Appendix cancer caregiver on learning to open up

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nahas88.jpgBy Victoria Nahas

When my mom was diagnosed with appendix cancer, I was told not to let her see me in pain or cry for her. And so I followed that advice. The last thing I wanted to do was make my mom feel like she was a burden, or make her think about something that wasn't already bothering her.  I didn't want to burden her either.

But throughout her appendix cancer treatment, I learned that allowing myself to lean on her was one way I could be there for her.

My mom's appendix cancer treatment

After my mom was diagnosed with appendix cancer in 2009, she was given 12-18 months to live. I was devastated. Cancer was something that happened to other people. Not my mom.  She is my best friend. I still need her here. 

I couldn't help but wonder where that left me. I was in my late 20s with my whole life ahead of me, and I expected my mom to be there each step of the way.

My mom had always been there for me. But now it was my turn to be the strong one. Five years later, my mom is still here and still fighting. She underwent a year of chemotherapy, then came to MD Anderson for a 16-hour Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy procedure, a type of treatment in which a surgeon administers chemotherapy directly to the abdominal cavity. She's currently undergoing oral chemo and radiation therapy. While my mom is still fighting, we know her time is still limited.

During this time, I learned to be very emotionally introverted. I could talk about factual information like cancer, but I learned to never disclose anything that made me emotionally vulnerable. But it just wasn't me. And it wasn't the mother-daughter relationship that my mom and I had known.

Opening up to my mom
Eventually, I broke down to a friend and fellow appendix cancer caregiver.

Her response to me was, "Aww, you're heart-broken. Let your mom take care of her baby, and you let your mother mend your heart one more time." Suddenly, everything clicked.

I realized I'm never going to get this time back with my mom. Now is the time that I don't have to be afraid, devastated, or silent all on my own. I was wasting precious time I had left with my mom by putting a wall in-between us.

Throughout her treatment, my mom and I had always been close, able to talk, laugh and make memories, but we weren't able to be there for each other the way we both needed. I want my mom to know everything I am feeling and thinking, and I want to know everything about her.  

Since my conversation with my friend, my relationship with my mom has changed for the better. We're able to talk about everything now. We even created a code word -- "daffodils" -- that we use when things get too difficult. It's our way of telling each other that we should change the subject and revisit that topic later. My mom is helping me mend my broken heart and preparing for what's to come.

We were able to get through her advanced directives and five wishes paperwork, so I know exactly what my mother's wishes are and can say goodbye with the dignity she deserves.

Truth is, I have no idea what I am going to do without her in my life, but I would have spent the rest of my life beating myself up if I didn't have these conversations with her.

As caregivers, we get so used to doing so much for our loved ones that we forget to let them care for us, too. By opening up, I gave my mom the chance to be a mom again, and I gave myself the chance to remember what it feels like to be her daughter for a little longer. 

Read more about Victoria Nahas on her blog.

Appendix cancer: What you should know
Appendix cancer - alternatives to surgery
Appendiceal cancer - symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis

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