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The Lessons I've Learned Since My Mom's Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Back view of senior and young woman looking at sea on the beach in autumn

Nine years earlier, we went through everything. Breast cancer, chemo, surgery, radiation, hormone therapy. We had been here before and done it all. Now we’re back again.

The cancer has spread to her lungs and bones. Stage IV. Metastatic. Metastatic breast cancer. Those were the words that I heard when my father told me that my mother had just been diagnosed. I got off the telephone and collapsed into sobs. The grief began instantly. How do you process slowly losing your mom, your best friend, to this horrible disease? What do you do? How do you help?

In the two weeks following my mom’s diagnosis, I have learned a lot. I have learned what’s important and what’s not. I have learned about time management. I have learned about support. Here is what I have learned in the weeks following my mom’s diagnosis:

Grief is normal.

I am grieving the life I once knew. The life with a healthy, cancer-free
mom. I am grieving mortality itself. I am grieving the mom I once knew. Her feelings, emotions and reactions will never be the same following her diagnosis. She has changed now. All of this is normal. While my mom is still with us and hopefully has years left, the diagnosis has left me grieving what was and what could have been.  If you are facing a similar diagnosis with your family member, know that whatever you are feeling is normal and OK. There is no right way to think or feel at this stressful time.

Related:What I Learned From Talking to My Therapist About Breast Cancer

Time is important.

I am lucky to live a 10-minute drive from my parents’ house. I have visited almost every single day to spend time with my mom and dad as they process their feelings and emotions. My nights feel shorter, I’m tired after work and I don’t always want to. But I do go because this time is important and it matters. It matters to my dad who needs a break from helping my mom deal with her emotions. It matters to my mom who wants to spend as much time with her children as possible. It matters to me because time is slowly slipping away now. If you’re able, spend as much time as possible with your family if you are facing this horrible diagnosis. You might be more tired, but you won’t regret time spent together as a family.

My needs matter.

I am someone that puts everyone else first. I forget to rest, to fuel my body with nourishing foods, to play. I give and give until there is nothing left for me. And I am fully prepared to do that to help my mom and my family. But this time around, I need to fill my own cup first. I need to sleep and eat properly. I need to make time to spend with my husband. I need to play with my dogs. I need to find balance because I am no good to my mom or my family if I don’t. It’s the cliché of putting on your own oxygen mask first. It’s a cliché for a reason. If you are in this situation, I urge you to put yourself first and fill your own cup so that you can continue to give.

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Connections make you stronger.

I was in my early 20s the last time we were here. I expressed what was going on in my family to friends. For many, it was simply too much and they slowly or suddenly drifted away. This made me nervous to connect with my friends and speak my fears. But I did. I told my bridesmaids from my wedding. I told a friend who had been through a similar experience with her own parents. I told my husband. Since speaking my truth and sharing my feelings, my friends have held my hand while I cried, offered to make food, put my family on prayer lists and felt love. These connections have lifted my spirits and proved that I am supported. These connections make me stronger and I promise they will make you feel stronger too. Open up and you will find that you have a safety net in your friends and family.

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You must continue to live.

I am going to be taking a trip for two weeks with my husband. While a large part of me does not want to leave my mom in this time, I know I need to take my trip. My husband and I need time to connect and fill one another with love. I need time to relax. I need a positive experience to be able to draw from as things get harder down the road. I am going to work every day. I babysat for my nieces. I’ve met up with friends and watched movies. While my life has been turned upside down, I must continue to move forward. My mom doesn’t want me to stop living or put my life on hold and your loved probably feels the same way. If you’re going through something similar, please keep moving forward, it’s so important to live.

I know as time goes on, I will learn more and gain more wisdom. There will be good times and hard times. There will be lessons I don’t understand at first. But I know I will learn, and I will move forward and I will make the most of each day. I encourage you struggling through something similar to do the same.

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