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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

Mum, Cancer and Me:  How I Helped My Mum Fight Back From Across the Miles 

Written by Shannon on 
28th September, 2020
Updated: 29th January, 2024
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

It’s probably one of the worst things for someone to be told: “You have cancer,”

It can be devastating for a spouse or family member to hear it as well. I admit it, I felt my stomach fall to my feet when my mother called me on the phone to tell me the horrible news that she has breast cancer.  I felt intense emotions of fear, sadness and guilt because I lived over 2000 miles away from her. I held back tears as she told me she had Stage 4 breast cancer and will be having a mastectomy and up to 9 lymph nodes removed. So, some of you may be thinking well this isn’t too big of a deal, there are people learning they have cancer every day. But you see, this is my mother; my mum, a sweet, kind, and gentle soul.

Well, this gentle soul of a mother would have to pick herself up and face a challenge like none other she’s faced before.

Mum is not perfect by all means, but she is so full of love, kindness, understanding, and did a fantastic job raising 5 kids. And she did it during a time where parents did not read books on how to raise children. She used common sense and did what she thought was best at that time. She is not one who sat down on the floor and played Barbie dolls with me or rolled around on the floor with my brothers. She was busy doing laundry, baking goodies, or preparing a meal.

Mum did most of the daily duties of caring for a family of seven and the other smaller chores were left for us kids to do. This was our way to earn an allowance and so I could save money to buy my own style of clothes and trendy shoes. The duties my sister and I had were dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.  My brothers were tasked with cutting the lawn, taking out the trash, and chopping wood in the wintertime.

My mother was a full time teacher and homemaker (stay at home mum).

She taught us not only how to clean up after ourselves, but to have respect for others. She consistently told us she loved us, she was proud of us, and that we could do anything we wanted as long as we put our mind to it. She illustrated kindness, unselfishness, and compassion by example. Both my parents do goodwill for those in need, and visit people who are sick in the hospital, and are active in the church, then and now. Mum also played in a bowling league back in 1980s.  My mum is an all around extraordinary human being yet a very simple woman.

I would send an enlightening, positive message with a photo of pretty flowers, a beach, a sunset and other beautiful images, so she would have an email message to open every morning to start her day.

But even extraordinary people can be dealt a hand of overwhelming life challenges.

Now you see why we all thought and questioned, “how could this be?” How could such a wonderful kind person end up with cancer? She herself had a challenging childhood as she grew up living in a household with one of her parents being an alcoholic. Grandpa worked for the railroad in North Dakota, USA; and was not home much of the time.  And when he was home, he was intoxicated as my mum shared a few of those memories with us as we grew up. My siblings and I are so thankful that our mother is not an alcohol consumer at all and that she married a loving, caring man who is probably the best dad in the world! (I might be a little biased here).

So as you might imagine, hearing that my mum had breast cancer threw not only me, but my siblings as well into a sad slump on that cold dreary day back in November of 2004. After a few minutes of her telling me the news, I asked her several simple questions; for example: “When was your last mammogram? “How did that lump feel” “When did you first find the lump?” Then something clicked and my mind went into action mode. I began turning the sadness and anger off and put on my “Let’s Fight Back’ hat on. I started with this: “Mum, we are going to fight back. It won’t be easy, but we will fight!”I said to her; "First,we must change your mindset starting now!” I told her from day one to think only positive thoughts and events in her life and that I will call her and email messages to her every single day. (She didn’t tell me this, but my dad mentioned it to me later that mum excitedly awaited my messages and calls every day during that time.)

I created a schedule for myself

I made the daily phone call of checking in to see how mum felt and how she was doing. Usually, I made the ‘check in’ call sometime in the later afternoon since I lived in Florida, our time difference was only an hour. Note: there was a bit of good vibes surrounding my mother during this time as she had another bright side to think about in her mind. My brother had an upcoming wedding, and it was scheduled for shortly after her diagnosis, so her heart and mind had good distractions from the treatments and its effects. She would experience some thrills, happiness and excitement for that upcoming special day.

Anyway, my phone calls began with asking her how she felt and how was her day. Then we immediately got to work.

Here is my list of positive phone discussion topics:

Today we are thinking about a beautiful place:  the Beach

  • Imagine the sand and water flowing over your feet. Feeling your feet sink into the sand as the water pulls back away.
  • Feel the warm sun on your face and arms.
  • Smile
  • Massage table with warm rocks on your back
  • Wind blowing on my face
  • Feather tickling my neck
  • Relaxing in a hammock
  • Sunshine on your face


Positive word of the day:  Repeat it all day long:

  • Strong
  • Courage
  • Good
  • Easy
  • Energy

My brother's wedding taking place shortly after her diagnosis

  • We would talk about what dress she will be wearing
  • The beautiful wig that she can choose from
  • Talking about seeing all the relatives who will be attending
  • And that I will be playing the piano for my brothers' wedding

Another topic of discussion I had with my mother during her cancer experience, was nutrition and diet intake.

We talked about healthy combinations of food that are most beneficial to cell recovery and nutrient-dense foods. Many times, however, mum, wasn’t able to keep any food down, so she would drink Powerade or Gatorade to regain some nutrient balance.

Some of the foods I suggested to her included:

  • Broccoli and grilled chicken
  • Salads and vegetables with tomatoes; adding seeds or almonds for topping
  • Fruits- such as apples, strawberries, and blueberries
  • Fish and rice and broccoli
  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter, celery and carrots
  • Vegetable (Homemade) Soup and rice
  • Cream of Wheat (Easily digestible)

I continued my routine daily phone calls to her for her entire cancer treatment timeline which was about 6 months of chemo, then another 2 months of radiation. Keep in mind, this is a 61-year-old woman carrying extra weight dealing with vomiting, hair loss, breast removal, fatigue, and much more. Not to mention dealing with the emotional aspect of the loss of her hair and her breast. These are things that are tough for anyone to experience.

Anyway, every evening, I would send an enlightening, positive message with a photo of pretty flowers, a beach, a sunset and other beautiful images, so she would have an email message to open every morning to start her day.

So this kind, wonderful, and sweet human being I call mum, was inspired, encouraged, and got mentally tough in order to fight back when she needed to.  She also has strong faith in God and family which also played a big part in her survival. She did not give up or think negative because I did not allow her to do that.

In conclusion, when you are encountered with a very difficult situation, do your best to never give up or give in mentally or physically!

Surround yourself with positive energy, supportive people, research and educate yourself about your issue. A side note; earlier, I explained a type of nutritional diet to my mother to help in the fight, but these were only a few meal ideas I mentioned as it was very difficult for her to maintain a healthy appetite and keep food down. She did lose some weight while on chemotherapy, and also when she completed her other cancer treatments; she continued her healthy journey by joining Weight Watchers a year later.  She accomplished losing about 16 pounds and she looked and felt great!

Today, as a 13-year cancer survivor and 74 year old, my mother is doing reasonably well.

She has had a few new health issues arise due to her weight and high blood pressure, and other ailments that come with age. She is living with congestive heart failure but restricts her diet to low sodium and tries to be active as she attends a senior swim class 3 times a week. Every day I am thankful for the survival of my mum from this horrible breast cancer disease because so many others are not so lucky, and did their best to fight, but have lost the battle.

Further Reading

My friend's cancer

Do you know someone with cancer?

Changing Eating Habits To Relieve Chemotherapy Nausea Symptoms

The Story Of A Remarkable Lady Diagnosed With Stage 4 Bowel Cancer

Choosing The Best Gifts For Chemo Patients

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