Thanks for offering, I’d love some help with a few meals we can freeze” because there will be days when everyone in the house is too drained to prepare anything for dinner let alone anything healthy. Or, “I’d actually take all the help I can get with some housework.” When you and your family are on the front lines battling cancer the dishes and dust are the least of your concerns. When people offer help, take it!

One day, you’ll look back and see how strong you were

It doesn’t seem like it now and it won’t for a very long time, but one day you’ll look back and recognize what this experience has taught you about yourself and about life. You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Angel Hepp is a lover of tasty cuisine, really corny jokes, vacation, and red wine. When she’s not working full time in marketing or making stellar memories with her husband and daughter, she’s helping to share education and tips about why safe products matter. Snag some great tips from her growing community on Facebook or get the short, short version on Twitter. 

[Image via iStock]