Have you ever felt totally helpless? Like this scary, uneasy feeling that you’re in a situation that you’d do anything in your power to stop but you just can’t? That’s what cancer was to me, a helpless situation.
After Mom was diagnosed and the reality set in, so did this feeling. I would go to the hospital all the time and just sit there looking for something to do. If she wanted cream rubbed on her “chemo rash” (as we lovingly referred to it) or if she even mentioned toast I would be running for the little kitchen area before she even had the words out of her mouth. It got to a point where I was getting more ice for her water every 15 minutes just to feel like I was doing something. In hindsight, I was doing something: I was being there, I was supporting her, but what happens when supporting someone just doesn’t feel like enough.
I would have given anything to be in her place, to take her pain and do some of the suffering for her, and that’s funny for me to say because I am the world’s biggest sook! But I will never forget this empty feeling of being vulnerable to the situation. A feeling that I was not used to. I think I am more the type to fix things instead of just waiting for them to get better on their own. This cancer wasn’t going to get better on its own, but I was in no position to do anything to make it better. This is when I thought, “Ok, I’ll become a doctor,” then I would look at the blood or platelets or box of needles on the wall, feel faint and realize I could NEVER be a doctor! So then I’m back to sitting and waiting…and the occasional ice run.
I eventually got to a place, after several months of her hospital stay, where I started to accept that maybe there was nothing physical that I could do for her, but things that I could take care of outside the hospital like the house, my brother and sister, and even my dad. So I did that. That still was hardly gratifying enough. I wanted to be able to make my mom better, and that wasn’t going to happen.
Just as this realization set in, there was discussion of testing me and my siblings to see if we were bone marrow matches for our mother. AWESOME! I was going to give Mom the chance to live! I knew the likelihood of child-parent bone marrow matches is very low, but I was sure that I wanted it bad enough and I would be a match. My sister was convinced it would be her because she absolutely hated needles and hospitals and everything involved, so fate would make her a match. Unfortunately none of us were matches. It was heartbreaking. The one chance I had to really help and I couldn’t. That was exactly how I felt at the time: helpless.
I know that this was not my fault, but I felt like I had looked so hard for something I could do to help that this was my chance, then it was taken away from me.
So I started volunteering anywhere I heard the word cancer (this is how I got here!) and that helped a little. Most people I have met in the volunteer capacity have a story and a reason for getting involved in the first place, so I wasn’t alone in the quest for a way to help. This made me feel a little better.
I know that I am certainly not alone and I am now at a place where I know that sometimes literally just being there is enough. The doctors know what they are doing and will undoubtedly do all they can, but the support, getting ice, rubbing her back, cleaning up the house, sitting up all night to make sure she doesn’t accidentally knock off her oxygen mask: these are things that I could do, and did without question cause she was my mom, she took care of me all my life! Although these tasks are not quite as glamorous as those of the doctors and nurses, I know that they were appreciated and I feel good for having done them.
Maybe I wasn’t so helpless after all!