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Melanoma caregiver: Changing roles with my mom

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By Liz Hill

When my mom started her chemo treatments at MD Anderson, I had no idea that she and I would completely switch roles.

All through my teen years, struggling with puberty, high school, softball practice, boyfriends, etc., Mom was there. She taught me to keep fighting, and many times she just told me to "suck it up." So, when her journey with melanoma started, I was there for her, pushing her, and yes, sometimes telling her to "suck it up."

I became Mom's main caregiver, while my dad, her husband of 38 years, tended to my mentally handicapped older brother, David. I traveled with Mom to MD Anderson from our homes in Louisiana, and Dad was always there for her when she returned home from melanoma treatment. He became the main cook and maid at the house, and he loved every minute of doting on the love of his life, while I checked in on them throughout the day.

Being able to return home in between melanoma treatments made all the difference in the world to Mom. It lifted her spirits, allowed family and friends to visit, and gave her the ability to be close to the ones she loved most.

But many of my memories from that period are from the ones Mom and I made during our trips to MD Anderson.

Creating memories while caring for Mom 
During one of her hospital stays, doctors told Mom to walk around the nurses' station each day to stay mobile. I knew if I were the one lying in that hospital bed, Mom would have pushed me to get up and walk. So, that is what I did for her. Yes, Mom complained a little, and sometimes I let her skip the walk, but we walked a lot. 

The walks, however, turned out to be more than just walks. Those walks allowed us to socialize with other patients, nurses and custodial workers. It also allowed us to bond that I always cherish, especially now that Mom is no longer alive.

I learned a lot about my mother on our walks. I learned that she was resilient and a fighter. She had so much determination. I learned that things could always be worse. I learned that sometimes life isn't fair and that we do have to just "suck it up."

Caring for parents isn't always easy 
Although I was Mom's caretaker, I was still her daughter. It was hard at times to see Mom feeling nauseous, tired or cranky. But, I thought of the times when I was sick and Mom was there for me, holding my hand, feeling my forehead for fever, wiping my tears and telling me it would get better. So those were the things I did for her.

Yes, it was hard at the time, and, yes, I still miss Mom a lot. But I wouldn't trade the opportunity to be Mom's caregiver for anything in the world, especially knowing now that those were some of the last memories I would be making with her.

Liz Hill cared for her mother throughout her melanoma treatment. Her mother passed away in 2010, but left her with a lifetime of lessons, including to the importance of protecting her skin. Now, Liz travels from her home in Louisiana to MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center for annual checkups.

Read more posts by Liz Hill.

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