When Your Mom Has Cancer

I’m not sure if you know (and I’m definitely not sure how mad my mom will be at me for posting this online), but this January, my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer. After her first surgery, they found more on her liver and so she just had part of her liver removed last week. We feel so lucky to know the surgery went well, and are really, pretty sure there is no more cancer inside her body. The hardest part for us as the people who worry is over (not the hardest part for my mom, who still has to recover and then undergo more chemo).

But the cautious relief I can now feel and the hope I have for a recovered and bright future next spring doesn’t diminish the fact that it absolutely fucking sucks for your mom to have cancer.

First of all, fuck cancer. Seriously.

Second of all, moms aren’t supposed to get sick! My mom has said this to me so many times in the past few months as SHE apologizes to ME and comforts ME when I’M feeling sad. I know you’re reading that thinking I must be a horrible daughter, but really all it signifies is that I have the most perfectly loving and selfless mom.

It’s hard for me to think about and talk about all the pain, anxiety, and fear that come with your favorite person in the world getting cancer, but of course we must try. So when Taylor Swift’s mom was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, I wrote her a letter. She’ll probably never see it, but writing it was like therapy, and when I read it now, I feel the comfort of a stronger Alice giving me a hug.

I hope your mom never gets cancer, but of course I know some of yours already have had it or some of you have struggled with a different pain. Here’s my little hug for you if you ever need it, but I hope you never do.

Taylor love,

I am so so sorry that this has happened to you, your mother, your family, and everyone who loves her. I wanted to write you because this January, almost the exact same thing happened to my mother. After finding a mass in her large intestine, we’ve gone through two hospital stays, and this Monday, she’ll start chemo. I know she will be okay, just like you know your mom will be okay (because there is nothing else to think), but it doesn’t make this time any less awful.

I know you and your mom will get so many well wishes and tips and notes of love in the next few weeks. Perhaps the love you get to feel from those who surround you is the only part of cancer that is even remotely okay.

I want to share this quote, something my dear friend pointed me back to when I found out about my mom- an excerpt from About Alice, a love letter/book from Calvin Trillin to his wife Alice (also my name!).

“In 1988, an old friend phoned us to say that his grown daughter, a young woman we’d known since she was a child, had been raped by an intruder. This was a dozen years after Alice had been operated on for lung cancer and among the things that she wrote to our friends’ daughter was that having lung cancer and being raped were comparable only in that both were what she called “realizations of our worst nightmares.” She said that there was some relief at surviving what you might have thought was not survivable. “No one would ever choose to have cancer or to be raped, ” she wrote. “But you don’t get to choose, and it is possible at least to understand what Ernest Becker meant when he said something like ‘To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything,’ or to begin to understand the line in ‘King Lear’- ‘Ripeness is all.’ You might have chosen to become ripe less dramatically or dangerously, but you can still savor ripeness.”

I know you and I will both survive what we thought was not survivable. And on the other side of it, we can savor our ripeness.

Good luck.




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