How I Dealt With Family Illness While At College


One of the hardest things about being away at school is not being there for your loved ones when they’re ill. Last October, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and to say that it was difficult to find ways to help her and be there for her would be a complete understatement. Since many families are going through similar situations, I would like to share my experience as well as propose some tips on how to support sick loved ones when you’re not physically there.

The Call

The time when midterms come around is also usually the time when I start to get restless. Not necessarily homesick, but just itching for something new, and usually knowing that I get to go home in a month helps that. But this particular October, the thought of going home was nerve-racking.

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My mom called me in the middle of the day on the Tuesday after Columbus Day weekend. The call was nothing out of the ordinary since we often talked at this time. She knew I was out of class and that I had the room to myself. We started out with normal conversation. She asked me how my long weekend was since I went to my roommate’s hometown. I asked how their camping trip was, and then she hit me with the news. She said that she went to the doctor a week before and just got the results back that she had breast cancer. I didn’t know how to react.  At the time I asked her all these questions about how serious it was and how she planned to treat it; anything to distract me from thinking too much about it.

I hate to admit it, but it was hard to even process this information when I was at school. Most times, it seemed like it wasn’t even real. It was difficult for me to believe that it was actually happening. At the same time I also felt horrible that I wasn’t there with her when she was going to all these doctor appointments and having to go through her day to day life with this huge weight on her shoulders.

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However, even though I wasn’t physically with her, I found ways to let her know I was supporting her.

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Check In

Many times, a simple phone call or text can go a long way. Ask how they’re feeling, what they’ve been doing, keep them updated on your life. If it’s impossible for you to visit them, you can Skype call or FaceTime them too. Not only will this brighten their day, but you also get to stay informed on what’s happening with their condition.

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Be the “Go To” Person

In the midst of everything that’s happening, your loved one might not to want to answer the same questions ten thousand times a day about their situation. To help lighten that load, volunteer to be the go-to person for information. This way, your loved one won’t get overwhelmed and you’ll feel like you’re doing something to help.

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Thoughtful Gestures

It doesn’t have to be anything huge, but sending cute little things — whether it be gifts, pictures, articles, memes, whatever — can really brighten your loved one’s mood. Anything that says that you care and that you’re thinking of them will mean the world.

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Having a sick loved one at home is difficult for everyone involved. If you can do nothing else, the most important thing is to let them know that you are thinking about them and supporting them no matter where you are.

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