My mom died of cancer: how her death changed me forever

A close-up photo of a mother and her adult daughter laughing together.

“In every shared smile and laughter; in every silent prayer answered; in every opportunity that comes your way – may you know Mom is still with you, even though she’s gone.”

| Photo Credit: ©Maria Sbytova / Adobe Stock

Healing after losing a mom to cancer: My personal story

When my mom died of cancer, I was left grappling with a reality that no self-help manual could prepare me for. How do you navigate the caregiving journey when your mom is dying of cancer? There's no playbook, no right or wrong method, as I discovered in my personal experience. The journey is as unique as the individual. After all, we grow up viewing our parents as invincible, as our protectors and caregivers. But what transpires when the roles get reversed?

At the tender age of 20, I was thrust into the role of a nurse for my terminally ill mom. She was suffering from the final stages of nasopharyngeal cancer, and due to financial constraints, we had to forego hospital care. She chose instead to spend her last moments at her childhood home. 

The news of my mom's deteriorating health prompted me to leave college and rush to her side. Fresh from my teenage years, I had little understanding of what I was about to confront, but that was irrelevant. I needed to be with her.

Our initial conversations were fraught with unease and formality. Her declining health had impaired her verbal communication, adding another hurdle. Our discussions felt clumsy because we had never truly engaged in a serious discussion about her health. 

Even as the inevitability of her condition loomed, we desperately tried to evade these uncomfortable conversations. This denial only served to intensify our internal struggles, probably for both of us, within our respective minds. 

The subsequent months were a haze, filled with daily routines of feeding, cleaning, and introspection. Despite the support from my mom's loving family, my introverted self felt isolated, trapped on an island with the overwhelming presence of my cancer-stricken mom. 

One of the most profound takeaways from my caregiving journey was the importance of being present, even in the raw, unfiltered reality of terminal cancer. You bear witness to the devastating impact of the disease that few get to see. It's confronting and uncomfortable. She had shrunk to a mere 70 pounds, her words reduced to incoherent mumbles, unable to maintain basic physical cleanliness. 

When the cancer invaded her brain, she could no longer recognize me. I was merely a caregiver in her eyes, no longer her daughter. And who was she to me? A patient? Was she still my mom? The role reversal was a bewildering and harrowing experience. 

With speech no longer serving as our bridge, we had to discover another form of communication. Touch became our lifeline, our method of expressing affection. I discovered the monumental power held within a simple touch. 

A gentle squeeze or caress of the hand reconnected us, reminding me of happier times, of home. Love found a way to reach out, transcending everything, even cancer.

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Saying goodbye to my mom

The moment my mom died of cancer, I felt an indescribable void creep into my life. We had spent the last weeks of her life together, saying our prolonged goodbyes, preparing each other for the inevitable. I remember the last evening we spent together before the cancer fully invaded her brain, she seemed so frail and yet, was exuding an unyielding strength. We were sitting on her porch, wrapped in blankets, surrounded by the tender whispers of the evening. She turned to me, her eyes filled with a profound understanding of life, and said, "I'm not afraid to die. I've lived a fulfilling life and now it's your turn. Remember, I'm always with you, my brave girl." 

After her inevitable death, every item around the house served as a stark reminder of her absence. Her favorite book still lay open on the bedside table, her reading glasses perched on the top. I realized that she had left behind more than just memories, she had left behind life lessons. Every corner of the house whispered words of wisdom and stories of resilience. Her existence had filled up more than our house. It had filled our hearts, our lives, and even now, it filled our days with echoes of her teachings. 

"Losing a parent to cancer can have a significant impact on a person's mental health."


A decade since my mom died of cancer: life lessons

It has been a decade since my mom died of cancer, yet her memory lingers, more vibrant than ever. Her death was undeniably heart-wrenching, but it was interlaced with moments of profound wisdom. Even in her fragile state, my mom was imparting invaluable life lessons, unwittingly arming me with the tools to navigate the complexities of adulthood. These lessons have since become both my shield and my sword in this battlefield called life.

Keep fighting

When her consciousness wavered, the familiar world around her became increasingly alien. I found it challenging to reconcile the image of the woman before me with the mother I had always known. Yet, in fleeting moments, I would catch a glimmer of the woman who once was. My mom, vibrant and fierce, refused to be reduced to being just a cancer patient. She was a warrior, unyielding in the face of any battle, no matter its magnitude. 

