When My Mom Told Me She Had Cancer, We Didn’t Talk About It

Anxiety, insecurity, fear: I had to put my emotions aside to truly offer support. Brian Stever, Co-host Sickboy

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to help people, there is a certain pleasure in solving the problems of others. It’s not the act of providing an answer that's satisfying, it’s the look in someone’s eyes when your words truly resonate with them. It’s like telling someone about a colour they never knew existed.

Sickboy, a podcast I co-host along with two friends in Halifax is fundamentally about having an open dialogue about illness. We encourage our guests to be vulnerable, to share their experiences, and to engage in healthy (and at times humorous) conversations about their struggles. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting Sickboy, it’s that advice is far easier to give than it is to follow.

Talking about illness was supposed to be easy for me

When my Mom told me she had cancer, we didn’t talk about it. After nearly three months into her diagnosis, I found out she had been downplaying some of her symptoms. I knew she was struggling emotionally, but only because I would overhear her on the phone or be told by a friend. Even then, I didn’t confront her. I figured that she knew she could come to me if she wanted to talk about it. I didn’t realize she might be trying to protect me too.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Three friends host the Sickboy podcast in Halifax.

In my mind, talking about illness was supposed to be easy, but why couldn’t I talk about it with my mom? 

When you tell someone it’s okay to be vulnerable, it's easy to remove yourself from the emotional struggle that comes with opening up. When it became personal, the advice we gave to our guests suddenly seemed to carry more weight. This wasn’t a lightbulb moment. It took me a while to realize that I was neglecting to follow our Sickboy mantra. And as it became more obvious, it was clear that I had to sit down and have a candid conversation with my mom.

I had to release the emotional weight that I was carrying around

Along with this decision, came all of the emotions we associate with having a serious conversation; anxiety, insecurity, fear. When telling our past guests to face these emotions head on, I couldn’t emphasize with what they were actually going through even though I knew it was the right thing to do.

So why was it so hard for me to engage in a conversation that would ultimately make me feel better? I finally realized that I had to try to put my own emotions aside in order to truly support my Mom. I had to release the emotional weight that I was carrying around and keeping to myself. That was when I called her and asked her to talk. A real-life episode of Sickboy, one without the listeners or microphones.

Advice may be easier to give than to take. But if you truly believe in what you’re saying, then you owe it to yourself to embrace vulnerability and open the dialogue.