There are people who believe that young actors on a TV series have it easy and that they never have a tough moment in their lives – not a single trial or obstacle. I don’t blame the people who think this because we, as young actors, spend our days making families laugh and using smiley face emoticons in nearly every tweet we send. Underneath the carefree façade, you may be surprised to know that some of us actually do have to face some tribulations.
In March 1995, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV mammary ductal cell carcinoma, also known as breast cancer, and required a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy, breast surgery and many radiation sessions. While my mother was in isolation, the doctors told her to call her family because they didn’t expect her to be there the next day. My mom has told me that one of her worst fears upon hearing this news was that her younger children wouldn’t remember her – I was 2 years old at the time and my brothers were 5, 7, and 11.
Miraculously, my mother made it through.
Her doctors said it defied their understanding of medicine. Of course, our entire family was relieved and grateful beyond measure. However, as any cancer survivor knows, every check-up after recovery is a nerve-racking experience. Every time the results came back clear, a sense of reprieve washed over us all.
When she finally reached the 15 year cancer-free mark, I doubt it crossed any of our minds that her cancer would return. But it did.
In February 2010, my mother had sinus surgery and her doctors found breast cancer cells in her sinuses. After several scans, they also found cancer in her skull, lymph nodes, ribs, sternum, thoracic and lumbar spine and pelvis.
And just a few weeks ago, they found cancer in my mother’s brain and she has started another round of chemotherapy for the cancer in the rest of her body.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for my mother to tolerate all she has gone through and continues to go through – the pain, the worry and the battle. She wakes up every day hurting and goes to sleep hurting even more. My mother, the constant optimist and effervescent, sprightly woman I know her to be, is caged along with this hideous beast they call cancer.
Cancer takes its toll on the patient’s whole family. I went into a state of shock when I learned her cancer had returned. Of course, I grew up knowing her medical history but I was so young when she was first diagnosed that my age had protected me from really knowing what this meant. But not this time.
When the shock faded, all I felt was anger. I was irritable and easily agitated. I was mad that my mother had to go through such a terrible thing again. I was confused as to how it could come back after 15 years of living cancer-free and perplexed that the doctors hadn’t found it sooner.
When I’m around my mom, I try to act like nothing’s wrong. She does a great job of that herself. She can barely stand, yet she gets up before me in the morning so that she can make me a mug of hot chocolate. I don’t know how she does it, but she claims it’s what makes her happy.
The protective wall I’ve created for myself does come down sometimes. I have so many questions, but I’m scared of the answers, so I tend to avoid them. I feel like if I don’t know the answers, then they somehow aren’t real.
I am thankful that I’ve recently been able to discuss my mother’s cancer with her more openly. Though the conversation may be difficult, I understand how important it is to have that opportunity to discuss this with her because it provides a better sense of understanding and compassion.
If you are a young person struggling with a parent’s cancer, I recommend talking to them as much or as little as they are able. You don’t want to make your parent uncomfortable, but give them the chance to say everything they feel they need to say. Sometimes, parents can have a difficult time judging just how much information you may or may not want to know. After all, you are their child, and parents always put their children’s emotions before their own.
If you’re reading this and you were one of those people who thought, “young actors have perfect lives,” I hope that you will think differently now. We do have challenges. We do cry. We are experiencing difficult things. But we will continue to smile and crack jokes because, as entertainers, even if we’re privately struggling with painful trials, our job is to make others forget theirs.