Real Superheroes: A Teen Talks about What Happens When Both Parents Have Cancer

By E.R.

Seventeen-year-old E.R. reflects on both parents’ battles with cancer. For this post, E.R. and the family wished to remain anonymous. 

Simply put, the role of a parent is to take on more roles. From lab coat supermodel and expert peanut-butter-and-jelly chef to personal shopper and bodyguard; parents do whatever it takes to provide for (and entertain) their children. This is why, to children, moms and dads are the real superheroes. Whether they’re flying in to save the city or magically appearing on your bad days, they swoop in just in time, every time. But every superhero has their kryptonite. For my parents, it was cancer.

superhero tearing off his clothes -cool skinBoth of my parents battled cancer during the same three-year span. The first diagnosis came when I was 13 and the second when I was 14. This disease, as random as it is, chose to favor one of my parents over the other; this past March, my father lost his battle. Between 2011 and 2014, I saw my superhero parents take on a lot of new roles. They shared the role of caregiver not only for me, their only child, but for each other through treatments and tough times. I got to see my parents laugh about the seemingly impossible task of finding rice pudding in the hospital for my dad, and cry on the days when he was too tired to eat it. I learned that cancer markers can be atypical and unreliable, and sometimes even the smartest doctors are unable to predict the future. I met and heard about so many incredible people who made a difference for my parents, and learned about the gaps in our knowledge of this horrible disease and the damage it can do. But my biggest takeaway from the cancer experience is that my superhero parents are also human.

Cancer not only exposes these human qualities, but it shows them in the best light. When I hear people talk about the bravery and strength it takes to fight this disease, I find that some of the small victories often go unnoticed. Despite having to wear a big and uncomfortable back brace, my dad never missed an open house at my school, or a chance to show me the Excel spreadsheet he made of his tumor markers. Even though my mom had to put her career as a physician on hold to take care of my dad, she studied hard for her boards and passed with outstanding marks to renew her certification. Capes or not, I admire my parents for all that they have done and all they have taught me. In my 17 years the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that being human is not a weakness, but a strength.