I Watched My Mother Die From Cancer And I’m Terrified I Will Too

Ali Lander Shindler

I never gave too much thought to cancer until my mom died from it. You would think that after watching her suffer and battle this wretched disease for six years, after enduring brain biopsies, and going to rehab, and learning to pour water into a cup, that somewhere along the line, I’d stop and think about what the cancer was ultimately doing. But I didn’t. Cancer was too hard to think about. It was too hard to think about it one day – and one day soon – ripping my mother from my life before she’s ever had the chance to meet her grandchildren. It was too hard to think about one day – and one day soon – that she’d never get to see me walk down the aisle, or that this last Christmas, where she endured yet another tragic hospital stay and broke down to me in a house with sparse walls and no twinkling lights, would be her last melancholy holiday. Cancer was too hard for me to think about – yet – the irony is that right now, at this current moment in my life, four months after burying my mom, cancer….it’s all I can focus on.

I’m sure this behavior is normal. I’m sure worrying about getting the disease that killed my mother would be on any daughter’s mind. After all, what’s to stop the disease that doesn’t discriminate from choosing me? What if cancer one day rips me away from a man I love, a home that I created, and children whose lives I wasn’t ready to stop seeing? I compulsively check to see if there’s a lump somewhere on my breast – and then I check again two minutes later because how can I sit and enjoy TV when something could be brewing from the inside out? I worry day in and day out about a stressor that doesn’t even exist – and one that may never exist. My mom was the first woman in our family to get breast cancer – and when she was diagnosed – it had already turned into Stage IV. I should be thankful to the doctors who prolonged her life by six more years instead of selfishly craving that it was twenty more. I should be thankful that it was just the last year of her life that sucked, and all the others saw my mother act like her normal, typical, sometimes over-dramatic, but always vibrant self. I know this behavior is normal…but is it healthy?

I think about how my life was while my mother was alive, and that I only used to truly worry about cancer when she had to get results from a CAT scan. I’d sit in my room, blasting, “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw or “Let It Be” by the Beatles, trying to accept an inevitable fate, trying to listen to a song that would let me grieve silently and quickly. And then when she’d get good news, I’d forget about my panic until the next six months went by when we’d all be in the same, desperate position. Even after she passed, the first few weeks were riddled with such pain, such heartache that I couldn’t expand my thoughts to even cover the irrational and somewhat paranoid fears that are permeating me. All I could think about was her – and was she happy wherever she was? Was she okay with dying? Was she following me, lurking around my apartment and was the reason for the chill that slipped down my spine as I sat at my laptop writing about how much I missed her?

And then, only recently, have I become consumed with the fear that it’ll happen to me – not one day – but one day soon. I’m terrified to get attached to this life for fear that it’s taken away from me. I’m terrified to have dreams because what if they never come to fruition? I’ve been told that fearing a disease is normal in the grieving process, but what I’m going through, it isn’t healthy; it’s stifling.

Time will only tell what my future entails and I can’t live my life fearing a disease that may never greet me. I can’t waste time dependent on irrational thoughts when I have a life full of goals, and love, and inspiration that floods me. If I stay mindful of myself, of my body, and listen to it, that’s really all I can ever do. My mother was terrified of getting cancer when she saw her father pass from it; it was her greatest fear. While I aspire to be like my mother in a zillion different ways, I don’t want to live my life with my greatest fear consuming me like a tidal wave, crashing down, creating havoc, and making me feel, in so many ways, completely and utterly powerless to stop it. TC mark

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