Mothering my own mother: A young adult caregiver’s story of role reversal
After graduating from Purdue University in December 2016, I had no idea what I wanted to do professionally. But the “real world” was fast approaching, and my time of living mostly bill-free as a college student was drawing to a close. Since I wasn’t tied down to a job just yet, I spent three months in early 2017 hiking, sailing and sea kayaking in New Zealand.
When I returned to the U.S., I thought my life would carry on as usual. But no more than a week later, my mom was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called a granular cell tumor. And looking after her became my new job.
Providing support after a granular cell cancer diagnosis
I was a bundle of nerves right after my mother was diagnosed. I didn’t overtly show it, because I didn’t want her to know how scared I truly was. But this was our new reality, and I needed to be there for her. So, that day I decided that cancer would not defeat us — neither my mom nor our family.
From then on, I just tried to make sure that she remained calm and at ease. If Mom cried, I hugged and consoled her. If she couldn’t ask the right questions, I did. And, if she simply needed someone to listen, I was her sounding board.
Supporting my mother during her granular cell cancer treatment
After doing a lot of research, my mom decided to seek treatment at MD Anderson, the No. 1 ranked hospital for cancer care. I accompanied her and my stepfather there for her first visit in May 2017.
After meeting with her care team, we learned that Mom would need to relocate to Houston for seven weeks of proton therapy. We found her a temporary apartment. I traveled there about every other week, taking her to treatments and follow-up appointments.
I made it my mission to fill our days with fun activities. Mom’s proton therapy was administered at night, so during the daytime, we ventured out together. We wandered through Rice Village, explored the Heights, ate our way through Montrose and journeyed to Austin for a weekend getaway. My goal was to create the illusion that my mom’s seven-week stay was a mini vacation.
Finding creative ways to keep Mom nourished and hydrated
My mother’s diet posed another challenge. She’s always been a big coffee drinker, but not such a fan of plain water. Her care team was adamant that she not become dehydrated, though, so I had to think of creative ways to bump up her fluid intake.
Working as a pair helped us stay accountable. If I noticed my mom starting to slow down, I reminded her to have some water. Hot temps and blazing sun? Bottoms up. Cozying up on the couch with a good movie? You guessed it: drink up, my friend. And every time she drank water, so did I.
When my mom and I were not consuming copious amounts of water, I was scouring the web for healthy recipes. I love to cook, and Mom has never turned down a chance to be my guinea pig. And while Houston has good restaurants aplenty, some nights we just wanted to eat at home. Plus, Mom’s care team said it was important for her not to lose weight.
So, I cooked dishes like oven-barbecued chicken, pasta with vegetables and turkey tacos. Cooking helped me relax and unwind, and the meals provided Mom with healthy nourishment and a sense of home. They also gave us a chance to talk about her day.
What I’ve learned as a young adult caregiver
When I reflect back now on the past year, I realize what an honor it was to support my mother during her cancer treatment. She demonstrated the qualities that a true warrior embodies: strength, courage, optimism and humility.
I still don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do know that my experiences with Mom have led me to a cancer-related career. Today, I work as a medical scribe for a group of three female oncologists in Indianapolis. And not a day has gone by that I’ve not left the office humbled and grateful for all that I have.