My mom was diagnosed with stage III endometrial cancer in 2014.
At the time, I was living almost 600 miles away, but wanted to be her caregiver.
My employer made accommodations so that I could fly to her side every three weeks.
It was a typical workday in the fall of 2014. Confined to my desk in gray-toned cubicle purgatory, I was sifting through uninspiring emails and conjuring excuses to avoid scheduled meetings. Though I cannot remember the exact October day, the phone call I received is one I will never forget. It was the day an ambulance rushed my mother to the hospital — and the day "cancer" became a routine topic of conversation in our household.
After numerous blood draws, biopsies, and MRIs, the results were crystal clear: my mother was diagnosed with stage III endometrial cancer. I will not get into the complexity of staging, but knowing that there are only four stages of this specific type of cancer was a dose of reality that I kept to myself as long as possible. I remember my father asking me outside the hospital room to be honest, and I said, "It's not good." But I also knew my mother, and anyone who knew her as I did understood she would not be going down without a fight.
I wanted to be my mother's caregiver but lived 600 miles away
The care team developed a treatment plan that included monthly rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. My family agreed I was the obvious choice to accompany my mother to most of her appointments, though my siblings and other family members scheduled time to be there without hesitation. Those uninspiring emails and scheduled meetings were part of my role as a clinical hematology and oncology research professional. Working in this space allowed me the opportunity to become knowledgeable not just about cancer but many of the medical terms and jargon that were sure to be thrown around during her cancer journey.
I believe parents have children for many reasons, one being that their children will care for them in old age or sickness. Though I was willing and able to fulfill this duty, there was just one problem; actually, there were 594 of them. Almost 600 miles separated my parents' home in coastal North Carolina from my Brooklyn apartment. I worried about how I would make it work, and whether my job would make accommodations for me. At the time, remote work and video conferencing were not as commonplace as they are now.
My employer worked with me so I could be there for her
After much discussion with the human resources department, I was able to keep both my job and duty as a caregiver. At the time, I had been living in New York for eight years, and before my mother's diagnosis, I visited my hometown on average once a year. In what seemed like an instant, the airport terminal became my second home. Suddenly, I was making the trip from New York to North Carolina every three weeks.
Every visit was bittersweet. There was the joy of seeing my mother juxtaposed with the reality of her condition. When I was there, days were filled with appointments, medication pickups, and speaking with her oncologist and specialists, with moments of laughter and true crime in between (she indulged in my "American Greed" and "Forensic Files" obsession). When I was back in Brooklyn, I checked in daily and called her doctors regularly. That became my norm for the next two years, and the experience showed me how strong I am, how resilient my mother was, and that the bond my family has transcends distance and time.
It has been seven years and counting since my mother passed away. Taking care of a sick parent can feel like sailing on an ocean of worry, where each day brings new waves of concern and logistical complexities. I learned so much about myself and my mother through this journey. My message to anyone reading this is to never underestimate the power of your presence, even from afar. The journey may be tough, but be kind to yourself and know that your efforts, seen and unseen, are a testament to the unyielding power of love. An empathetic employer can't hurt either.
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