It’s okay to be angry sometimes

Donning a mask of courage, I believed, was my sole responsibility. I've always been more of a silent observer, seldom letting my anger surface, a trait that can often lead to internal turmoil. However, my mom, who died of cancer, bore a contrasting persona. Even in the throes of her darkest days, she wasn't afraid to express her anger. Her voice would ricochet off the walls, her rosary would become an object of her frustration, and she'd allow her fury to take the reins. Yet, once the storm of her emotions had passed, we'd find ourselves in the peaceful aftermath, reconnected and stronger than before.

There can be beauty in pain

In the throes of the most challenging moments, I often found myself resorting to emotional detachment as a coping mechanism. But in retreating into my shell, I was unintentionally distancing myself from the ephemeral, yet profound moments unfolding before my very eyes. Despite being ensnared by the unyielding grip of pain on her deathbed, she was still there with me. My mom, my rock, my constant in an ever-changing world, was there. As the path of my life meandered, it dawned on me just how invaluable and heartrendingly beautiful that experience was when my mom died of cancer.

Be greater than what you suffer

Perhaps this nugget of wisdom was gleaned from Gwen Stacy, yet I have a hunch that my mom would have shared similar sentiments. It's all too easy to become ensnared in the throes of life's torment, allowing the radiant instances of joy to fade into obscurity. The narrative of my mom's life, however, isn't solely defined by her cancer. Her existence was brimming with vitality, ardor, and boundless enthusiasm. The reduction of her invaluable life to mere moments of sorrow is an injustice I refuse to commit.

Hold on to each other: touch matters

The bond between a parent and child is a potent force, an indestructible connection that carries us through life's most challenging trials. This undeniable truth became my lifeline when my mom died of cancer.

At the time, I was on the cusp of adulthood, a naive young girl just beginning to understand the complexities of life. My mom, on the other hand, was a seasoned woman standing at the precipice of her life's conclusion. We clung to each other, two souls intertwined in a dance of support, sustenance, and profound love. This bond, this connection, this human touch, was our buoy in the stormy seas of her illness. It kept us afloat then, and it continues to sustain me now, even in her absence. 

The lessons I learned from this experience of touch and human interconnectedness are invaluable. They serve as a constant reminder of the strength that comes from love and the indomitable spirit of human resilience. It is a testment to the enduring legacy left behind by my mom.

The power of self-care and therapy in the healing process

The power of self-care and therapy is immense in the healing process, especially when you are dealing with the loss of someone as close as your mother. My mom died of cancer, leaving a gaping void in my life. Yet it was through this painful journey of loss that I learned the importance of self-care and therapy from integrated healthcare in getting past the grief and starting to heal. Self-care isn't simply about pampering yourself; it's about recognizing your need for rest and rejuvenation, allowing yourself to grieve, and taking time to refocus your mind and body. It involves both physical and mental activities, such as regular exercise, healthy eating, meditation, and even taking up a hobby.

Therapy, on the other hand, provides a safe and supportive environment to express your feelings and thoughts. Speaking with a professional can help you navigate the complex emotions that come with grief, offering techniques and strategies to cope with them effectively. One of the key aspects of therapy is the realization that you're not alone in your journey. Many others have experienced similar losses and have found ways to move forward. A good therapist can guide you through this process, helping you to find your unique path to healing.

"Her life, her struggle, her courage - they all became a beacon guiding me through the darkest nights, the fiercest storms. She left more than a memory, she left a legacy."

Grief never goes away, nor does parental love

Indeed, grief may linger like an unwelcome guest, steadfastly by your side as you navigate the labyrinth of life. Yet, it's essential to remember that those we've lost, including a mom who died of cancer, continue to be our companions in a different sense. Their profound influence, if you permit it, radiates through every facet of your existence. 

Yes, the anguish may persist, a constant reminder of the void their departure has left. But isn't it equally true that their love, their indomitable spirit, remains with us? Isn't it their love that fuels our resilience, our capacity to confront, to endure, to heal.


When my mom died of cancer, a gaping void was left behind. A chasm that no words could fill, no other relationship could replenish. But over time, I realized she left behind more than just memories - she left lessons, resilience, and an undying spirit.