The summer of 2016 I was freshly graduated from high school ready to start my first year in college. I had just started a new job that I really enjoyed and was busy doing normal teenage things. I was in a new relationship, spending lots of times with friends, and thinking about what I needed to do in this upcoming year to turn into a responsible, hard working, and successful young woman. I thought that I would have plenty of time to figure that out. I even had an amazing family behind me to help me grow as a person. My mother has always been my go-to, my ride or die, my idol, and my best friend. She is the most loving mother. But she is also very hard on us and always pushing us towards bigger and better things. She expects nothing but the best and wants us to succeed. I hope to be a mother like her someday.
Family to me is...well, there aren't words grand enough to describe my family. They are all such loving, accepting, and open-minded people. I could lean on them for anything. My relationship with them however has seen many obstacles in which we were all pushed to our limits. At times it felt like we were unraveling. When the holiday seasons rolled around that same year it seemed like a typical winter. Everyone cramming for finals in school, working double time to make extra cash for Christmas, planning for the holidays, and constantly being on the go. However, we stopped dead in our tracks and everything silenced the moment the call came. We turned completely numb. We didn't know what to say to each other or how to even act around each other. The moment we found out our mother had cancer was unlike anything I could've ever prepared myself for.
To say that I felt like throwing up, crying, and hyperventilating all at the same time would be an understatement. A million things rushed through my head and yet, I couldn't put any of it into a coherent thought. It was as if there were two different me's taking in this information in two different ways. The one version of me was, in a way, thinking of a blueprint or a game plan. A way to attack this issue and get through it. A way to prepare myself and gather myself enough to become task oriented. I needed to focus on helping my parents deal with this. How were we going to function when our 'person', our 'everything' was going to suffer and have to go through these miserable treatments? What could we do for her? What could I do to make things at home easier on them? The other version of me could not hear, see, or feel anything. It was as if time had stopped. Chills crawled all over me. My skin felt sweaty, my mind was panicking. Everything seemed to slow down, the room was getting hot. My head started spinning, my breathing grew heavier. I needed some fresh air but I just couldn't get up and go for a walk at that moment. I didn't know where to start. I wasn't ready for this. I didn't even have time to get ready. But I needed to jump right in and do the best I could at that time.
You have no idea how much I wish I could go back and do everything over. Do it better. I wasn't everything they needed to me to be. People would tell me that I was doing great and that they admired how much I was doing for my family. But I never felt like it was enough. And that pressure came mostly from myself and myself only. I did not know how to handle balancing my personal life and "adulting" on top of helping care for my mom as well as my younger sisters. I wanted to be the best "mini-mom" that I could be for my sisters. Initially when my mom got the diagnosis we had no idea what the staging was and how complicated her breast cancer would be. I tried so hard not to think negatively by pushing all the doubts from my head. But late at night I would lay in bed all alone and the thoughts couldn't be tamed. I couldn't push them down. Was my mom going to die? Any time that thought crawled its way in I instantly broke down. That's not how this works. I need my mom at my college graduation. I need her at my wedding and to be a grandma to my children. I need her by my side for everything. To imagine a world without her there was beyond wrong. It wasn't fair. I knew right away if something happened to her I would drop everything to be home with my stepdad and all three of my younger sisters. I never had to think about it because those sweet, wonderful and beautiful girls deserve to have a mother like I have. Although I could never be their actual mother, they needed to know her. They needed to have a best friend, a role model, and a woman in their life to love them the way my mother loves all of us. My sisters were only five years old, three years old, and three months old at that time. They might not even remember her if we lost her. That was a true injustice. I was fortunate to have my mother be there for me during some of the most crucial times in my life. For these sweet babies to not have her would have been a loss that I could never repair. I would've given up anything to be what they needed me to be. That was solely from the heart. That never was asked of me or brought up by anyone else.
However, I did think about what my life would've became if I had lost my mother. If we had lost our mother. I probably wouldn't go to college because by choosing my sisters I wanted them to be my life. I couldn't do that if I had other distractions. I would probably get a full time job somewhere to help my stepdad in anyway I could. But when I started thinking too far ahead into the future, my heart ached beyond measure. There is no way to plan for a life without our mother. There are too many things that she needs to see and do. There are too many things that she wouldn't get to enjoy with this beautiful family that SHE built. How could we go on living in this home when she was our foundation?
I never told anybody what I would think about because I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. If I told anybody my thoughts, would they run and hide? Would I be an awful person? Thinking so darkly scared me. I pushed many things down. It made me sick. I did not know it yet but the longer I bottled it up inside, the sicker my wellbeing was getting. It was logical to struggle with something like this. I mean my mother had cancer. That's something that will change your life real quick. But I felt as though it was selfish of me to walk around with a gloomy attitude when life still needed to happen. Our world needed to continue functioning. We should be taking care of the person who was truly sick and needed our full support. We didn't have time to fall apart. It wouldn't be right for me to crumble and ask for help when I wasn't the one fighting to be alive.
After my mother finished her treatments things got easier. In a sense, we were trying to get our lives back on track. We were trying to figure out a routine and how to act normal with each other. But we still were all fighting our own demons. Some days we were conquering them and other days we were being conquered. The whole time my mom went through her treatment I feel like we were on auto-pilot, determined to get her better and run the house as normal so the younger girls didn't know what was going on. But my stepdad, twin sister and I never talked about our emotions, fears, or struggles with each other. So once our mom was done I feel like it gave all of us room to actually start feeling everything and taking it all in. Although the house was back to running as usual, we were different. Each and every one of us. We were stronger and closer than ever. We just didn't know it yet. It took us all falling apart and clinging to each other to realize that we all needed one another to get through this. It took us hitting rock bottom for us to realize the bond that we had through this experience we shared as a family. A family that stays together wins together.
What I want people to realize is that whether you are a sister or brother, daughter or son, mother or father, aunt or uncle, friend or even an acquaintance, none of us can tell each other how to handle a situation like this. You cannot say "you should do this" or "you need to say this". We are all dealing with this for the first time at some point, in their own individual way. People are not machines. Whether you handled this with grace or completely fell apart before picking up the pieces, the important thing is you handled it. Do not try to be perfect. Do not keep quiet and bottle it up. Allowing yourself to deal with it in any way you feel is right is perfectly fine. Scream. Get mad. Cry. Be sad. Just let it out. Cancer is a monster. It is okay for you to be angry, to be sad, to be hurt, to be vulnerable. Your life as you know it is going to change and nobody can tell you it is going to be okay. Allow your fears to swallow you up. But only for a moment. In fact, you deserve a MOMENT. However, do not lose control. Your fears will be there. The anger will be there. But how you react to a situation like this is the important part. Clarity didn't set in until I allowed myself to completely fall apart. I had previously felt as though I was going through life in a fog. I saw that this world was not perfect. Neither are we. The best thing that we can do is continue to push ourselves to do better. Do more. You get one life. If someone you know is going through cancer, remember that the only thing you can control in this life is yourself. Everything else is out of your hands. Allow yourself to let go of the fear of the unknown. Reach out to those that need you. Be better each day by doing more every day. Think about what you can do to spread extra love and positivity to those who need it. Even if they push you away just know that offering up support when someone is at their lowest is all you can do. Life becomes more uplifting and revitalizing when you have people to break down to without any judgment. It's something we could all be better about in this sometimes fucked up world.
"Love is the absence of judgement." ~ Dalai Lama XIV