In sickness and in health (My mother’s perspective on reading my blogposts about metastatic cancer)

May 10th, 2013 § 22 comments

sc0650b1b2My mother, Dr. Rita Bonchek, is a psychologist who specializes in grief and loss. A career discussing death and dying, however, was insufficient preparation for hearing the words, “Mom, I have metastatic breast cancer.”

Mom and I have reacted very differently to the news of my stage IV cancer. I was online within days writing posts about the steps I was taking. I wrote immediately about how to help children in the days following a diagnosis like mine. As my readers know, I’m very open about this part of my life.

My mother, on the other hand, is much more private. She would never write a blog the way I do. She didn’t want to share this news with people; she wasn’t ready to talk about it. I respect her decision but that approach doesn’t work for me. Sometimes our different ways of thinking lead to disagreements. Despite our differences we always support each other.

I thought it might be helpful for readers to hear what she has to say about reading my posts. Some of us with cancer choose to be very public with our daily lives but our parents are often forgotten in the discussion. I think the timing of Mother’s Day weekend is perfect to share this piece. I love you, Mom (photo at left: 1970).



IMG_3839I am Lisa’s proud mother and I have followed her blog from its first day. As her mother, I read her blog from a unique point of view, and I want to share my perspective with you.

Those of you who are reading this blog follow Lisa and her incredible writing. It is her understanding of human behavior, her expression of feelings of her heart and thoughts of her mind that make so many people want another blog from her as soon as the one being read is finished.

Yet, as the mother of this outstanding-in-all-aspects daughter, my reading of Lisa’s blogposts is complicated because each piece contains an extra layer of heart-wrenching pain for me. Lisa’s blog is a precious sharing of her everyday life, of medical explanation and analysis of each and every test result, of measured consideration of her hopes, fears, etc. Parents rarely get the opportunity to get “up close and personal” to this extent with a child. As Lisa’s mother, knowing her innermost thoughts is a gift and a curse.

If you (or anyone else but Lisa) were writing about a life journey with a cancer diagnosis, I could handle reading about the physical assaults on your body and the emotional assaults on your psyche because I would be more objective and not involved in your everyday life. I could read your blog, feel empathy and sorrow for the diagnosis, but step away from it. However, I am enmeshed in Lisa’s writing.

Lisa’s father stopped having the blogposts sent directly to his e-mail because he was often caught unaware with heavy emotional subject matter arriving at inappropriate times. He now accesses the blogposts only when he feels emotionally prepared for whatever he may find.

While this would also be a very reasonable decision for me to make, I have the ambivalent feelings of wanting to be close and share every moment of what Lisa thinks and feels at that moment versus retreating from the declarations of how her life is now and her fears for the future for her and the family – her family and my family.

Lisa and I share the personality trait of always wanting to know the truth so we are as well prepared for the worst as we can be. Lisa and I promised each other that we would never withhold any information to protect each other. The honesty Lisa promised me is the honesty she has promised to all of you, her readers.

On one level, her blog reveals to me everything I want to know, but on another level what I unconsciously don’t want to know. This emotional see-saw of wanting to read it but not wanting to read it is a decision that I must make each time a new blog-post appears in my inbox.

Why is this “to know or not to know” decision so difficult for me? When I read Lisa’s writings, I imagine the sub-text that she does not reveal: how she is managing to keep her family’s lives as “normal” (whatever that means) as possible.

Lisa is, as most mothers are, the hub of her family’s life. When Lisa writes in a blog-post that she was very tired and rested for hours, I know that her closed bedroom door makes every family member who sees that closed door go into overdrive with founded or unfounded concern and fear.

Lisa and I share the goals to make the most of each day and to cherish and to love one another. These are life affirmations within our control when so much of life is out of our control. Share our goals as you and I, Lisa’s readers, benefit from Lisa’s greatest gift to us: who she is and how she lives her life, in sickness and in health.


