Posted by: Kathy | March 24, 2011

How Cancer and Death Changed My Life

For over 2 years, I have been trying to heal from losing my mom to pancreatic cancer. It’s been a long, slow process that has been filled with many different emotions. My feelings can change from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. I have healed in some ways and will continue to heal, but I am still haunted at times by what happened and I will always miss my mom.

My mom was the first person I lost whose death I wasn’t expecting. Yes, she had a very deadly form of cancer, and after her last hospitalization we knew she wasn’t going to beat this cancer. But unlike my grandparents, who were in their 80s and 90s and had various illnesses when they died, my mom’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer followed by her death at age 65 was completely unexpected.

Cancer scares me. Day by day, pancreatic cancer took a piece of my vibrant and healthy mom, replacing that little hole with destruction and pain. My mom lived for 349 days after her diagnosis, and from what I’ve read, this is a long time for patients with pancreatic cancer. I often wonder how long this disease silently lurked in her body, stealing little pieces of her life without anyone knowing. On day 348, death became the only way my mom could escape what she had became, a frail person who was unable to do most of the things she loved in life. Death became the only way for her to escape the tremendous pain she had endured without complaint.

Death scares me too. Not because of where I will end up, but in the way it may affect my loved ones. How my death will affect them depends on how and when I die. My mom’s death was devastating for me. I am not the same person I was before she died. What bothers me the most about death is that one minute someone is here, the next they are gone…forever. And no matter if you were expecting that person’s death or not, it leaves a hole in life that nothing else can fill. My mom’s death left a huge abyss in my life. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, it wasn’t until after her death that I realized just how much my mom meant to me and the impact she had had on my life and who I had become in so many ways. I can’t thank her enough for all that she did for me and for what she did for my kids.

I was truly blessed to have a kind and loving mother, one who cared about me and was always there to help. I miss her presence in my life and probably always will. I try to fill the hole that pancreatic cancer and my mom’s death created in my life with memories and thoughts of my mom. But it’s just not the same.

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Responses

  1. I lost my mum two months ago to cancer. I miss her so much and finding it very difficult to deal with everyday life.
    My husband seems moody & withdrawn from me and he works away. We having trying to get pregnant for four years also. So I am alone a lot.
    My dad & brother live a long distance away. I talk to my dad every couple of days but barely speak to my brother. No problems there, we aren’t that close because of six years age difference & he joined the army when I was nine years old.
    I don’t have many friends to talk to, as most are a lot younger than me and can’t relate.
    I am not sure what I am trying say. I just feel so alone without my mum.
    Sorry I can’t write anymore, too many tears. Thanks for listening.

    • Hi Chanelle: I’m sorry you lost your mom and also feel so alone. Many of my friends could not relate to what I was going through, and one even said some very hurtful things about how I was dealing with my mom’s death. I’ve found a great family here with my blog of people who understand what I am going through and do not judge. Please know that you are not alone in what you are feeling. My cyber friends have provided me more support than ones who live right down the street and have helped me to heal. Please feel free to email me (peace4me521@yahoo.com) if you ever want to talk. There are also grief support groups and I talked to my pastor. You shouldn’t have to deal with your grief alone. I wish you all the best. Take care.

      • Kathy, you are wonderful and have helped so many people. You are so correct in that sometimes those who you think and expect to be supportive are not so at all. Blogs, such as this one, have really helped me in dealing with my feelings surrounding my Mom’s death.

        Chanelle, I first found Kathy’s blog a month after my mom died when I spent my days feeling lost and empty walking through a constant cloud of grief. It is such a strange and scary feeling when it first first happens. It doesn’t seem real. Time makes the feelings a little easier, but I suspect the loss to remain with us for a life time.

        I read once that when you are first dealing with grief you are stepping through the pain over and over. As time marches on, you begin to learn to step around it, but it is always there.
        God bless..

      • Thank you Wendie. You’re right in that time does make things a little easier, but we never forget the ones we’ve lost. Also, for those of us who’ve lost loved ones to a disease like cancer, the day, weeks and months leading up to their death can be just as painful as death itself. I felt relief the day my mom died because she was not in pain anymore, but then I missed her. It’s confusing, painful, and very hard to get through. I grieved first for my mom’s illness and then for her death. Then I started healing not only from the loss of my mom, but also all that we went through during my mom’s illness. It’s 2 levels of grief and healing, if that makes sense. I never realized that I was also healing from my mom’s illness until about 6 months ago. Thank you for taking the time to comment! Take care.

  2. I’m glad you created this blog as I lost my mom recently and obviously she is on my mind, that’s how I found your site. I will say a prayer for anyone who is going through this now.

