Shock of diagnosis: a supporter’s perspective

So, in one day, your whole life gets flipped upside-down. Not even one day, like two seconds. You hear the word “cancer” and you’re never the same. As a supporter, the word is like a kick in the stomach, so I can’t even begin to imagine how a patient feels.

On April 29, 2003, my father came to pick me up from work. My mother had been sick, nothing huge but I knew there was something wrong, so I was a little edgy the whole day as she went for blood work and what was worse was that I still hadn’t heard from my parents.

When Dad showed up to pick me up from work, I figured everything was fine (I have a tendency to overreact). So I got in the car and dad looked at me, looking like he had indeed been kicked in the stomach, and started to cry. My father is not the type to cry. I had seen it happen once when I was young and his grandfather died, so all of a sudden I was eerily aware of the seriousness of what he was about to say. “Mom’s sick…it’s cancer.”

I think I sort of blacked out for a second but shortly realized I was screaming my lungs out. It was all I could do. I don’t know why, I just screamed. In my car on a packed street down town I literally threw a tantrum, shaking, crying, and screaming. There were people everywhere but I didn’t care (this is not typical for me, I’m usually very concerned of what others think).

The drive to the hospital took years. I relived every moment I ever spent with my mom, it was like when people say your life flashes before your eyes. I have heard patients say that they knew it was something serious, and they knew on some level, but I don’t think the family and friends ever really think or expect the worst. My mother had all the telltale signs of leukemia, so of course I was scared, but nothing could have actually prepared me for cancer.

We walked into the hospital and all of a sudden I was a three-year-old in a 21-year-old’s body. I had flashbacks of visiting Mom in the hospital when she had my little sister. I was three and my parents were so happy and I got all the Jelly Tot’s I could eat from the gift shop. What was I going to say to my mom? What was she going to say to me? How were we going to tell my younger brother and sister?

There were a million other thoughts; these were just the prominent ones.

We got to my mother’s room and there she was sitting up on the bed having a conversation with one of the nurses and laughing. She saw me and smiled, and said, “I’m going to be fine, it’s treatable… and hey, I could have been hit by a bus today, at least I have a chance to fight.” I’ll never forget it. All of a sudden it didn’t hurt so much, the kick in the stomach was now a dull ache. Knowing she wasn’t scared I knew that I couldn’t be. All of a sudden I was an adult again (not that I wanted to be), and boy did I ever grow up fast after that day.

I suppose I felt that if I let her know I was scared to death that it would shake her belief that she would get better. It’s really amazing what effect a positive attitude can have. Of course I got upset sometimes, and of course Mom did too, but being in the presence of someone so strong made it so much easier to deal. I guess we can learn a lot from our parents!

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