What Breast Cancer Awareness Month Means to Me
Dear friends and colleagues,
A few days ago in my favorite coffee shop on Melrose, I sit outdoors sending e-mails. As I’m typing away, I see a family walk up to the coffee bar. A woman in her 30s with a toddler on her hip walks into the shop. In one hand, she holds a second little girl’s hand, in the other, she is pushing a man about her age in a wheelchair. I can’t help but wonder who the man is. Is she his caregiver? Sister? Friend? I didn’t know. Behind me, a mom and daughter duo turns to stare. The child, about 4, pulls on her mom’s hand. The first little girl jumps up next to the wheel chair, “Daddy, can we get chocolate chip muffins today?! Can I have a dollar?” He smiled softly, but didn’t raise a hand. He was paralyzed.
The staring girl barks, “Mommy, look at them. Why is that daddy in a wheel chair?” “Oh, I don’t know honey. Don’t worry about it. Not today,” her Mom replies.
Really? I thought. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about what? I couldn’t help but wonder. The fact that you don’t feel comfortable having a conversation with your child about what is before you? Maybe. The fact that another family is facing hardship different than your own? Perhaps. Or the fact that maybe, they aren’t facing hardship at all. Maybe this is just their version of normal. Maybe it always has been. The first family proceeded to sit down at a wheel-chair accessible table, chocolate chip muffins in hand. At this moment, a familiar feeling stirred inside of me. I’ve had sick parents for as long as I can remember. When I was in third grade, my dad was diagnosed with ALS. That same year, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. After chemo, radiation, and surgery, my mom ended up fully recovering. My dad wasn’t so lucky. He was paralyzed from head to toe. Couldn’t walk, couldn’t drive..couldn’t scratch his face, couldn’t change the channel. He quit his law practice and died in his community care center where he resided for the last 7 years of his life. I am grateful that he was in my life for as long as he was, and yet will be the first to admit that our relationship was magical one week, strained the next. I grew up feeling unsure of feelings around his illness + mortality and in turn unsure of feelings about myself.
Last month, my mom found out that after 17 years in remission, she has cancer (again) -- stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in her bone, spine, and sternum which, unfortunately can’t be cured. Tumors have spread throughout my mom's body? I had never thought this idea was even in the realm of possibilities. She had already been through cancer. She had already dedicated her life caring for her husband for over a decade. Hadn’t she been through enough? This made me wonder how many other people out there are wondering the same thing.
When your parent is sick, it’s hard. It’s awkward. It’s weird. It’s embarrassing. My dad came to every musical I was in, on an outstretched wheelchair w/ oxygen tubes and a nurse or two. Now that my mom has a chronic illness...who knows what will happen. October is breast cancer awareness month - people are flaunting their pink sh*t everywhere and what does that even mean? It feels vulnerable for me to share this, but I made a website called Daughters of Sick Parents. The title is a little “loud.” Sick is an awkward word to include. But it's real. People are sick. Sure, their sickness does not define them. But it's a part of them. A very real part. My goal is to start more conversations about this subject matter, and what this means for the kids of sick parents.
When I release a comedy video into the world, I know exactly who my audience is. I know who I want to see it, and where to post it. This is something new for me. I have no idea where to post this blog, or if I even want to post it at all. My advice isn’t perfect and actually feels kind of awkward for me to give out. I don’t even know any kids whose parents have a sickness. There are so many different kinds of sicknesses. I don’t plan on -- or know know how to -- tackle at all. But then I realized, none of us have all the answers. All we can do is start more conversations about the things that move us, that shake us to our core. The goal of DSP is to serve as an online community for kids, teens, and young adults to find solace in the fact that they aren’t alone. If you happen to know of someone who has a sick parent, it is my hope that you will please share this site with them. And for breast cancer awareness month - go to the doctor, get your boobs checked, buy something pink, do what works for you. I’m still going to make comedy videos, and I’m still going to flaunt my pink sh*it. But I’m going to talk about the hard stuff, too, because, "Don’t worry about it” just doesn’t cut if for me. Not today.