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Patient tips I was 16 when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Seven things that helped me

I was 16 when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Seven things that helped me

Pearl S. was in high school when her mom, Andrea, was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer in 2020. Pearl learned to navigate the everyday stressors of life, COVID-19 precautions and her mom’s cancer diagnosis. As a recent high school graduate, Pearl is in her freshman year of college, with dreams of becoming a biomedical researcher. Her mom’s own fight with cancer inspired Pearl to pursue medical research as a way to help other families navigating similar diagnoses. Here, Pearl shares what helped her navigate her mom’s diagnosis and treatment.

  1. Remember you’re not alone. Cancer can feel isolating. My mom was diagnosed in 2020, which means we navigated her diagnosis during quarantine. That meant we didn’t leave the house for months to keep my immunocompromised mom as safe as possible. Sometimes, it was tough to see my friends hanging out or going on vacation, but I also remembered how many people were going out of their way to support us. We had people drop off groceries, cards and little things that made us feel loved. Those acts of kindness helped me remember that my mom being OK was the most important thing, and it was worth missing out on a fun day with my friends.
  2. Find someone you can talk to, honestly and openly. Finding that one person you can talk to about the situation is very important. All my friends knew that my mom was battling cancer, but only one of my friends knew every detail. She told me that she just couldn’t wrap her mind around what I was feeling because she hadn’t experienced it firsthand. Even though she may have felt like she never knew what to say, it helped knowing that she was always willing to listen and pray for us.
  3. Be open to the unexpected. I like having a plan, and when things change, it can feel extra stressful. My mom’s diagnosis, her treatment, navigating COVID precautions—all of it was unexpected and hard. The more I fought against our new normal, the worse I felt. It helped me mentally and emotionally to have fewer expectations for what the future would hold and instead learn how to make peace with the plot twists.
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  4. Have grace with your family. Being quarantined in the same house as my family while we also were learning to live with my mom’s diagnosis was hard. We were stuck in the house for many months, which meant we had nothing but time to get to know one another. There wasn’t school or work or a million activities to keep us all going in different directions. Yes, we all learned what made one another frustrated during this time, but we also learned so much that we would have never known before. We actually took the time to get to know one another better.
  5. Determine when and how you’d like news to be shared with you. This obviously depends on a lot of personal factors, but I preferred to be told new information about my mom as it was happening. Be sure to communicate that with your family so they know, too.
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  6. It’s OK if you need a break. Watching my mom go through treatment was hard, and I realized that I needed to take breaks from the stress and worry when I could. For me, it helped to stay busy and to make plans throughout the week. Whether it was talking to a friend or going for a walk, the little mental breaks really helped.
  7. Don’t put your life on hold. When my mom got sick, it was hard to think about the future and what came next for our family. There were times where it felt like I should put my life on hold, but I knew I couldn’t stop living my life. My mom’s diagnosis inspired me to think about the impact I wanted to make, and she’s why I chose to pursue a career in cancer research.
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