How to Deal: With a Parent with Cancer

Message: “How to Deal: With a Parent with Cancer” chronicled Pace University student Loren Alexander and how she coped with her mother’s, Lidia Alexander, cancer diagnosis and treatment. The article was published for the Sept. 28, 2011, edition of The Pace Chronicle. On April 5, 2013, Lidia Alexander passed away.

About How to Deal:

From being an international student, an incoming freshman, a single parent, or helping a parent – or self – overcome an illness, How to Deal revolves around a Pace student currently facing a very important situation in life yet seeks to find a positive solution to the dilemma.  

She was angry, didn’t know what to do, what to think, and thought her family, particularly her mother, had gone through many difficult obstacles, but now sophomore Loren Alexander and her family has another challenge that they seek to defeat – breast cancer.

Last June, Loren arrived back to her Cortlandt Manor home from a two-week travel course in Greece. Despite visiting the country that’s been on her bucket list for a decade, it was certainly not the easiest of times for her.

“It was already a hard time of the year for my family and I because my sister died June 6, 1999, so that’s already rough.”

Times would get rougher in the next 48 hours.

“Two days after I came back from my travel course, my parents told me my mother has Stage IIIB breast cancer.”

According to the American Cancer Society, Stage IIIB is one stage away from being defined as terminal.

“I cried for two weeks. I didn’t do anything or feel like seeing anyone,” said Loren. “I couldn’t say the word ‘cancer.’ I guess you think death when you say cancer. When I told my best friends about my mom’s diagnosis, I had to text them because I couldn’t speak the word without choking up.”

“After you get over the initial shock of the diagnosis, I’m a very realistic-positive person, so I said ‘Okay, I have this diagnosis, what’s my next step?’” said Lidia, Loren’s mother, a ’73 Lienhard School of Nursing alum. “So being from the scientific-medical knowledgeable type of mind, I do a lot of research and I get things going as fast as possible with the least amount of collateral damage.”

Although Lidia does have reason to worry about herself, her main concern was for Loren.

“My pain was for her, not so much for myself. I was more concerned with how it will impact her life and how she would react to it.”

Loren stated she was “mentally out” when she learned of the news.  She had a research paper due a month later for the Greece course.

“I come home, I’m jetlagged, I found out this terrible news, and I was like ‘the hell with this paper.’ I just wanted to have something long enough to hand in and didn’t care about the quality which is unlike me. I didn’t even bother to check what grade I got and never wanted to see that paper again. I wasn’t in the proper mindset at all.”

And despite feeling mentally out, Lidia has received more than enough support from Loren. The sophomore has driven and accompanied her mom to her chemotherapy sessions, but has also brought out cancer awareness and fundraisers.

“There is a local non-profit organization called Support Connection for people who are dealing with breast and ovarian cancer,” said Loren. “They offer support groups and counseling. They do an annual walk [on Oct. 2] at FDR Park in Yorktown Heights, and my family and friends are participating.”

Loren raised over $300 for breast cancer research with Support Connection. Many of the donations have not only come from family and friends, but from Pace professors.

“I don’t know how many students can say they go to a school where their professors send them messages of support about their personal life and care about what their students are going through,” said Loren.

Loren raised another $300 with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Foundation.

The charitable work was done unbeknownst to Lidia till she received a phone call from Support Connections. “I didn’t know about this till Support Connections called me and told me how much money she raised for breast cancer research,” said Lidia. “I’m sitting there listening as the tears are coming down my face. I knew she was exceptional but this was way beyond anyone’s expectations. She has raised awareness on so many levels by starting fundraisers, writing about it, and verbalizing to people how important it is to care for their health and to be vigilant.”

To answer the question of how she coped and stayed focused on her academic work, Loren stated she surrounds herself with people who care, that include her best friends and professors, such as Prof. Marie Werner.

“Professor Werner beat cancer, and she met with my mom and I to kvetch talk about what living with cancer is like and told me to reach out to her no matter what I needed, even if I needed a shoulder to cry on,” said Loren.

Loren noted that some of her friends volunteered to participate at the walk, one is even coming home from college in Pennsylvania to take part. Another friend offered to donate her hair so Loren’s mother could have a wig made from natural hair.

Loren acknowledged, “I have recently seen that there are a lot of good people left in this world, and I am so thankful to have this net of support at such a difficult time in my life.”

She stressed the importance of people being there for one another. During the interview, she was very encouraging of people contacting her if they are going through something rough and need someone to talk to.

“I asked some of my best friends from home that commute to spend some time with my mom while I am at [Pace] so she has some company and doesn’t deal with Empty Nest Syndrome on top of breast cancer.  I try to think positive; I do my best not to think about my mom dying. I tell her all the time that she is not allowed to because she needs to be there when I graduate, get married and have kids. I try to keep in mind that my mother is a fighter. She has overcome so much: growing up in war-torn Poland, enduring an abusive childhood, facing discrimination when she came to America, surviving rape, a few heart attacks, and the tragic loss of my sister. My mother is my hero, and I try to emulate her determination.”

Lidia wants people to understand that cancer isn’t a death sentence. She notes that there is a lot of new research and through awareness there are many ways to treat cancer.

“Years ago, you hear cancer, it’s like a death sentence. We made tremendous progress, but we still need a lot of funding,” said Lidia. “Research is extremely expensive. We need people to really raise their awareness and come on board and help out anyway they can.”

According to Lidia, a registered nurse, it’s important to go under routine mammographies. If there is a family history of breast cancer, it is suggested to go for a mammography exam starting at 25 year old.

You can still donate to the Alexander’s cause with Support Connection by visiting FirstGiving.com/fundraiser/lidia/2011support-a-walkforbreastandovariancancer.

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