    I also lost my mom on Oct 1st 2012 to breast cancer which spread to her pancreas/abdomen, she just turned 80. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong until it was too late. My mother suffered a great deal, she was sick every day and couldn’t eat – the only thing I wanted was for someone to relieve her of her suffering but that didn’t happen. Mom lived with me the last few years and we were close. I can say that for me, I understand everyone has their time, some get more time here than others, and I am at peace with my mom transitioning to a life with God, but the last 3 months of her life were spent in a hospital and it was the hardest thing for me to see her suffering so, it affected me very deeply.

    The night she passed away I knew it would be soon, I went home to get a little sleep so I could be back, but I fell asleep on the couch and had a dream (which I never do or at least remember). My mom came out walking above me, like on a 2nd floor balcony except no balcony, I could see all of her clear as day walking above, and walking behind her was my most beloved dog Spuddy who passed away 3 years earlier. I told her when she was in the hospital that when she made it to heaven to pet them (I used to talk to her but I wasn’t sure she could even hear me) the next thing I know I was immediately awoken by the phone, it was 1:10 AM and I knew instantly what that phone call was before I picked it up, the hospital called to tell me she had just passed away. I believe my mom came to me in my dream as soon as she passed on and wanted to let me know she was ok as she knew how difficult this was on me too as we really have no other close family, I work full-time, take care of the house, my dogs and her. I cannot express how grateful I am for that dream and that she let me know she made it to heaven. I can tell you that even though we were already close, that experience connected us in a way I cannot describe.

    I am profoundly changed – the suffering, the very close connection to her especially through the last 3 months, her passing on. I find that my views have definitely changed on what’s most important in life, in helping others, and in renewing my faith in God in a way I did not have before. I miss her, and I am grateful for having had her in my life as long as I did. I am slowly beginning to move forward, my mom would want me to do that…sometimes good days, sometimes sad.

    • Hi Julie: I am so sorry you lost your mom to cancer. It is a devastating disease that affects too many. I’m glad your mom came to you to let you know she is ok. I believe my mom sent me a dream to let me know she was at peace. I can still remember every detail of that dream (see post Strange Dream, July 10, 2011), even though I never remember my dreams and I rarely dream about my mom. What I remember most about this dream now is the warm golden glow of peace. I know it was my mom’s way of letting me know she was ok and wanted me to be at peace. My mom’s death made me realize the true importance of family, and I too renewed my faith. I still miss my mom after 4 years, but I know she watches over her family. As you begin to move forward, remember you are not alone in your journey of healing. I wish peace. Take care.

  3. Thank you Kathy for your kind and supportive response. I have started seeing a therapist (since my friends were tired of me constantly talking about my mom) and it seems to be helping. Still not a day goes by that I don’t cry. I just cannot believe she is gone. It all happened so fast. They say “time heals all wounds”. I just hope “they” are right.

    Thanks again,
    Elisa

  4. I lost my mom just one week ago to a rare form of cancer called cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer). My mom was just 67. She was vibrant and active. My mom loved life, and even after learning of the poor prognosis and given just 4 to 6 months to live, she was determined to fight and she fought her cancer til the end, which took her life seven months later. No one will ever fill the gaping hole in my heart and in my life that has been left by my mother’s death. She was the strongest woman I will ever know, she had the kindest heart and such a presence. She would enter a room and it would come alive. She was my best friend, and best friend to all who knew her. She helped me raise my 2 children who are now 20 and 18 yrs old and they are better people because of her loving and nurturing nature. But the pain I feel is immense. I want my mother back. Watching her deteriorate was excruciating. The day she was diagnosed she had just left work teaching and running after nursery school children. Who could have known she was so sick? I miss her so much. I hear her talking to me all the time. “pick up that piece of trash on the floor” “wipe those cobwebs from the ceiling”. Little things I would never notice and would not have bothered me before. I never thought I would lose my mom so soon. She and I thought she would be a golden girl living in Florida with all the other old ladies. Nobody in our family dies of cancer. They live til their 80’s and 90’s and die of heart attacks. But here I am 41 and without my mother, my best friend, my kid’s Nana, and I can’t bear it. I’m trying to go through her financial accts and life insurance and I don’t want to. I want her here. I want to hug her and hold her hand and talk about my kids, the weather, laugh with her. I want to do anything but what I am having to do now. I have 3 sisters, and seeing them go through my mom’s things is killing me. They haven’t been here all the while she was sick. I was. But my mom needed all of us during this horrible ordeal. My part was to take care of her house and her cats and pay the household bills, to keep things in order until she came home after receiving treatment 2000 miles away in LA because I had to stay. I had 2 children to care for. My son was a senior in high school and about to graduate and I had a job I needed to support my family, but my sisters had the luxury of leaving their jobs and going to LA with my mom, and so they got to spend precious time with my mom and help her through chemo and know what was happening day to day while I was left, for the most part, in the dark thinking she was winning the battle and the chemo was working. Four months went by before I saw my mom again. She was in the hospital because the tumors had grown and blocked her bile ducts (this was also when they had finally diagnosed the type of cancer she had) She was so jaundiced and fraile. I broke down and cried in her arms. I saw in one instant the progression of this terrible disease. When my mom left home she was strong, energetic and appeared healthy. For the next 2 months I went back and forth to be with her as much as possible. She said she felt bad because I had to see the worst of it. I told her it was an honor to care for her even until the end. Now all I have are memories and a house full of her things, which I still feel a duty to protect. I could go on forever about how much I love and need her, but I don’t know how to deal with the sadness I feel. I pray for everyone out there that has had to go through this and who may be going through it now. God bless.

