What it’s like when a parent is diagnosed with cancer

November 28, 2017

“I don’t remember my mom ever being sick,” Maddie Buyers said. “It’s weird to all the sudden realize that your mom can’t take care of you the way she used to.”

Last year, her mom found out she had Stage III Breast Cancer.

Debbie Buyers was one of the estimated 1,685,210 people diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States in 2016. Within that year, Buyers had a double mastectomy, four months of chemotherapy, two months of radiation and a breast reconstruction surgery.

“It’s weird because cancer had become so normal,” she said. “When my uncle and my best friend’s dad died from cancer, it was awful but I was a little more removed. It’s different now that it’s my mom.”

During that time, Maddie was finishing her sophomore year at American University in Washington, D.C., a seven-hour drive from her home in Buffalo, New York. They spent the summer together, and her mom continued treatment when Maddie left that fall for her semester abroad in London, England.

“It was really hard being away at school while my mom went through treatment,” Maddie said. “I felt really removed from it all. I knew what was happening, but because I wasn’t there I didn’t have to think about it as much. I felt really guilty about that.”

For her, being home could be just as hard. Some of the process became routine. Maddie drove her mom to appointments and sat with her during chemo in the breast cancer wing of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo.  Other components were more difficult.

“My mom loved being busy, but with chemo, you’re tired all the time and can’t do as much,” she said. “Losing her hair was the worst because that’s what upset her the most. When you have cancer, some of the symptoms aren’t as obvious and you don’t have to tell people. When you lose your hair, everyone knows. You can see the pity in their eyes, and it was really hard to see my mom go through that.”

While her mom is now in remission, her mom’s breast cancer has changed them both profoundly. After learning to cope with the stress of being a caregiver to her mother, she has channeled this experience into a desire to take action against cancer. Maddie Buyers is now a communications intern at the Cancer Support Community in Washington, D.C., and she works every day to make help families and individuals get through a cancer diagnosis.