When Your Mom Gets Really Bad Cancer

My mother and I do not have the closest of relationships. We never have been nor will we ever be the best of friends, and that’s fine. Not everyone is meant to be best friends with their parents, just as everyone isn’t best friends with their siblings or their cousins or their old grade-school friend. To be a best friend takes a certain level of similarity, and my mother and I have quite different personalities and world views.


Seven days ago, my mom told me she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. If you don’t know, pancreatic is one of the most deadly forms of cancer. She hasn’t been staged yet, nor has a biopsy confirmed what the CT scan showed, but signs point to advanced cancer. Statistically, most people with this diagnosis live less than a year. Statistics mean very little, though.

I felt pretty numb upon hearing the news. I still do. I’ve also cried, lain awake at night with my mind racing, and spent hours obsessively using Dr. Google. I imagine all those symptoms are similar or worse for my mom. She finds comfort in her evangelical Christian belief that her life (and death) is in God’s hands. My practice of Zen lends me comfort through a radical acceptance of what is. We share a belief that existence doesn’t end at death; it just changes. There’s a middle ground if we can divorce ourselves from semantics.

There is a myth that when you know someone is most likely dying sooner rather than later, you push all the BS aside and in a moment of blazing clarity see what’s really important. This is not my experience. For many years, I have been sorting through my emotions, my past, my tainted memories, and my BS in order to see things for what they are—to leave behind my anger with myself, my mother, and so many other people and circumstances. To leave the past in the past as much as I can in each moment.

I assume this process will be one of my life’s works. My mother’s diagnosis doesn’t change that. It signals no regrets for wasted time. It sheds no light on a magical path to perfect harmony with my mother. It’s just a shitty diagnosis. Life is beauty. Life is suffering. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

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