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.

3 thoughts on “Real Superheroes: A Teen Talks about What Happens When Both Parents Have Cancer”

  1. I’m sorry to hear of this E.R. I too understand what that is like, only now in my thirties. My father has battled cancer through 3 forms of chemo, 1 surgery and radiation beads as well. Seeing him go from somewhat healthy to battling has been really hard. However resilience is key and he has been fighting hard for some time now. On the opposite side, my mother, who has been quite healthy was diagnosed with brain cancer in July. It was terminal and she passed 5 weeks later. I’m not sure if it is fortunate or unfortunate, but those 5 weeks she had no memory and wasn’t realizing what was going on even if you told her.
    Seeing each go through it, different forms, different situations is tough. Being an adult I can get through this, I admire you for your insight at such a young age. My best to you and your family. -Dennis T.

  2. Totally feel for you ER. My father was diagnosed with non-hotchkins lymphoma when I was 14 and at 18 my mom found out she had breast cancer. Its a horrible feeling to have when both of the people you count on are counting on you. Its a difficult journey. Stay strong im so so sorry about your dad. Im now 19 years old and both parents are in remission thankfully. we have a good support system just be strong

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