Coping with Cancer: Teens struggle with having a sick parent

Taylor Mason lost her father to cancer in March 2013. Photo courtesy of Taylor Mason.
Taylor Mason lost her father to cancer in March 2013. Photo courtesy of Taylor Mason.

Cancer—the six-letter diagnosis that no one wants to hear.

“I don’t have my dad here to watch me do great things in life, see me graduate and walk me down the aisle,” senior Taylor Mason said, who shed some light on her devastating experience with cancer.

Sept. 6, 2011, was the day Mason and her family found out that her father, Ronnie Mason, was diagnosed with lung cancer and that chemotherapy would be needed. The next year and a half would become the hardest time that Mason has ever encountered.

“Shocked” was the first word that came to her mind when reflecting on the emotions she felt as she heard the news.

“I didn’t think he actually had cancer; we just thought that his vision was messed up, but it ended up being a tumor,” Mason said.

It took months for reality to sink in that this was “real life” and that death was a possibility.

Chemotherapy is a common treatment plan for cancer patients and is hard on not only the patient, but the family as well.

“It was pretty rough because he was sick all the time, he lost a lot of weight (100 lbs.) and turned into a completely different person,” Mason said. “Knowing that he was going through such a tough time and suffering was awful.”

During this time, Mason says that family and religion were the two things that helped her. She says the battle with cancer made them stronger as a family because they stuck together and worked as a team to deal with the pain.

“We don’t need easy, just possible,” was the inspirational quote printed on the back of the “Rally for Ronnie” t-shirts made by the Masons, worn by family and friends when walking in an event to help raise money for research to find a cure for cancer.

“Watching someone go through cancer and knowing there is nothing you can do to help is the worst feeling,” Mason said.

Mason’s father passed away on March 6, 2013.

Just four months earlier, junior Jalen Smith lost his mother, Angelina Hayes, to breast cancer Nov. 16, 2012.

“It was like I was dreaming, but woke up stuck in reality,” Smith said.

Hayes had been diagnosed with breast cancer twice previously when Smith was younger, but the third time was the most serious.

“The doctor found it early so they started doing chemotherapy, which took stress off my shoulders because I knew something was being done,” Smith said.

It was during football season last year when Hayes’ condition started to get worse, leaving Smith to turn to his father and lean on him for support.

“The past five years I didn’t have a relationship with my dad,” Smith said.

When his father found out about Hayes’s condition, they began to develop the “father-son” relationship they never had which helped him immensely.

“Probably the worst thing is when the doctor tells you they don’t know how long the patient has to live,” Smith said.

Smith must now do things on his own and having only one parent, lives a different life.

“I grew up so close to my mom and it is a tragic thing to lose the parent that plays the role of a mother, father and a best friend, knowing that you can’t get them back.”

When thinking about the future and about not having his mom there with him, Smith said, “I know she won’t be there physically, but it will make me feel proud of myself to say that I was still able to do something even after losing a parent.”

Junior Kadarus Rone lost his father, Robert Henry “Poppa” Rone Jr. to rectal cancer Sept. 2, 2011.

“On the day before he died, I asked him if I should quit playing sports. He told me to grab his hand so I did; he squeezed it hard and told me to keep playing sports and make it out of Pittsboro,” Rone said. “He told me he would always be watching.”

Rone plays both varsity football and basketball as well as AAU basketball, which requires him to travel around the country to compete. His father never missed a game, even when he was sick and in bad condition.

“When I first scored in football, I was emotional because I knew he wasn’t there physically, but that he was smiling and looking down at me,” Rone said. “He was my motivator in sports and anything I did.”

Rone’s father went into surgery many times but before the last one, a code blue was called in his hospital room.

“I was sleeping in his room, I woke up and saw doctors surrounding him and they told me I needed to get out of the room,” Rone said. “I thought he had died then and I was scared.”

His father went into a week-long coma and regained consciousness on a Sunday. It seemed like everything was getting better until the infections came back, spreading throughout his body.

He underwent chemotherapy every Friday, picking up Rone early from school because he wanted Rone to go with him to the doctors. The teachers were aware of the school time that Rone was missing every Friday.

“They told me to go to spend more time with him because they knew he would pass away sometime soon,” Rone said.

Rone says football coach Bill Hall and both the football and basketball teams helped and continue to help Rone deal with the loss. Both his mother and grandmother support and motivate him.

“It’s hard watching the person that you love, that you grew up around and that you call your father go through cancer. It affects you tremendously,” Rone said.

Junior Maria Reichle’s mother, Nancy, has been fighting cancer since October 2006. It started off as breast cancer, which went away, only to reappear in her liver.

As with Mason, Reichle was in shock when first hearing about her mother’s new condition and didn’t really understand what was happening.

“I don’t even remember the beginning of it,” Reichle said. “My mom told me that sometimes she was so sick she couldn’t get out of the bed, but I don’t remember any of that.”

Cancer has been an ongoing struggle in Reichle’s home for almost seven years. Her passion for dance is one thing that she knows will help her get through it.

“I feel like I can go and let out all my emotions when I dance,” Reichle said.

Reichle’s mother continues to fight the battle against cancer, hoping to be eventually cancer-free.

“I’ve had a few friends that it was ongoing and it killed them, but my mom has had it for five years now, so I don’t really know what to expect. I think she is doing really well now, but you never know,” Reichle said.

For all families battling cancer, the struggles and outcomes are different, but they all agree that cancer has a terrible impact on their lives not ever knowing which day might be the last.

– By Dana Walker