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Losing My Mother To Cancer

by Kristina

On May 1st, 2011, after a five year battle with cancer, my mom passed away. When she was first diagnosed, it was simply a lump in her breast. Hearing the word "cancer" was so scary, but we all thought "ok, surgery and some treatments, then this will all be behind us forever!"

One year later the breast cancer reoccurred. This time there was a mastectomy and much more aggressive treatment. My mom was very sick and also suffered from depression. In some ways the depression was hardest to deal with because there was no way to fix the pain. I loved my mom and it hurt so much to see her suffer and not be able to do anything to make her feel better.

But once again, the treatments were finally over, her hair grew back in and we all began to move on with our lives, secretly keeping our fingers crossed that this thing was over once and for all. In May, 2009 an MRI showed that the cancer was back, this time in her bones. The doctor informed us that it was now terminal. We could try to buy time with treatments, but once it spread to her organs, we would be looking at months.

In October of 2010, my mom went for her routine PET scan. As I worked close to her oncologist's office, the plan was for me to come over on my lunch break and be with her when she got the results. I was five minutes late. I will always regret those five minutes. When I got there, my mother was crying and the doctor had just informed her that the cancer had spread to her lungs and liver.

She was all alone when she was handed her death sentence. I let her down. We all knew what the diagnosis meant- it was time to prepare for the end. But how do you prepare to lose your mother? Do you cry every second of every day? Or do you stay strong to the very end so you can enjoy every minute that you have left with her? The latter is what I tried to do.

As the days went by and I watched my mother fading, I prayed for strength to keep going. Every new progression of the disease was like a stab to my heart. Now my mother could no longer go for walks with me, now she couldn't stand at the stove to cook a meal, now she couldn't get out to attend church.

I know what it's like to weep inside and feel like the walking dead, while putting on a happy face for the rest of the world. And even harder than what I was going through, it was so hard to watch my mom's battle with denial, acceptance, depression and letting go.

I was there when she sobbed because she would never get to watch her 12-year old son become a man. I watched her and my father desperately holding onto each other for every precious moment, knowing all too soon they would be parted. And as death grew closer, my mother began to emotionally drift away. It was as if she no longer belonged to our world.

I know she never stopped loving me and she knew that I loved her, but there came a point when she had to enter that valley of the shadow of death alone; we couldn't follow. At the end, she was in a lot of physical pain. It was almost a relief when God finally called her out of her body of suffering. But even after all the time we had to prepare, I was devastated. You're never ready to lose your mother.

Now, four months later, I'm still in the midst of coping with her death. When the first feelings of relief faded, total sadness and grief took their place. They were so intense, I couldn't deal with them all at once. I shoved a lot of the grief deep inside, promising myself I would deal with it later. Now, it is seeping out a little at a time. I find myself missing my mother and thinking "What would Mom tell me to do about this? Dear Lord, how I wish she were here right now!"

Often I'll recall some little snatch of a memory about her and smile to myself, while at the same time the tears come into my eyes. The hardest thing to cope with is thinking about the future, realizing my mother will never be a part of it.

I got married on July 23rd. My mother wasn't there. I hope to start a family soon. My mother will never meet my children. A few weeks ago I attended the baby shower of a close friend. Her mother gave her some items that she had been saving for her first grandchild. The familiar feeling of grief and loss swept over me as I realized my children will never have anything that was given to them by their grandmother.

Remembering the past is hard, but looking forward to the future is even harder. When I feel this way, I remind myself that I am still surrounded by people that I love and that love me back. My new reality is that my mother is gone. But I'm still blessed in so many ways. The moment that you finally realize that life is going to go on is bitter-sweet.

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Kristina, and thanks for telling your story here. It is clear that you had a very close and loving relationship with your mother. As wonderful as that is, as you now know, it intensifies the feeling of loss on your mother's passing.

Be aware that grief comes in waves. That means there will be periods when you will feel better, and you'll find it easier to focus on the joys and the blessings of your life. Then, for at least eight months to a year, you will feel waves of sorrow, heaviness and sometimes fatigue coming over you, and that is the grief asking for your attention.

Honor your mother during these times of grief. Get out pictures and memorabilia that remind you of her, thank her for all of the good things she did for you, and say good bye to her. Write long letters to her, thanking her for everything. Focus on love and gratitude, and try to avoid getting into the part about missing her. Letting go is an act of love, and if you do your grieving in a healthy way, over time, the main feeling you will have when you think of your mother is love.

Follow the guidelines on our stages of grief page, and that will help you.

I am glad for you that you have been so blessed with a mother you love so much.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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