A Phone Call Changes Everything: When Someone You Love Has Cancer

The news came only days before my 25th birthday. I knew, when I picked up the phone, that something was terribly wrong. My mother spoke for a few long minutes of doctor’s visits and abnormal test results. And then she used the word I was least prepared to hear: leukemia.

I didn’t know much about the disease then. Only horrifying stories of young children struck with incurable illness, adults dying quickly after diagnosis, and my grandfather undergoing weekly blood transfusions in the months leading up to his death.

How does a child comfort a parent who’s just been handed a cancer diagnosis? I didn’t know what to say.

My birthday came and went in a fog. I began having panic attacks as the news went from bad to worse – it wasn’t the slow-moving, chronic form of leukemia doctors first suspected. She needed immediate treatment. She began to make plans for six months of chemo, negotiating days off work for the treatment and researching just how much support her insurance would give her.

I’ve always struggled with anxiety, but it became so bad I would spend days at a time holding my breath. Because no matter how she tried to reassure me, no matter how good the news from her doctor was, I couldn’t shake the thought: “How much longer does my mom have left to live?”

What if she never made it to my wedding day? What would I tell my future children, growing up, about a grandmother they would never be able to meet? Would she live to see me publish my first novel? Or would I lose her, unable to ever share any personal milestones with one of the most important people in my life?

My mother was lucky. The doctors found her leukemia early. Ironically, the nearly-lethal blood clot she’d suffered nearly a decade earlier may have saved her life – her prescription blood thinners required her to undergo frequent routine blood work. Her elevated white blood cell counts were found long before she started showing serious symptoms of the disease.

Months after completing chemo, her white cell count looks good. After half a year of watching her fall apart, too exhausted and sick from the treatment to function, she’s finally starting to regain her energy. Only time will tell if she’s truly gone into remission – but doctors don’t expect her to need further treatment for a least a few years. It’s been a year since my mother’s diagnosis, and I have one less missed memory to fret over – she’ll be attending my wedding this month.

Not everyone is so lucky. There are nearly 30,000 people in the US suffering fatal blood conditions, including leukemia – but also sickle cell and lymphoma. For many, their illness has progressed far beyond the point where chemotherapy or other treatments will be effective, leaving them with the urgent need for a bone marrow transplant. And bone marrow matches are notoriously difficult to find.

For my mother, a woman of white European decent, the chances of finding a matching marrow donor would only be about 30% – and even her own racially-mixed children would likely be poor candidates. Unfortunately, for minorities in need of transplants, the chances of finding a donor are much slimmer.

That’s why at Care2, we’re teaming up with Be The Match to encourage people to register as potential bone marrow donors. “Like” Be The Match today and find out how you can make a difference in the lives of people suffering from leukemia – because, as I learned a year ago, you never know when illness will strike those you love. And you never know when you could be the match for someone else’s mother.


Related Stories:

Patients Struggle to Find Bone Marrow Matches

So Who Wants Your Cord Blood?

Court Says It’s Okay to Sell Bone Marrow

Photo credit: Iryna Shpulak via PhotoXpress


KS Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

J.L. A.
JL A5 years ago

Thanks for sharing so that others may learn and cope more easily by knowing they are not alone in what they are feeling.

Ann G.
Ann G5 years ago

Congratulations on your wedding and I am sorry to hear about your mother.

Sharon H.
Sharon H5 years ago

I worked with a guy whose wife started to get bruises on her for no apparent reason. She finally went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Leukemia...the worst kind anyone can get. She died pretty quick after that leaving behind her adoring husband and two darling small daughters. I knew the whole family and they were so loving and kind to each other and everyone else.This disease is a real tragedy and after that I became a bone marrow donor because I never knew when I might need it myself. It's a gift all of us can give...just like our blood. I donate that as many times as I can too.

Georgia Armstrong
Georgia a5 years ago

Many years ago I happily signed up to become a bone marrow donor hoping to be able to help someone in their time of need even if it should prove to be painful. What's a little pain if you prove to be able to save someone's life. Then it was learned due to a medical condition, I was no longer eligible and had to withdraw my name from the roster. I was so sad when here I was so willing to do what I could to help and due to a medical condition, could not, when the world is just full of healthy people who won't sign up to possibly help but would reach out in their time of need to take the bone marrow if they needed it. ALL of you who have not registered, think about it. If you should need this gift, you would happily take it so why not register to give this gift to someone else?????

Arthur Joyce
Arthur Joyce5 years ago

One of the things we can do when our family is struck by this endemic disease is to educate ourselves, in other words engage in some preventative steps for ourselves and our children or grandchildren. Please also do some research on cell phones and other wireless devices. Despite the misleading assurances of the telecommunications industry, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that heavy users of cell phones double their risk of cancer. Children should by no means be allowed to use cell phones, period. Their cancer risk more than quadruples because their immune systems are underdeveloped and their skulls are thinner, so more radiation penetrates. Start here: www.magdahavas.com

Lloyd Sevigny
Lloyd Sevigny5 years ago

I met a neighbor friend of mine and his wife today as I was walking. He told me that he had to have non-invasive heart surgery and that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and given 8 months to live. I will be 70 on April 1st this year but I'm not sure of my friend's age. I am a Tai Chi and Qi Gong instructor and somewhat of a herbalist. I plan to get active with my friend in any way I can and I will be doing research on Oriental techniques for dealing with both his heart problem and his cancer. I hope that I can help to prolong his life or at least make his last days on earth good ones for both him and his wife. Thanks for reading. Sat Nam!

Edgar Zuim
Edgar Zuim5 years ago

Cancer is not a death sentence. Many times the treatment is painful but it is worthwhile. I know many people who are cured, and besides the chemotherapy is much more important love demonstration and of faith. We should never give up a gift that God conceded us, that calls LIFE.

Amie K.
Amie K5 years ago

I can't imagine how awful this must have been! I sincerely hope your mom has many, many years of life yet to come!

Christeen Anderson
Christeen A5 years ago

This is a terrible fight for all involved. Research is imperative. Do what you can to help.