Romper

What Taking Care Of My Mom & My Daughter Taught Me About Motherhood

Courtesy of Charmaine Belonio

On February 9, 2015, I rushed my mother to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. She was suffering from heavy vaginal bleeding and intolerable cramps. After a few hours, I found myself outside of the operating room waiting. What felt like an eternity later, she was out and had been transferred to a private room while I talked to resident doctors and her attending physician. They delivered the news I'm not sure any child is ever ready to hear: My mother may have cervical cancer.

Because her doctors were waiting on the official results of the cervical punch biopsy performed on her, they couldn't say with certainty that cancer was the problem. All they could me was that something was wrong. Very wrong. Five hours later, I went into my mother's room, held my silence, and didn't tell her what I knew. It helped that she didn't ask. Instead, I talked to her about how the doctors were still waiting on the official results, so she shouldn't worry just yet.

The following week, we were back in the hospital. I dropped by the lab first to get her results, then we went straight to her OB-GYN. It didn’t take her doctor much time to tell us what we needed to do next: We'd to see a gynecologic oncologist for “more” information. Eleven days after we'd first entered the hospital — coincidentally, on the very same day my daughter turned 1, we had the answer none of us wanted to hear: At just 54, my mother had late-stage cervical cancer.

Courtesy of Charmaine Belonio
Words like "brachytherapy," "chemotherapy," and "radiation therapy," swam around us, threatening to swallow us whole, but all I felt was a fear so strong begging me to disappear. I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to be my mother's daughter. I didn't want to be my daughter's mother. I didn't want to be anyone.

According to the American Cancer Society, Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cervix, the area where the uterus meets the vagina, and it is typically diagnosed in women over 30. Most types of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. It made me wonder how come my mom would contract such disease since she's a widow. Unfortunately, most women with cervical cancer, including my mom, are symptomless until the cancer has advanced. At that point, heavy bleeding may occur at unusual points in the menstrual cycle, which was also true in my mother's case.

The official diagnosis marked the beginning of a battle I never imagined we'd face. I was 24 at the time, and a first-time mom to a little girl who needed me 24/7. Now my mother would too.

Courtesy of Charmaine Belonio
Pushing her from room to room reminded me that she was my guide when I learned to take my first steps. Much like I was now doing, she once bathed me, fed me, taught me to read and write, sent me to school, cared for me when I was sick, and a million more things single mothers do for the love of their child. Caring for my mother made me realize what a privilege it has been to be her daughter.

When the diagnosis came down, I couldn't help but think of all my mom and I had weathered together already. We have an incredibly close connection. She raised me on her own after my father abandoned us when I was 9 years old. She also helped me get through nine months of pain and challenges caused by my own sensitive pregnancy. And now, we were faced with this. The voice of the oncologist discussing treatments and options brought me back to earth. Her words passed from one ear and through to the other without my brain ever understanding a word. Strange words like "brachytherapy," "chemotherapy," and "radiation therapy," swam around us, threatening to swallow us whole, but all I felt was a fear so strong begging me to disappear. I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to be my mother's daughter. I didn't want to be my daughter's mother. I didn't want to be anyone.

When the doctor finished laying out our options, my mother decided not to undergo chemotherapy. Not because she doesn't want to fight anymore, but because, even in her battle, she's still thinking of mine and my daughter's welfare. She knows how costly the medication can be and she doesn't want us to end up penniless because of it. After a lifetime of giving, in her moment of need, she gave me all she had left.

Courtesy of Charmaine Belonio
When I’m on the verge of giving up, I remind myself how my mother never did when my biological father abandoned us more than a decade ago. As we've exchanged roles, I realized just how much she's done for me since the day I was born.

In the days and weeks that followed, my mother was often in pain. She said the cramps were terrible. The bleeding was often severe, so not only did I buy diapers for my daughter, but I started buying them for her, too. We also had to do blood transfusions on her every month or two. She was usually bedridden due to the abnormal severity of the bleeding. She typically doesn't have enough strength to get up and get out of her bed alone. So it’s not only my daughter who I bathe and dress but my mom as well. She’s had challenges with moving around. So as I helped my daughter take her first steps, I guided my mother, too, holding and pushing her around in her wheelchair.

Courtesy of Charmaine Belonio

On days when she can’t muster the energy to lift the spoon to her mouth, I am the hand that lifts it for her so she can eat. On nights she’s having a hard time breathing and she can’t feel her legs and arms (she was diagnosed with another disease, Chronic Kidney Disease — CKD — last July), I wake up and massage them for her.

I am reminded of my mother's stubborn love; the kind she gave me after my biological father left that made it possible to weather every single tumultuous storm that came our way; the kind I now selflessly give to my daughter. Her tendency toward stubborn love is a trait we all now share. When I am in my darkest hour, I remember my mother's strength, her tenacity, and her determination, and I feel fearless.

The medical expenses have piled up. I worked a full-time job and had side jobs, but still struggled to make ends meet. My husband is self-employed as a motorcycle shop owner and the money doesn't come by fast. When I’m on the verge of giving up, I remind myself how my mother never did when my biological father abandoned us more than a decade ago. As we've exchanged roles, I realized just how much she's done for me since the day I was born. Staying up with her made me more thankful for the sleepless nights she endured to feed me in and then help me get back to sleep. Pushing her from room to room reminded me that she was my guide when I learned to take my first steps. Much like I was now doing, she once bathed me, fed me, taught me to read and write, sent me to school, cared for me when I was sick, and a million more things single mothers do for the love of their child. Caring for my mother made me realize what a privilege it has been to be her daughter.

Courtesy of Charmaine Belonio

It’s been more than one year since the day we received what I thought was my mother’s death sentence. The cancer has spread through the areas surrounding her kidneys. It moves slowly, not yet strong enough to overcome the woman who keeps pushing. Taking care of my mother has taught me many things about being a parent — lessons I know I would've never learned had I not become a parent to her during this time. It has been painful mothering her, but I considered it an honor.

Even if it means sleepless nights and unfulfilled personal dreams, I'd gladly give it all up if it meant I didn't have to give up on them.

On days when I struggle between a chaotic house, huge medical bills, and figuring out a way to make ends meet despite it all, I've taken a page from my mother's book: I fight — hard — against the urge to quit because there's always someone who needs me. When I want to give up, I am reminded of my mother's stubborn love; the kind she gave me after my biological father left that made it possible to weather every single tumultuous storm that came our way; the kind I now selflessly give to my daughter. Her tendency toward stubborn love is a trait we all now share. When I am in my darkest hour, I remember my mother's strength, her tenacity, and her determination, and I feel fearless.

Even though I’ll never know what the future holds for my mother and my daughter, there is nothing I won’t brave for them. Even if it means sleepless nights and unfulfilled personal dreams, I'd gladly give it all up if it meant I didn't have to give up on them. I will stay by their sides and be “mom” to whoever needs me, no matter what, through thick and thin.