Colleen lost her daughter Caitlin to cervical cancer in May 2020. Caitlin was 32. Colleen was there on the day Caitlin received her Stage 4 diagnosis, and on the day she died just two years later. For Caregiver Awareness Month (November), Colleen shared some experiences and reflections with Cervivor:
I was with Caitlin April 13, 2018 – the day her doctors told her she had advanced cervical cancer.
I was familiar with the term “Stage 4.” I’m a surgical scrub nurse in the labor and delivery unit of our local hospital, so I know medical terminology. Maybe it was because of this that I could never fully wrap my head around how she could possibly ever fully “beat” stage 4 cancer. So I prayed for time. I only got two years. She died on May 17, 2020.
I had hoped Caitlin would have more time to do some stuff before she died – to travel and experience the world. She kept on with different treatments. Chemo. Radiation. A clinical trial with an immunotherapy. They would work, a little bit. The tumors might shrink, but then come back. Or the treatment would work on the tumors in her cervix, but not on the cancer that had spread to the other parts of her body. Still, she kept her spirits up. She kept fighting. She found a community of support in Cervivor. She did all that she could to share her story. She wanted to make sure that this didn’t need to happen to anyone else. She had so looked forward to attending the September 2019 Cervivor School in Chicago to hone her story sharing and outreach skills, but was ultimately too sick to attend.
As her mother, I just tried to accommodate her in any way I could. Whatever she wanted to do, I helped her do it. She surrounded herself with family and friends. She cherished her time with her nieces and her friends’ young children and took so much joy in them. Her best friends came from near and far and took turns living with her. Her brother came home from the military and stayed with her. She surrounded herself with love. Her friends made sure she was not alone. They did fundraisers to help with her medical costs. They organized meal drops. They strived to have “regular” Friday nights with pizza and beer, hanging out in her living room so that she didn’t have to give up her social life even when cancer was taking its toll. That made such an impression on me. I was proud that my daughter – always a fun and popular girl who loved going to concerts and music festivals – had such strong friendships and supportive friends.
I took the role of taking care of the caretakers. I cooked for everyone. I straightened up. That is the story of my life. I’m a mother and a nurse. But I wish I had stopped running around and just sat down to “be” with Caitlin. I wish I had just slowed down and spent time with her rather than always being so focused on “taking care” of her.
Yet at the same time, I’m always wondering, did I do enough for her?
Please tell me I did everything I could for her.
Please tell me I was a good mother.
I took family medical leave from work when Caitlin finally entered the care of hospice. I didn’t realize that two weeks after she started hospice, she would be gone.
Caitlin left me a gift that I am forever grateful for. Mother’s Day was a few days before she passed away. She gave me a beautiful Mother’s Day card that told me exactly what I needed to hear – that she loved me and loved her family. That card assured me that she knew she was loved and well cared for. I pray on those sentiments. I carry them with me.
I think what Caitlin would want to tell all women undergoing cervical cancer treatment, all women in general and, really, all people is this:
- Listen to your body. Advocate for yourself.
- None of the bullsh*t matters.
- Cherish your time with your friends and your family.
- Let go of FOMO (fear of missing out). If you are with your family and friends, there is nothing more important that you are missing.
I keep Caitlin alive in my mind every day. I talk to Caitlin’s friends about what is going on in their lives, and I find comfort in that. We are all friends on Facebook, and when a Facebook “memory” with Caitlin pops up for them, they share that with me. They share photos of Caitlin at concerts, festivals, weddings and celebrations. They share those photo memories of my beautiful daughter out enjoying the world with them. Her life was short. But she did amazing things and surrounded herself with amazing people.