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One of the misconceptions about cancer is that once a diagnosis is made, it is all-consuming. In many aspects, it is the fear that comes with diagnosis, as well as a fear of the unknown, that’s constantly in the back of your mind. Every day someone asks, “Are you doing ok?” while looking at you as if they expect you to start crying at any moment. It is true that some days are worse than others, some days you want to start crying, but a lot of people seem to forget that life and the world around you never stop.
I was in middle school when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. My sister was in high school, my dad worked in the fire department, and my mom worked for a pharmaceutical company. Mom’s cancer did not make us an abnormal family by any means. It just made us have to adjust to something life threw at us. Dad still worked his normal shifts and Mom still went to work on the days she wasn’t recovering from chemotherapy. My sister and I still went to school, we still did our homework, and Mom and Dad still expected us to keep up with our grades and extra curricular activities. Despite everything Mom was going through, she still made sure we had our after school snack together and ate dinner as a family, and that it was in no way any different than before her cancer. The focus wasn’t only on cancer and death and sickness. It was on the same things it always had been, with one extra thing (although it was a big one) thrown in.
A few people have asked me why all of my blogs aren’t about cancer. The answer is simple: My life, my family’s life, was not all about cancer when my Mom was going through treatment. We didn’t stop doing “normal” things just because Mom was sick. Yes, we had to make a lot of adjustments and get used to a different lifestyle, but that became our “new normal.” I remember sitting on the sofa when the four of us made the decision that this was going to be the best thing that had ever happened to us. It was not going to be easy by any means, and things were going to be different, but we were going to be better for it.
I don’t write about cancer in every blog because I want people to know that, while their lives will change if a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it doesn’t mean cancer has to be the sole focus. My intention is to write about growing up as a teen whose Mom had breast cancer. Growing up is hard enough on its own, and I want to talk about it, talk about the things other people might be afraid to, and try to answer questions. I am fortunate enough to have a Mom who is a cancer survivor, to have experienced the fear, the tears, and the laughs that came with her diagnosis, and to have met all of the amazing people of the cancer world that I have, all while growing up.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can offer a family going through what mine did is that it is the little things you find comfort in that save you. When I was 13, my Dad and I would go get a cookie or an ice cream cone or run to Sonic to get a drink after soccer practice. We’d talk about soccer and school and how our day went. Once I got to high school we went to Sonic every day after school and got the same thing: sweet peach tea and cherry Dr. Pepper have always been our favorites. Now, when I come home over Christmas, Thanksgiving and during the summer, Dad and I still go to Sonic and talk about the day or how badly the cheese fries stink up his car, but I think they taste so good it doesn’t matter. It’s these things that stick with me, these little things that keep life normal and have absolutely nothing to with cancer and everything to do with growing up, that I like to write about. They made me smile during one of the most difficult times in my family’s life, and they were probably the most normal things anyone living in today’s world could possibly do.
To Mom and Dad, thank you for everything. You have made me who I am and taught me there isn’t anything I can’t overcome. I love you.