Audrey was young when her mother, Lisa, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She often went with her mom to medical appointments, where she witnessed firsthand how difficult it can be to watch someone you love fight this disease.
“I spent most of my life with my mom having cancer and going to hospitals and doctor’s appointments,” says Audrey, who recalls feeling terrified about having a parent with such a serious illness. “There’s no instruction manual for being the daughter of someone who’s ill,” she notes.
Audrey also remembers feeling angry that someone like her mom, who was so loving and invested in her children’s happiness and success, would have to go through this experience. She also wondered whether she herself might develop breast cancer one day.
“I started contemplating my own mortality in a lot of ways, thinking about in very real terms, how am I gonna die,” says Audrey, “because my mother was diagnosed when she was very young, and that could definitely mean that I might experience the same thing.”
A Daughter’s View of Her Mother’s Grit, Fortitude, and Love
Through it all, Audrey, like all children, learned valuable lessons from watching the example her mom set, such as how to confront daunting and difficult challenges with determination and strength.
“I have such a vivid memory of all the times [I went] to the doctor with my mom and she’d have her notepad and questions, and she was prepared,” she recalls. Lisa was always ready to ask follow-up questions — and to keep asking until she was satisfied that she had the answers she needed.
“That’s something that I learned just by watching my mother. I think it’s a really important practice,” Audrey says.
Audrey also learned from her mom how to celebrate “unexpected victories,” such as good scan results, and balance those with the reality of “bad days.”
Most of all, her mom was always there for her children, despite her diagnosis. “Although I grew up with a parent who was sick, that never stopped her from being the mother that she was, that she is, and that she continues to be,” Audrey marvels.
A Mother’s Love and Determination
Lisa, for her part, was set on doing everything she could to be there for all four of her children, despite her breast cancer diagnosis. “I wanted to give my children everything that I had, to give them the best start in life,” she says. “I was that mom who had to be at everything. I couldn’t let the cancer stop me from doing those things, because that was what was important to me.”
Lisa was open and honest about her diagnosis, though she does express some concern that this might have caused them to be fearful — for example, about getting sick themselves one day. “I’ve never hidden the things that were going on with my cancer. I felt like it was necessary for them to know,” she says. Lisa notes that the possibility of her children developing cancer one day is “a reality” and that this awareness will make it more likely that they’ll be vigilant about seeking help if they suspect something is wrong.
This interview took place in February 2021.
Update: Sadly, Lisa Thompson passed away in November 2021 at the age of 57, having lived 16 years as a breast cancer survivor and thriver with determination, love, and dedication to her children.
4 Ways to Support a Family Member Who Has Been Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
When a loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer, it can have an impact on the entire family. It can also be difficult to know what to say or how to help. This can be particularly challenging when the person with breast cancer is a parent — the person who’s always been there to support you.
If your mom or someone else you love has been diagnosed with breast cancer, here are some ways you may be able to help.
- Accompany them to medical appointments and take notes. Doctors will share important medical information and instructions at these appointments, so having another set of ears to help keep track of what was said during appointments will be helpful.
- Do some research of your own. Learn what type of breast cancer your family member has, as well as their treatment options. Knowing some important facts about their diagnosis can help you keep up with — and, if necessary, make informed decisions about — their care.
- Be there to listen or help in any other way they may need. Your loved one may need you to listen to them talk about their feelings or provide practical support, such as driving them to medical appointments, cooking, or cleaning the house. Ask them how you can help, and give them what they ask for, advises the American Cancer Society (ACS).
- Get the support you need. When someone you love has breast cancer, you yourself will likely deal with strong emotions, such as grief, anger, and fear, notes the Susan G. Komen organization. To address your feelings, they suggest connecting with others who have a family member with cancer. The ACS also offers essential info and tips on how caregivers can take care of themselves as well as provide care and support for their loved one with cancer.