“What is it like when a parent is diagnosed with cancer?”

I’ve gotten this question before: What is it like when a parent is diagnosed with cancer?

I happen to be an expert in this topic considering both of my parents have been diagnosed with cancer.

As yesterday was the first anniversary of my dad’s lung cancer diagnosis, a thought occurred to me. At the time, my parents diagnosis of cancer was devastating. It was the biggest shock I’d ever had in my entire life. My mom’s thyroid cancer diagnosis actually came AFTER her thyroid was removed. My dad’s lung cancer diagnosis was found through a routine CT scan.

In hindsight, the diagnosis day was the easiest part of my dad’s cancer journey.

Was it shocking? Yes. Was it devastating? Yes. Now that I know what I know and I’ve lived through what I’ve lived through, the diagnosis day was easy.

I always hear people talk about how their pain scale is adjusted as they move through life. A 10/10 pain right now for my son is getting his finger slammed in a door as is for many 3 year olds. Now that I’m older my 10/10 was my gall bladder attack or walking for the first time after my c-section. I hope I don’t have a new 10/10 pain but I know that as I get older and progress through life, it’s likely my pain scale will be adjusted again.

My “hard” scale has also been adjusted as I move through life. It also adjusted as my parents have navigated their way through their cancer journey.

In hindsight, diagnosis day was a good 7/10. At the time? It was a 10/10.

It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t as hard as the next 129 days were. We were so hopeful then.

  • Watching my dad writhing in pain after a failed attempt to remove his tumor? 9/10
  • When his cancer turned from curable to treatable? 8/10
  • When his cancer went from treatable to terminal? 8/10
  • Watching my dad break his neck right in front of me as he was leaning back in his recliner? 9/10
  • Watching my dad, my big burly I can eat half a cake in one sitting dad, struggle to sip a milkshake? 7/10
  • When my mom called and told me the cancer had spread to his femur, iliac crest, colon, his lungs, his abdominal wall? 9/10
  • Picking out a gravesite with my parents after my dad was given 2-3 weeks to live? 8/10
  • Watching Dad say goodbye to his friends, family, fire department, first responders, neighbors and community? 8/10
  • Giving the eulogy at his funeral? 8/10
  • Listening to his final call come over the pager? 8/10
  • Watching dad say goodbye to his wife? 10/10
  • Watching my dad take his last breath? 10/10
  • Watching my mom’s tumor marker creep up month after month and they can’t find the cancer anywhere? 8/10

So as hard as it is when a parent or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, there are worse things.

If there is one thing I’ve learned through it all is I can do hard things. When I’m tired and I feel like I can’t pick myself up again or when I think things can’t get worse, I know that I can survive hard things. I am resilient and there is life on the other side of loss.

I can survive the 10/10. I can find happiness on the other side of 10/10. I have survived 100% of the horrible days I’ve had and you can to.

That’s what it is like when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. You test your limits, you build resilience. You come out stronger and wiser. Most importantly, has hard as it is, you survive even if they don’t.

For more posts from my perspective as a fatherless daughter, check out these posts:




  1. Dian
    January 25, 2020 / 1:34 pm

    Great writing by a tough daughter on a tough topic. Well done.

  2. Marie attew
    January 25, 2020 / 1:58 pm

    I also had both my parents diagnosed with cancer then three years after they had both passes I was diagnosed with breast cancer. 7 years on I’m still here .

  3. Cindy F
    January 25, 2020 / 4:17 pm

    Wonderful post on a hard subject. I think many of us who have experienced a cancer diagnosis or other health issues for ourselves and/or family members can relate to this. Often you don’t know how strong you are until you’ve gone through hard times. Have to say though, sometimes I’ve looked up to God and asked, “Again? How strong do you think I need to be?” And then you look around and find there are still blessings in your life.

  4. Susan the Farm Quilter
    January 26, 2020 / 2:48 am

    Kalissa, you are one tough son of a bitch, as your dad said, and because of your whole family, I am able to walk the road I am on. My mom died in 2011 – brain tumor and heart problems. She went fast. She fell on Thursday morning, came home from the hospital on Saturday morning on hospice and died Sunday evening at 5:00. I’ve been living with and caring for my dad for the last 4 years (750 miles from home and hubby). My dad was put on hospice in August (love the hospice nurses and CNAs). He needs a 24/7 presence in the house, on O2 24/7 and still has his mind pretty much intact at 98.5 years of age. I’m an only child and my daughters live 2,000 miles (or more) away from me with kids and lives of their own, so I am it. You all got through the hell of last year with your dad and the uncertainty of my mom’s numbers, so I can do this as well. I desperately miss home on the farm and my hubby, but you know what farm life is like, so here I am…hanging on by the grace of God and your example!

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