When you discover a loved one has cancer, nothing can prepare you for the fear and anxiety that ensues.
Health Parenting

Melanoma You Didn’t: Coping with a Loved One’s Cancer

When you discover a loved one has cancer, nothing can prepare you for the fear and anxiety that ensues.

My mom has always appeared pretty young. In fact, there were many times where she was confused for my sister. Yay for her, but I always ended up questioning my moisturizing routine.

When I had my first daughter, my folks were like a second set of parents in a way. They were able to keep up almost as well as my husband and I. They jumped right in to help with all the duties (and doodies.) I look back on those days with a smile on my face for how young and naïve we all were.

When I was pregnant with my second daughter, the world got harder and scarier. Cancer became something that happened in my family instead of something that I heard about in other people’s lives. It frickin’ sucks. Quick hugs to everybody with that going on right now.

I am going to stop here for a moment and say that I did not lose my mom. She is still with me. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her then, and I can’t bear the thought of you wondering through this piece if she is gone. I know ambiguity might get you to read to the end, but there is something in me that can’t even entertain that idea. It even scares me for other people to think it.

My mom was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer. I think they write that in Roman Numerals, but I’m afraid I’ll write it backwards if I try, and what kind of credibility can I have if I say she has stage 40 cancer? In case you aren’t familiar with cancer staging, that’s not the best stage to be on. It’s like golf — you want the lowest score. The highest score is 4.

I did a bad thing when I got the news. I Googled the prognosis. Unsolicited advice for anyone who comes across a similar situation: Don’t Google. I learned through this process that there are new trials and treatments coming out all the time. The research and studies available to look up now may be from 5 years ago. There may be something awesome out there now that hasn’t been through long term studies, and therefore you aren’t going to know about it from your Google search.

Google told me that 5 years was the longest to expect for my mom. I was about 8 months pregnant. And all I could think was she wouldn’t see my baby go to kindergarten. I puked and cried. I worked from home a few days. I felt like I really wasn’t sure how I was going to get through this. I tried all the things that had helped me cope with anxiety in the past, but it wasn’t enough.

When I had painful thoughts, I treated it a little bit like the space you have in your mouth after you lose a tooth. You keep putting your tongue there to feel for the space until you don’t notice anymore. Over and over until you grow used to it. I kept bringing my brain to the worst possible scenario in order to try to get all the pain out. I tried to grow numb or used to the pain by constantly wallowing in that place. I kept feeling out the hole that would be left if I lost my mom.

I eventually had to stop or go crazy. I could never get all the pain out before it happened, so I began doing more productive things to cope, like talking to the great people and friends I have around.

As much as I wanted the world to stop so I could get myself situated, it didn’t. The pregnancy came to the point where we had to decide on a name. I guess technically we could have waited longer, but I needed to have things that could be solved, solved.

This was our second daughter, and to be honest, I am the worst at names. I don’t like doing that job. I would rather the kids come like Cabbage Patch Kids with their names and birth dates stamped on a sheet (especially the birth dates; this child did not want to come out, and I really would have liked to have that eviction date notarized ahead of time.) In order to shy away from the responsibility, I would periodically ask our daughter who was 2 at the time to name her sister. Sounds like a good idea, amiright?

Sophie (our oldest daughter) has always called my parents Nana and Papa. She was feeling silly for a few weeks and started referring to Nana as Nina. Then she would laugh. I asked her one day what she wanted to name the baby, and she said Nina. It clicked for me. That name would link my daughters and my mom forever (if only in my mind.) Thus, Nina became Nana’s Nina.

I am happy to report that my mom is currently doing well. The battle has had so many ups and downs. She is amazing, though, and continues to shine. She has been cancer-free; she has had some spots return; and she has had surgeries, chemo, radiation, and trial treatments. She has persevered and maintained how blessed she is through all of it.

What I find particularly beautiful about Nina and Nana is that since she was born, Nina has always been Nana’s girl. It’s like she just recognized that Nana was her person and she would be her kindred. To further prove it, Nina was a hard baby, and the only person besides me who could ever really get her calmed was my mom. I have this spectacular picture of my mom with a cap on and short hair (growing back from chemo) and Nina staring up at her at about 3 months old with the biggest grin ever.

I count myself so fortunate for what I have with my parents and what my kids have with their grandparents. I try very hard not to ever take for granted the bond that is there between our girls and their Nana and Papa.

My mom often says that she thought she never could love anyone more than she loved her kids, and then she had grandbabies. It’s like loving her kids, only different. It brings tears to her eyes every time. They are part of me, and she loves that (or so she says now).

We will see what happens in those pesky teenage years, but for now, those little girls can’t seem to do any wrong. All that has passed has brought us closer and fostered a beautiful relationship with my daughters and their grandparents.