I recently received a very moving message from a woman named Kelly, who said, “Our world came crashing down just after Christmas when our mom, our best friend, the woman who holds everything together, called and told us she was diagnosed with breast cancer.” (See the full message on About Me page.) This statement brought home to me the reality that cancer truly is a family disease. When I was diagnosed, my whole family was grief stricken, none more than my parents. However, just as cancer had its perks for me, it turns out that my cancer held some perks for them as well.
Dad has lived most of his life with chronic back pain, among other health issues. For many years he existed in the sick role, with Mom and his five daughters caring for him. After I was diagnosed, there was a big change in Dad. All of a sudden he started showing up at my house with his little tool kit asking if I needed anything fixed (that is a man’s way of nurturing, by the way). While I was undergoing chemo, my sister Sherry experienced serious health issues as well, requiring emergency surgery. While Mom was at my home taking care of me, Dad was at Sherry’s nursing her back to health. What a role reversal!
A few weeks ago, at the age of 68, Dad got his first passport. Mom has been traveling to Florida for years to visit my sister, but she long ago gave up hope of ever getting Dad to go with her. It took everyone by surprise when he agreed to go, and I have to say, despite the discomfort he experienced during our travels, he was a real trooper. Dad still lives with chronic pain, but this experience seems to have given him a new lease on life.
Another perk is the deeper closeness that seems to have developed between my parents. Pulling together in a time of crisis has taken them to a new level of intimacy. This is apparent not only to our family, but to others as well. On the flight back from Florida, as my parents were chatting and laughing, the flight attendant asked them if they were on their honeymoon. Mom, a practical, no nonsense person, laughed heartily at that comment. For her, it was a real knee slapper! I think Dad took it as a compliment.
Tip: It is sometimes difficult to allow ourselves to be nursed and nurtured by others. Keep in mind however that this blessing is a gift as much for the giver as the receiver.