When a parent gets ill: how teens and families cope

Taylen Pope, third from right, with his mom, Sonia, far left, and their whole family.

You come home from another normal day at school and enter the house to see your parents; in one hand they hold tissues and their other hands are clasped together.  Their eyes are about to spill with tears. Your anxiety level rises and your heart beats uncontrollably. Your mind starts to fill with worry. What could be the problem? What did I do wrong?

People always say that they couldn’t ever imagine being the one to tell their family that they were sick or to hear that someone in their family is sick with something they may not recover from. I don’t mean your regular cold or flu, but the kind of sickness that takes years, or even a lifetime to battle.  A sickness that you may never know the better of.

People don’t understand that these sicknesses–which include cancer, diabetes, neurological conditions, coronary heart disease and HIV/AIDS happen all over the world, affecting millions.

I personally faced a very difficult time in my life when I was two years old and my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer and given only two to three months to live. Though he eventually survived, due to a miraculous combination of early chemotherapy, radical changes to his diet, and many health food supplements, the months and years navigating his illness have been incredibly stressful.

As a result, I reached out to a family at ARHS who have faced the same experience, to better understand their journey.

Junior Taylen Pope’s mother, Sonia Correa Pope, Principal of Holyoke Community Charter School, is currently battling breast cancer.

“I am fighting every day. Doing everything within my power to stay strong,” she said. “[I’m driven by] my faith, my friends, my family, the idea of seeing my son graduate from high school and college, visiting my kindergarten classrooms, and playing with my beautiful granddaughter.”

Dr. Pope said that her hope that “the Lord will help me get there” move her through each day.

At the beginning of the journey, Taylen, an ARHS junior was incredibly shocked by the news. “I didn’t believe it; it didn’t feel real,” said Pope.

After being told about this life changing experience, things changed. “It has affected my school life,” said Taylen. “I have noticed that I have been turning in more late assignments. Sometimes I just can’t focus on the assignment because I’m thinking about my mother’s well-being.”

Breast cancer also prevented Dr. Pope from working for a while. “I had to confront a full mastectomy,” she said. “Part of my body is not there anymore. This mayor surgery left me marked for life. After it, I couldn’t do things for myself and that made me feel hopeless. I had no energy and was under a lot of pain.”

Also, while dealing with chemotherapy she got really sick and had to be in the hospital away from her loved ones. “I felt I had no more strength left in my body but then the love I have for my family made me get back and forced me to fight hard,” she said.  “When I lost my hair, I felt as I was losing another important part of my body, but then I realized that I was alive. That’s all what mattered.”

As much as these huge health obstacles can be for people and their families it can also be something that helps people truly realize how special life can be.

A lot of the time we don’t notice how much fight we have in us and how much the love of our families and our passions can give us the energy to make it through another day.