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§ 22 Responses to In sickness and in health (My mother’s perspective on reading my blogposts about metastatic cancer)"

  • Heidi says:

    Thank you Lisa and Lisa’s mom for sharing, loving, and giving the world such a gift of incredible examples. I know that what you both are going through is incredibly hard but I can tell through your writings that you are both incredible women.
    Lisa, you teach me something new everyday and I hope that you can continue to share your story and love your family with every fibre of your being. I wish I was more eloquent than I am but what I really want to say is that you are an inspiration and you show me daily how I want to be.
    Lisa’s mom, I just want to thank you for raising such an amazing daughter. I admire both if you.
    Happy Mothers Day to you both. Hugs.

  • Gail says:

    Lisa, as dreadfully painful as this must have been for your mother to articulate, she’s done written so poignantly.
    You both should be so proud of each other.
    Happy Mothers’ Day to you.

  • Erin says:

    Dr. Bonchek, thank you for giving the world the incredible gift that Lisa is. As you know, she makes a very real difference in people’s lives, my own among them. Thank you, too, for sharing with us your experiences. My mom died when I was three years old, and so I’ve always drawn strength and inspiration from the amazing moms I’ve encountered. While we’ll probably never meet in person, I count you among them, and am very grateful.

    Lisa, thank you for sharing your mom with us.

  • Lisa Lurie says:

    Lisa, I lost my dearest friend and business partner last year to liver cancer. I too have breast cancer. Every day I grieve for her. I read your blogs, and now your mother’s, and I can relate to how she feels. I want to read them–but then I don’t. I want to believe there will be a fairy tale ending to your life story yet at the same time, I know that cannot be. Your blogs & your words are so powerful. Your honesty is so moving. You have tremendous strength and courage. Thank you for sharing that with us. It is some gift.

  • Carolyn says:

    Rita – thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Your daughter is a special person, so open, hopeful, and revealing of herself in her writing.

  • Pat Milburn ( grannyuser) says:

    So grateful for your brave sharing; the bond between mother and daughter during this crisis is so heartwarming that I only hope I can follow your example with my own dear daughter.

  • dglassme says:

    She is as eloquent as you Lisa.

  • Beth Gainer says:

    An incredible post; I can see where Lisa got her writing talent from! I can’t imagine the searing pain a parent feels when a child goes through cancer treatments. Lisa’s mom: thank you for sharing this part of your world. It’s so wonderful that you read Lisa’s blog posts so regularly.

  • SallyBR says:

    Many times I’ve opened Lisa’s blog in the “wrong” moment. Right before a meeting, or right before a students knocks at my office’s door to ask a question. How do you explain being overcome by emotion and grief over someone you’ve never met in person?

    I can only imagine what is like to be unable to step away from it like is the case for all her close family members and friends. Her writing (as yours) speaks directly to the soul of each reader, and reminds us all that either we are very lucky or we are or know someone in the same boat, the toughest boat of all to be in.

    I admire you both, and thank you for putting into words the journey you go through.

  • Susan Zager says:

    Thank you Dr. Boncheck for writing such a nice post. You have created such a wonderful life in your daughter and I am sure this diagnosis has brought many difficult moments for you as you both navigate this journey. The loving bond is so clear. Hugs to both of you.

  • Thank you Lisa and Rita. What a fitting post for Mother’s Day weekend. The last paragraph really sums it up. What amazing writers and courageous women you both are. Happy Mother’s Day to you both.

  • joanne firth says:

    I also want to thank Lisa and her mom, Dr. Boncheck for the insight. Dr. Boncheck, Lisa’s writing has such an impact on my own life and I am grateful for her honest generosity. She shares the detailed wisdom she has come by in the hardest of all ways so others can be informed and educated. I wish you both a Happy Mother’s Day.