    • Hi Elisa: I’m sorry about the loss of your mom and apologize that it has taken me awhile to respond to your comment. I can relate to so much of what you wrote, especially your mom’s love for your kids. The biggest regret my mom had about dying was leaving my kids. Going through everything that’s left is hard. I have some of my mom’s clothes and other things that were important to her. Fortunately, my dad handled a lot of the details of my mom’s death. Even after almost 3 years, sometimes it’s still hard to look at the stuff I have that belonged to my mom and know that it’s now mine because she is not coming back. Adjusting to the loss of such an important person, one who held a big place in your life, seems nearly impossible. For the longest time I just coped and got by the best I could, and then I started to heal little by little, and finally I accepted that my mom is gone. But there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her or wish that she was still here with us. I will always miss her. I wish you the best as you go through the journey of grieiving and healing. Always know that you are not alone. Take care and God bless. ~ Kathy

  5. I also lost my mom on the same day as Wendie, who is my sister.

    Death is a difficult thing to process. My mom struggled so vailantly even though at times she was terrified of the disease. She sometimes expressed feelings of hopelessness, overwhelming anxiety and depression and, at one point near the beginning of the onset of the cancer, contemplated suicide. All of this culminated in a single event we all knew would arrive: the end of her life. The product of death is emptiness, a hole that cannot be filled as it is impossible to replace the thing it has taken.

    Yet despite all of this – my mom’s suffering, her fear and our grief – it was the last week of my mom’s life that I perhaps miss most. In the last week of her life I witnessed a profound change wash over my mom’s entire being – her body, soul and spirit – in that she made peace with death and, in so doing, relegated the cancer to a place of irrelevance. She was, in a word, finished with the cancer. My mom had time to reflect on the fact that nobody was going to deliver a eulogy for this ugly disease that invaded her body and her home. Nobody would remember the cancer, but we would all mourn for her. For the first time since cancer arrived, she was free to embrace her family without giving the cancer a thought – free to hug and kiss us, tell us she loved us, cry with us, and the most the cancer could do was stare bitterly in the corner like some uninvited guest to a celebration so beautiful that we will all talk about it for years.

    I know my mom is in heaven. The product of death, then, must be more than loss and emptiness. Death enabled my mom to administer the last round of treatment which finally gave my mom the power over the disease.

    That last week was so special to me – to all us. I will miss her always and I hope one day I will be blessed to see her again.

    • Hi Bobby: As I said to your sister, I am sorry for your loss. The entire time my mom was sick, I only heard her cry once. I cried all the time, but tried to do so in private. Despite the cancer, we continued with life as usual, until my mom was too sick to do all that she used to. Those 349 days from her diagnosis to her death were probably the closest I ever was to my mom. We talked every day, even if it was just to say hi, how are things going. But we never really talked about my mom dying. The last time she was in the hospital, she told me she was scared and what she regretted most about dying was leaving my kids. I promised my mom that I’d keep her memory alive for them. I believe in the end she accepted that she was going to die, made peace with death. Now she is in Heaven, that I am sure of, and I know one day I will see her again. I’m glad your mom was able to free herself of the cancer in a way and make the most of life, leaving you with incredible memories. My mom’s death left a huge hole in my life, one that no one else will ever fill. I miss her and will always love her. Remember the good times when you’re feeling down. That is something I didn’t do for the longest time and almost let grief get the best of me. Slowly I am moving forward. Take care of yourself. Your mom will always be in your heart. ~ Kathy

