Role Reversal: Supporting my mom through her cancer battle

By Laura Collins

My entire life, my mom has been my rock. Sure, most moms are for their children, but my mom is more than my mom. She’s the one person who will never judge my actions, who I run all major decisions past, and who will be there for me whether I need a laugh or a cry. She is my confidant and a human I can trust with anything. She’s my best friend. My rock. And now I have to be hers.

My mom was diagnosed with stage one-grade three breast cancer in October of last year. I had known about the small masses that were found in her regular mammogram and was aware of all the test dates, but I didn’t prepare myself for the final result. The one that would tell us if she was part of the minority. We connected on the phone merely 10 minutes after her doctor’s appointment, and her first words were, “It’s not good news.” I ran from my desk to find a quiet space in the office, not even making it five feet before leaning against a wall and collapsing on the floor in tears.

My mom, the invincible woman, was about to begin a war against her own body.

Since that day, I have been cautious about crying on the phone with her. I’m scared to really show her how draining this cancer journey has been for me because I want to be there for her in the same way she’s always been there for me. In strength. And it isn’t always easy.

Not living at home has been the biggest obstacle for me because I don’t see the slow progression of her illness, but only large differences from one visit to the next. It makes it hard for me to digest the changes and struggles she’s going through. I want to make sure that when I’m around her, which is less often than I would like, that they’re positive interactions.

In March, shortly after her second round of chemotherapy, my mom began to rapidly lose her hair.  My dad, my brother and I crowded into the upstairs bathroom of my childhood home  to shave off the remaining strands of her hair. I struggled with my emotions throughout the entire process. I wanted to cry, to laugh, to be pissed off at the world. In the moment I chose laughter, making jokes to cheer her up and reduce the shock.

And then I cried in bed that night.

The weird part about it is that I do know I can cry comfortably in front of my mom. I know that she would comfort me over the phone, or stroke my hair if I was with her in person. She would put aside her feelings, or even cry with me, and she would make sure I was made to feel safe.

She’s done those things the couple times my poker face has failed me around her. But each time, I’ve been left feeling guilty. Guilty that the one time my mom needed me to be her rock, I didn’t come through for her. That in her moment of weakness, I still require her strength.

No, cancer isn’t easy, even when I’m not the one living with it. I’ve called or texted my mom after her appointments and tests, spent each weekend with her post-lumpectomy, moved my work schedule around to accompany her to an appointment, and I still feel like I haven’t been there enough. In truth, I don’t think I ever will. Because I can’t do the one thing I want to: take it all away.

But despite the havoc cancer has wreaked on her body, it’s had some lasting positives.

I’ve never felt closer to my family than I do now. We embrace the small things in every day, and celebrate moments as a unit. We’ve been through hell together. There’s something about it that has bonded us in a way that will remain, even after this storm has passed.

That, and I’ve never admired my mother more.

Her grace and outlook on life hasn’t wavered as she conquers this war with nothing short of an amazing smile. I’m honoured to call her my best friend, and honoured that she calls me the same.


LauraHeadshot Collins likes people watching from coffee shop windows, drinking wine when she’s forced to cook, and is sure to be caught skipping from meeting to meeting while at work.