  • Paul Blais says:

    Rita, I am so sorry for the struggle you are going through in watching your daughter’s journey. The harsh reality is that cancer strikes not only the patient, but also his or her loved ones ( I hear your pain. I wish with all my heart I could shield my wife from being married to a cancer patient. Obviously, that is impossible. Thank you for sharing. This helps me understand my wife’s struggle (who is also a private person) .
    Love from a stranger,
    Paul Blais

  • Jaycie says:

    Really interesting ideas here about withholding information (or not), and wanting to know (or not.)

    I am also not at all into sugarcoating. I would much rather know/expect/prepare for the reality. I find, much to my amazement, that so many others are into hope, declaring that hope is the highest virtue, how dare I not believe in hope, and how dare I dash someone else’s hope. I am amazed at the willful denial, and the pink-colored glasses that so many people endorse. Whatever.

    There’s a whole body of literature on communicating bad news, but the bottom line is that some things totally suck.

    • Ellen Cassidy says:

      I am so in agreement with Jaycie. I, too, want the whole unvarnished truth, whatever the situation. My dear motherinlaw is struggling with end stages of uterine cancer, and she is someone who by her own admission is an ostrich. I know more about her illness than she does. I have been extremely frustrated with some of the doctors encountered, who when confronted with “how much time are we talking here?” question, answer: “well, we’re all gonna die, aren’t we?” purposeful evasion in order not to squash “hope.”

      • Agatha says:

        Oh, yes. THANK YOU!!! Now I need to make one &#3.;082. er, three or four. And get some more tights. And make sure she has some bloomers. Yeah, thanks for make my to-do list so much longer![]

  • AmyG35 says:

    Happy Mother’s Day to two very strong and caring women. Thank you both for sharing.

  • A very eye-opening post. I often see blogging as cathartic and community based, but of course our families are reading – and feeling, and experiencing the ups and down far more deeply than others. Thank you for this perspective. My mother read my blog all through treatment, and still reads today – it’s a gift to have someone who will still follow even when it is difficult. That’s the kind of support which is worth so very, very much and is hard to put into words. ~Catherine

  • Sophia says:

    Thank you both for this wonderful perspective!
    It adresses an important topic for me, that goes beyond blogging about illness and feelings – what to share with those we love and what not? As much as I would love to talk about my feelings living with incurable cancer as much I cannot cope to see those that I love suffer.
    What so fascinates and draws me to your posts is the balance you find between describing the hard and painful truth, when there is no sugar-coated-happy-ending and yet a strength and determination that comes from your writing to make the best of it and carry on.
    Every time I read one of your posts, I just feel “yes, this is how it is, this is how it feels, it’s terrible, it hurts, it won’t get better” and yet reading gives me strength and encouragement to carry on.
    Thank you so much and the best to both of you and your families!

  • Hi Lisa,

    Your tweet about trying to wrap your head around chemo the rest of your life is so true. This is where I am at too.

    Besides wrapping my head around lifetime chemo every three weeks I am now having to change Oncologists due to the Oncologist I have seen since I began this journey back in 1998 is retiring. Dr. Fabian is a top Breast Cancer Specialist and had hoped to have a new replacement by now but hasn’t had the right person to take over her position. She told me I couldn’t wait until she has one in place so………. I met with one yesterday which is closer to home but I know it will take years to build up the kind of relationship I have with her but will trust her recommendation.

    I will end this with a quote from one of my resident in training told me when we began this stage 4 part of breast cancer. “You have chemo to LIVE! You don’t live to have CHEMO!” How wise this statement has been for me. Good Luck with your treatments. I hope you continue to feel better and stronger each day.

    After reading your Mom’s thoughts, it feels these would be my Mom’s exact thoughts too, if my Mom were reading my Caringbridge posts. I wonder if I would be writing my thoughts to the extent I am, if I knew my Mom would be reading this. Thank your Mom for her thoughts. I hope you and your Mom had a wonderful Mother’s Day this past Sunday.

    Theresa Meyer

  • paul says:

    A very strong woman indeed

  • Encouraging and informative share!

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