  6. Cancer is the most scary word in our vocabulary. My mother passed away at the young age of 67 from ovarian cancer. She is the first person whom I think about when I wake up, and the last person I think about before I go to sleep.
    When I found out my mom had cancer I was shocked and in denial that this terrible disease was going to take her one day in the near future.
    My mom, whom was in better shape and health then alot of 30 year olds, who could ride her bike 28 km per day, who could pick up a 40lb bag of water softener salt and throw it over her shoulder without a second thought., no my mom was going to beat this. Boy, what denial I was in.
    I do not enjoy the things I used to since my mom was diagonsed, and since she has passed on, they dont mean anything anymore, nor do I enjoy them.
    Yes cancer sucks when it affects somebody whom means the world to you. Life will never be the same.

    • Hi Robin: I’m sorry for your loss. When my mom first died, I was the same way. She was the first thing I thought of each day and the last thought I had at night, especially since I hoped to see her in my dreams. Although this is something that rarely happens. I don’t see you as being in denial, I look at it as hope. Hope that your mom was strong enough to beat the cancer. From the moment I heard the words pancreatic cancer, I was so scared that my mom would die, and held onto hope for the longest time since, like your mom, my mom was in good health, except for the cancer. My mom held onto hope too, as her dream was to dance at her grandson’s wedding (he was only 9 years old). After almost 4 years, I have learned to enjoy life again because it’s what my mom would have wanted. My kids are also a big part of this. I could not let myself be sucked in by the overwhelming grief because they deserved a mom who is invested in them. You’re right, life will never be the same. Mine isn’t, and life isn’t the same for my kids, even my daughter who was only two and a half when my mom died. They lost a wonderful and loving grandmother. But I’ve learned to adjust and move forward the best that I can. I’m here for you. Take care ~ Kathy

  7. I lost my mother to ovarian cancer on August 17th, 2011. I found this article extremely moving and captures everything I feel. I especially like what you wrote about your mother’s death being unexpected. Although, she had cancer and you knew that she would die from it soon, dying at 65 is unexpected.
    My mom died at 67. I think about her constantly, and especially even more now than during the first couple of weeks following her death. Now that the reality of it has set in, I am constantly thinking about her. I think about her suffering. I think about how, if we tried a little harder, we could have maybe saved her. I think about that last doctor’s appt, the chemotherapy, the last conversations I had with her. The list goes on.
    Every time I go to the house I grew up in to visit my father, I feel the pain all over again, and I just cannot believe that cancer happened to her, and I just cannot believe she is gone.
    I am sorry for everyone who has ever been affected by the devastation of cancer.

    • Hi Wendie: I’m so sorry for your loss. These days, dying when you’re in your 60s is considered young, especially when both of my mom’s parents lived to age 92 and she had a great aunt live to 93. Even though it’s been almost 3 years since my mom died, not a day goes by that I don’t think of her in some way. There are so many conversations I wish I had had with her. I don’t know why I waited, and then it was too late, she wasn’t all there at times at the end. My dad lives in the house we grew up in. At first, every time I went, I’d expect to see my mom, sitting at the kitchen table or making dinner. But slowly, very, very slowly, I have learned to accept her death. I’ve watched her things be replaced by someone else’s, but it is what my mom would have wanted. To me, recovering completely from a death like this doesn’t happen. It’s about grieving for what you lost, healing the best you can, and acceptance, all in your own time. I can relate to so much of what you wrote. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I wish you all the best. ~Kathy

  8. Kathy,
    I just came upon your blog. My sister’s husband has stage IV PC, spread to his liver, kidneys and now in his hip bone. The chemo has ended and hospice just visited yesterday to get them acquainted. My brother-in-law is 56 years old. He has lost 50 lbs in 3 months. It is very sad for all of us. I feel so helpless. My sister is numb and now very somber. I wish I could do something for her and my brother-in-law but I am at a loss of what I can do.
    I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you peace and healing. Thank you for blogging so that others can feel somehow like we are in this together.

  9. Kathy:

    I keep checking back to read your blog on a regular basis. Like you, I know that I am never going to be the same. And no one is ever going to love me like my Mom did. Sometimes the loneliness is overwhelming, and even with my sisters, a dear aunt, three daughters and my friends around, none of them can fill the hole in my heart left by my Mom’s death.

    Thanks for continuing to write about your experience. I am still blogging about my feelings as well. Sharing with others seems to help. I feel that our mothers are around us in spirit, and I believe that our only choice is to learn how to connect with them in new ways. It isn’t everything, but it is something. Take care of yourself and keep writing!


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