Confusion and sadness follow when breast cancer takes mom

For Miguel (son of a person with breast cancer), the most difficult thing was trying to understand death when he was just eight years old

  • 19/10/2020
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Confusion and sadness follow when breast cancer takes mom
Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women. (Archivo)

Miguel lived in Guadalajara, Jalisco, when, at the age of eight, he had to face his mother's loss due to breast cancer. Lucila, his mother, whom he remembers as a loving and hardworking woman, dedicated her life to teaching. She was a rural teacher.

He was about six years old when his mother entered the room where Miguel and his younger sister watched television. A report about breast cancer in Mexico appeared on the screen, and her mother took the opportunity to tell them that she suffered from this disease. "I have that memory very engraved and how I found out about her cancer," he said in an interview for La Cadera de Eva.

Miguel confesses that the most present memories he has of his mother are those related to cancer treatment. The memory of her physical image is preserved through photographs.

When it comes to breast cancer, conversations, and information focus on patients' health and physical condition. Still, there is a long and complicated process behind the disease that affects entire families and children in particular.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women

In Mexico, breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women, and according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is the most common in women around the world. It represents 16% of all female cancers.

The fight against cancer that thousands of women face each year is a long and exhausting process, in which chemotherapy and medical care are a constant. Facing such a situation within the family circle can bring confusion and sadness for boys and girls.

"I remember that I began to go to the hospital for chemotherapies. There were days when they would leave us with an uncle, an aunt, or an older cousin because my father and mother were going to chemotherapy."

Miguel says that after they had to remove the breast, his mother returned home to recover, but they had to take her back to the hospital one day. The uncertainty was constant.

"I remember there were seasons where my father was absent because he accompanied my mother in chemotherapies."

Being a young child, and with so little information at hand, Miguel states that he was confused:

"I wasn't scared. It was strange for me to see that my mother had to go to the hospital so much. I never really assessed the severity of the disease. One day I realized that it was not normal for her to be in the hospital for so long or that there was always an ambulance outside my house picking her up."

Watching my mother wear out

According to Miguel's experience, the most challenging part for a child in such a situation is to see the process of exhaustion of a sick mother and face the uncertainty of whether or not she will recover.

"Like a bad memory, I have the uncertainty of not knowing what was happening with my mother, of seeing her get sick, seeing how she lost her hair, seeing her thinner, weaker, beginning to see that she no longer got out of bed."

Miguel remembers feeling sad because he did not see his mother or father with the energy to be with his sister and with him, even though they tried to make them see that everything was fine. Cancer care required all the power in them.

The fight against cancer makes family life difficult to manage.

An anecdote that Miguel remembers is that one day, his uncles from the State of Mexico came to visit them and took them to a spa.

"On that occasion, I wanted all of us to go: my mother, my father, my sister, and I, but since my mother could no longer go out, they only sent us. Now that I see it in perspective, I realize that they sent us not because they didn't want to be with us, but because it was a way that my mom and dad had so that my sister and I wouldn't be thinking about those things. Those were one of the saddest things I remember that they weren't as close to me as I would have liked".

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, parenting with cancer presents particular challenges for patients, such as communication, behavior changes in children, role reversal, and difficulty balancing patient needs with children's needs.

The most grueling side of mourning

The last time Miguel saw his mother, it was through a hospital window. As the access to minors was not allowed, Lucila looked out the window to see her children in the distance, shortly after she died.

Just as Miguel remembers, the most arduous part of grief is trying to understand death. Being just eight years old, "it was tough to get used to the idea that my mother had died because I had no idea what that implied."

At 22, Miguel affirms that many things are left behind. Still, he is aware that there were many experiences that he never had regarding the relationship of a son with a mother, which is seen socially as a relationship of great closeness and care.

Gender roles in the family

The idea of mothers is part of social construction through care, the productive and reproductive function of life within the home. Once his mother passed away, a rearrangement of gender roles occurred, and his father was the one who took care of the children and the home:

"My dad was a loving person. Now I realize that it was difficult for him to adopt a usually assigned role to moms. It was not impossible for him because he had no stigmas regarding his masculinity, or I never felt like that. "

The loss of a mother is a difficult situation to face at any time or circumstance. When it comes to a terminal illness like breast cancer, confusion and sadness can wash over the family's youngest members.

Given his personal experience, Miguel says that the essential thing in the face of a loss due to breast cancer is not to forget to be understanding and loving to children:

"It is challenging to try to explain something so complicated to a child. I would tell parents or relatives, who are the ones who can measure what is happening, not to leave them, to give them a lot of love, understanding, and hugs ".

Traducción: Valentina K. Yanes