Watching a parent battle a cancer diagnosis is distressing for a child, regardless of their age. Abbey Tulgestke faced many internal and external challenges seeing her father battle leukemia when she was only 13 years old. Thankfully, she saw her father regain his strength and go into remission. Nearly ten years later, however, her mother was diagnosed with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma.
Abbey has lived a lot of life – from serving in the United States Marine Corps to completing multiple degrees, working in an orphanage in Kenya, and starting a family of her own. She has absorbed life lessons from each new adventure and obstacle. But, some of the most important life lessons came at the most frightening moments in her life.
“You never really know what life is going to throw at you,” Abbey said. “Watching both parents battle cancer was so scary, but I learned a lot of lessons that will shape the rest of my life.”
1. Life is SO SHORT – enjoy the ride! Everything can change in an instant. In the blink of an eye, you can get a test result that will change your life or a sudden phone call where you become the primary caregiver of a loved one. You never know how much time you or a loved one has, so write an appreciation note, wake up early to watch the sunrise, and book a flight to that place on your bucket list!
2. Your mind is the strongest muscle
“Both of my parents were extremely resilient throughout the chemo and radiation process, Abbey shared. “They never gave up or allowed their brain and body to stop working!”
Abbey continued to explain the seven principles of resilience embodied by her parents. “You need to cultivate a belief in your ability to cope. Stay connected with sources of support, talk about what you’re going through, be helpful to others, activate positive emotion, cultivate an attitude of survivorship, and seek meaning. Seeing my parents fight and overcome obstacles proved just how strong a mind can be.”
Abbey and her parents were overcome with fear and anxiety, but they always looked for small moments of joy to wash away the negative emotions. Laughter is truly the best medicine.
4. Fight for what you want
“When watching a loved one battle cancer, you quickly learn that it doesn’t matter if you have the best doctors on the planet,” Abbey reflected. “You need to find the strength within yourself to fight and win the battle.”
Abbey learned that not every path is easy, and you have got to fight for what you want, whether it is a promotion, an achievement, or inner peace.
5. Beauty can be found in the weirdest places
“Mayo clinic was a sterile environment filled with hospital smells in what felt like a city of hospital buildings and facilities,” Abbey began. “Sounds like a great place, doesn’t it? The four months I lived there, during winter nonetheless, I despised that place. Now, I reflect on the hospital smells and sounds of Mayo Clinic as a place of healing and prosperity – it is the place that saved my mom’s life.”
Abbey’s story is a part of our Faces & Voices of Cancer initiative that uplifts and amplifies the stories of those impacted by cancer. If you are interested in sharing your story, please visit Faces and Voices of Cancer at www.facesandvoicesofcancer.org.
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