Children of breast cancer victims can find solace in social networks

OPINION - Because I spent so much time dealing with my mother's cancer, I never felt the urge to get involved in breast cancer awareness festivities ...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

As the child of a breast cancer victim, my relationship with breast cancer has been very mixed throughout the years. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after I was born, and she eventually succumbed to the disease in 1996 when I was nine.

Because I spent so much time dealing with my mother’s cancer, I never felt the urge to get involved in breast cancer awareness festivities as they grew in popularity over the years. Most likely due to the bitterness of seeing so many survivors when my own mother had passed, I spent a lot of my formative years asking myself what are we truly bringing awareness to by wearing the abundance of pink products that have been commercialized throughout the years?

One of the rarely discussed issues concerning breast cancer, or any disease for that matter, is the fact that the people who are suffering from these diseases have families. Their family members are the ones who deal with an existence that can range from inspiring at one moment to sinister at the next. It’s a reality that goes much farther than hope can always carry them, and it’s a reality that a veil of pink can never mask.

I vividly remember trips to chemotherapy, collecting my mothers hair as it fell out for a keepsake, her attempts to always make me feel at ease, the times when it seemed as if she didn’t have cancer, and the times I was too afraid to step into her room because of her sickly state. I felt as though I was very alone, that there was no one who knew what I was going through. Although my parents made every effort to talk to me and send me to counseling, I never talked.

It is difficult for the caretakers of many of these women who have breast cancer to provide support for their significant others, support for their children, and support for themselves. The children of these patients need different avenues to seek solace. Going through adolescence coupled with the huge stress of a parent whose mortality is made apparent on a daily basis has the potential to intensify the highs and lows of this exploratory period.

For me, the most difficult part of having a mother with breast cancer was the way in which the people in my “support system” pulled away from our family. Many people stare at you with such sympathy as if they see right through you. I never liked the fact that people could not look at me and see me; instead, they looked at me and saw a little girl whose mother was dying of cancer. My identity became lost in my mother’s cancer. In order to gain back my sense of self, I internalized my feelings to break away from the stares.

I recently watched a teenage family friend whose mother had cancer use Facebook in a way in which I wished I could have when my mother had cancer. By using her status, my friend was able to allow the people in her life to know how she was feeling: if she was in the hospital, if she wasn’t in the mood to talk, etc.

Because everyone knew what was going on in her life, she created a system in which she controlled her interactions with her support system. Her Facebook became her therapy. Due to the advancements in technology, the possibilities of using social networking as a means of therapy are endless. From video chats, blogs, status updates, tweets, or joining online support groups, there is a way for children to find someone to connect with while they are going through this difficult time.

For a long time, I felt a sense of guilt for not being more involved in many of the activities created in support of breast cancer awareness. At the age of 23, I have come to realize that every child goes through their own process of growth in dealing with their parent’s sickness. I have great faith that technological advancements will continue to provide more therapeutic options for the children of breast cancer patients, where they can create a network of strength, encouragement, and most importantly, understanding.