My mom died of cancer: life lessons I learned from being her caregiver

by Cha Miñoza

Her mom died of cancer. Vintage black and white image of a young daughter and mother facing each other. Both of them have rollers in their hair. They are looking at each other and smiling. They are happy.
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There's an indestructible bond between parent and child, and this is what helped me survive. I was a naive young girl at the prelude of my adulthood, and my mom was a seasoned woman at the epilogue of her life.

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©zoeytoja / Adobe Stock

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My mom died of cancer. How do you care for your mom when she is dying? No self-help manual can prepare you for this kind of duty. But there’s also no right or wrong way. We grow up seeing our parents as superheroes; they nurture us with love, protect us from harm and tend to our every need. But what happens when the roles get reversed?

I was only 20 years old when I was tasked with the daunting responsibility of being a nurse to my terminally ill mother. She was in her last stages of nasopharyngeal cancer, and because we couldn’t afford hospital care and treatments, she opted to live out her final months in her childhood home in the province.

When I found out that my mom’s condition was getting worse, I quit college and packed up to be with her. Fresh out of my teen years, I had no idea what I would be dealing with, but it didn’t matter, I just wanted to be beside her.

“The first conversations of our reunion were uneasy and polite. She was already having a hard time verbally expressing herself, which was another added roadblock. Talks felt clumsy”

The first conversations of our reunion were uneasy and polite. She was already having a hard time verbally expressing herself, which was another added roadblock. Talks felt clumsy because we never really had a serious sit-down discussion about her health status. While the inevitable was looming, we were still trying to push away these uncomfortable and awkward conversations. This denial resulted in even harder internal battles, probably for both of us, in our separate minds.

The next couple of months were a blur. It became a daily routine of feeding, cleaning, and sulking. While we had help from my mom’s sympathetic family, my reclusive introverted soul felt like I was stuck in an island alone with the dark shadow of my cancer-ridden mom.


The worst and best thing about being a caregiver to a dying loved one is being present. Maybe too present in such a raw, gritty, unfiltered time. You see the ugly side of the disease that few witness. It is uncomfortable and confronting. She was barely 70 pounds, mumbling through her words, drooling and soiling herself.

When cancer reached her brain, she did not know who I was anymore. While I would go through my usual routine of feeding and cleaning, she would gaze at me with a blank look. I was a caregiver in her eyes and no longer a daughter. And who was she in mine? A patient? Was this still my mom? I wasn’t so sure anymore. This role reversal was such a strange new world that we were forced to explore. It was confusing and harrowing.

When speech failed to bridge our worlds, we had to find another way to communicate. Touch became our main method to express affection. I realized how powerful a simple touch can be. A gentle squeeze or caress on the hand connected us back to each other again. I would be reminded of our better days and of home. Love always finds a way to reach out, transcending all, even through cancer.

My mom died of cancer

More than a decade after my mom died, her death still haunts me. It was no doubt a painful time, but it was also filled with so many profound moments. My mom, even in her all too fragile state, was indirectly teaching me valuable life lessons, which later on became my weapon and armor to survive adulthood.

Keep fighting

She was slipping in and out of her mind, barely recognizing things and people. I could scarcely recognize her too. But there were brief instances when I would see through the cancer and have a glimpse my mom again – a vibrant, fiery spirit clawing to come out. She was a fighter, and no battle was ever too hard for her.

It’s okay to be angry sometimes

Putting on a brave face was one of the things I thought I had to do. By nature, I am generally quiet and rarely express anger outwardly, but this can be unhealthy. My mom was the opposite. On some of her worst days, she would get angry. She would raise her voice, throw her rosary and get mad. After letting out some steam, we would be okay again.

There can be beauty in pain

When things were getting too hard for me, I would shut off and drift away. But numbing myself from the pain also disconnected me from the crucial fleeting moments unraveling in front of me. She was on her deathbed, in an incredible amount of pain, but she was still there with me. Down the road, I realized how precious and beautiful this experience was.

Be greater than what you suffer

Okay, maybe this one I learned from Gwen Stacy, but I’m sure my mom would tell me the same thing. When we focus solely on life’s sufferings, the joyous moments that accompany it become hazy, and we forget how beautiful life was, is and can be. My mom’s story doesn’t start and end with her cancer. She lived a full life. So much love, passion, and enthusiasm. I will not reduce the value of mine by zeroing in on just the miserable moments.


Hold on to each other

There’s an indestructible bond between parent and child, and this is what helped me survive. I was a naive young girl at the prelude of my adulthood, and my mom was a seasoned woman at the epilogue of her life, and we were holding on to each other for support, for sustenance, for love. This is what kept us afloat and what will keep me surviving in the years to come.

Grief never goes away, nor does parental love

Grief will keep you company for the rest of your life, but so will your loved ones, even if they have passed on. If you allow it, their spirit will live on in everything you do. And while the pain may never completely go away, their love can also stay with you.

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Photo of Cha Miñoza
Article by Cha Miñoza

Cha Miñoza is a freelance writer, adult ballerina and devoted furmom to two spoiled dogs. When she is not busy with creative pursuits and lazy wonderings, she spends her time looking up at the night sky, trying to make contact with her home planet Pluto.

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