A Caregiver’s Story
My mom was my best friend. We never went through the typical mother-daughter struggles. We enjoyed spending time together, whether it was traveling, or just hanging out at home.
She celebrated her 50th birthday by taking me and my brother on a trip to Hong Kong, one of her favorite destinations. We had an amazing trip! When we returned, my Mom confided in me that she had a biopsy scheduled for possible breast cancer. I became my mom’s main caregiver. That role came with a lot challenges, especially with her surgeon. On the day of her surgery, my mom awoke from the lumpectomy, and thought she’d had a mastectomy, because her breasts were so tightly wrapped. Her doctor hadn’t warned her about what to expect after the procedure. I was furious about the extra stress that put her through. The doctor dismissed me, and wouldn’t even speak with me by phone. Thankfully, my mother healed quickly, and well, and we returned to our regular busy routines.
Fast forward 13 years to 2005. One month before my wedding, my mom was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer. This time I juggled being a caregiver, daughter and bride-to-be. The challenge I’d faced with her previous surgeon was reversed, and the new one spoke almost exclusively to me. I had to advocate for my mom, encouraging the surgeon to direct his comments at my mother, his patient. This time, my mother did have a mastectomy. The edges were clean, they said. OK, time to focus on the wedding. Within a year of the wedding though, the cancer had spread. My mom was not interested in chemotherapy. She only took medications to prolong her life for my benefit.
In 2010, thinking she still had about two years to live, I chose to move home to be near her, and to be her caregiver again. I’m so thankful that I did. She didn’t have two years, she only had 8 months. Those were the worst eight months of both of our lives, but I wouldn’t have given up that experience for anything. Being her sole caregiver drained my emotional and physical energy, but also had benefits. I did what I thought was right, what I thought she wanted, and I can look back confidently, knowing that I did my best.
In the beginning of her illness, and even as it began to progress, I never imagined being ready to let my mom go. Yet as I watched her decline, she was no longer the same person that I had always known, and I got to the point of telling her it was ok for her to stop fighting, and to be at peace.
It’s now almost seven years later and while I still get sad and miss her, I’m at a better place now, emotionally. I’m ready to help other caregivers cope with their new roles, navigate the system, and figure out how to care for themselves in the process. I am also ready to help patients cope with their own diagnosis, and all that entails. I’m a practicing psychotherapist in Los Angeles. When I learned about Sharsheret, I contacted them to learn more about their resources. Having an agency like Sharsheret would have been so helpful to me as a caregiver. I look forward to referring clients struggling with breast cancer to Sharesheret.