Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part story about the experiences one Craig resident had while caring for her cancer-stricken mother as a teenager and young adult living in New Jersey. To read the conclusion to the story, see Monday's Craig Daily Press or visit www.craigdailypress.com starting Saturday afternoon.
Cancer can reach far beyond the person whose body it invades and spread ill effects to those thrust into the role of caregiver, taking an emotional and physical toll on them as well.
At 15 years old, Kia Fisher found herself in that position when she learned her mother, Janice Fisher, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Kia spent ten years as her mother’s primary caregiver in New Jersey, before Janice passed when Kia was 26.
“Basically at the age of 16, when I was learning how to drive, I was taking my mom to and from chemotherapy, surgeries," Said Kia, who now lives in Craig. "I was cooking, cleaning. I was the parent basically. To learn to drive is stressful enough, but when you’re driving with a parent who’s receiving chemotherapy, it makes the situation a little different.”
Kia said her mother went into remission three times over the ten-year period, with the cancer coming back stronger than ever each time.
“It was just me and my mom, we depended on each other,” Kia said.
Although Janice worked when she could, Kia said the chemo treatments made it difficult for her to do much else.
'I want a purple wig'
Kia said taking on the parental role at 16 was difficult, but at the time she said she didn’t mind.
She said she spent her time with her mother making sure she was OK, eating and taking her medications. Other tasks fell to Kia, such as cutting her mother's hair when it began to fall out or got matted.
“My weekends consisted of shopping for wigs," Fisher said. "You know, not your normal high school activities.”
Kia remembers the pair dealing with with her mother's hair loss by making it lighthearted. Kia said it felt like the best way to deal with it.
“We had fun with it," she said. "When we went and got wigs the second time she was pretty much like, ‘screw this. I want a purple wig.’ So she got black hair with purple highlights."
Kia said her mother would always ask her if the hairloss embarrassed her, adding Janice said she wore wigs because her head got cold.
But if they went to the mall or a friend’s house, Kia said she encouraged her mom to wear a baseball cap.
“She’d say, ‘you’re sure you’re not embarrassed?’," Kia said. "I was like absolutely not. If anyone’s embarrassed they should be ashamed of themselves because how dare they?”
Not a normal teenager
Kia remembers going to prom and being home by 10:30 p.m., telling friends Janice had just had chemo and wasn’t feeling great.
“My boyfriend was really sweet about it, but that’s not how you’re supposed to spend your prom night,” Kia said.
Other more common occurrences included trips to the main office during her lunch hour to call the hospital and make sure Janice made it out of surgery.
“I’d have to call two hours later to talk to her and make sure she was OK, then I had to call back while I was at my job to find out what meds to pick up from CVS and how often she’d have to take them,” Kia said. “So sure I was in school and working, but then I had the additional job of speaking to doctors, speaking to her and if family was visiting, telling them what to do.”
Kia said her mom didn’t let the cancer slow her down, and when Janice felt well enough she would go out with girlfriends or go on vacation.
Kia said she had a hard time dealing with it, and although her mom was never strict if Kia wanted to do something, Kia still felt some anger when her mom went out, saying she would sit at home and worry.
“I would be angry at her for being sick, for going out and having fun or spending the night at her girlfriends house because I was home, I was always home," Kia said. "So I guess I felt a little bitter. I felt like she should be pissed off at me and I should not be answering my phone, this is so backwards.”
A reoccurring nightmare
The first time her mom was diagnosed, Kia said she didn’t think as much of it.
“At 15 I thought she would have no hair, go through chemo, have some surgery," Kia said. "I knew she’d be sick, but thought she’d be OK in a few months. Little did I know."
But the cancer came back, and Kia learned just how scary the disease could be.
“At 15 I thought it was just breast cancer," Kia said. "Then at 18, oh it’s breast cancer and skin cancer. Then by 21 I’m like OK, it’s breast cancer, skin cancer, spinal cancer, lymphoma and leukemia,”
Kia said she had no idea how cancer could so quickly transform and spread. The second time Janice was diagnosed, Kia said she didn’t understand.
“I was like ‘what the hell?’", Kia said. "It was supposed to be breast cancer, why was it on her skin. I was pissed and my anxiety shot through the roof."
But by the third time Kia said she no longer cried to anybody.
“I’m like ... I’m going to do what I have to,” she said.
The third time Janice was diagnosed — this time with spinal cancer — a port was put into her head to deliver chemo directly to her spine, but Kia said it did nothing. Diagnosed in December 2009, by February 2010 Janice had lost the ability to use her her legs and arms.
Kia took on the daily tasks of bathing, feeding, at times even changing her mom.
At 100 pounds herself, bathing Janice was a difficult task, but Kia said she had some friends and family to help.
“I felt bad for my mom because how embarrassing," Kia said. "You’re 59 years old and someone is bathing you.”
Feeling as if she had been thrown to the wolves again, Kia said family and friends were great but could only help so much.
“They have their own lives,” said Kia. “I almost felt pissed off at my mom sometimes. I feel bad saying that but she was sick and I’m like this is so not fair. I’m 21-years-old.”
Kia threw her back out lifting Janice and had terrible eating habits.
“She didn’t eat so I didn’t eat. She ate Jell-O, maybe I ate Jell-O,” Kia said.
Kia had gallbladder surgery at 25 as a result of her poor eating habits during her mom’s illness.
“I was so focused on her, I didn’t care what I ate,” she said.
To read the conclusion of this story, see Monday's Craig Daily Press or visit www.craigdailypress.com starting Saturday afternoon.
Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org