When I was 12 years old, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I was getting ready for basketball practice one night, when I heard her whispering on the phone to my Aunt Diane. It sounded like something was going on, but she was trying to hide it.
I asked her what she was talking to my aunt about. She reluctantly told me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had found a lump in her breast and had to have surgery to remove it. Then, she would need chemotherapy and radiation.
She had been waiting to tell my sister and me until she knew exactly what was going on. She didn’t want to tell me that night because I had basketball practice and she wanted me to have a good practice.
I was completely caught off guard. I was shocked and scared. I immediately asked her if she was going to die. She told me that they had caught it early and her prognosis was good. Still, I was scared.
That was over 20 years ago, so I don’t remember much about that time in my life, but I do remember that I still went to basketball practice that night. And I didn’t tell anyone about my mom.
In fact, I never did. I completely shut down as if nothing was happening. I didn’t even tell my best friend about it. My mom even had our school therapist pull me out of class one day to talk to me about it. I didn’t even tell her that my mom had breast cancer. But, she already knew.
Maybe I thought saying it out loud would make it too real. Maybe I was scared of losing my mom. I was 12 years old. I was young. Too young. No one would understand or know what to say. I didn’t want to make my friends uncomfortable. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me or think I was trying to get attention.
My mom made it through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I remember hearing her throwing up in the bathroom. I remember her losing her hair. I remember her buying a prosthetic and a special bra to try to hide the fact that half of one of her breasts had been cut off.
And I never told anyone about any of it.
Fast forward 13 years.
When I was 25 years old, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
This time was different, as my sister and I had forced our parents to go to the doctor because we knew something was wrong. But that didn’t make the diagnosis any easier. I’ll never forget the day my mom called me while I was working and told me she had Alzheimer’s.
Truthfully, I reacted much in the same way I had when I was 12 years old. I didn’t ask her if she was going to die because I knew that she eventually would. I told my fiancé and my best friend, but I didn’t tell anyone else. Some of my friends found out from someone else, but many people didn’t know for years.
I never talked about. If anything, I desperately tried to hide it from everyone and pretend like everything was normal, as I planned my wedding for the following year.
Maybe I thought saying it out loud would make it too real. Maybe I was scared of losing my mom. I was 25 years old. I was young. Too young. No one would understand or know what to say. I didn’t want to make my friends uncomfortable. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me or think I was trying to get attention.
About three years after her diagnosis, I finally broke my silence. I began to share my story with anyone who would listen. A year later, I started writing my blog and two years after that, I self-published my book. And you know what? I started to feel so much better.
I connected with many people my age who were going through what I was going through. We have all helped each other feel less alone. We have all lessened our pain by sharing it with one another. We have all formed a bond, as we are all part of a special club. A club that none of us ever wanted to be in, but we are in it nonetheless. We might as well not be the only members.
You don’t have to walk this road alone.
You don’t have to suffer in silence.
You won’t earn extra points for being the sole bearer of your burden, but you might suffer more than necessary.
Your struggle doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong. And being brave enough to share it makes you even stronger.