UNITED STATES—Things are getting a bit personal here, but I think it is time people realize how impactful a family illness can be on individuals. In the past 2 years I have dealt with literally every imaginable family crisis one can think of. I mean my stepmother had breast cancer and pancreatic cancer at the same time. Talk about a double diagnosis of terror. She was a trooper throughout the entire process. I mean seeing her lose her hair was difficult to say the least, but her persistence to fight was just so encouraging and heroic.

So glad that her doctors saw that mass over her pancreas because if they didn’t catch it the situation could have been dire, similar to what my aunt endured 4 years ago and died as a result of the cancer being caught in her pancreas way too late. It totally forces you to realize people can be gone in a nick of time if you don’t take a moment and appreciate them while they are here in the presence.

At times, I could have been a bit too moody and didn’t realize how that was coming off, but the realization soon hit me, you’re being an asshole and you need to stop and it needs to stop right away. What you’re dealing with is nothing compared to what your stepmom is dealing with. On top of that, you start to realize you have to have a bit more patience in these situations. Why? I was taking on a lot of stress, doing things I had never done before while still attempting to navigate my own life at the same time.

Sometimes we don’t understand psychologically how devastating a family illness can be on our loved ones. They need you more NOW than ever before. They need you not just on a physical basis to do things that they can no longer do, but they need you on an emotional basis. They need to know you’re going to be that rock they need as they fight cancer, illness or whatever ailment they are battling and hoping to come out on the other end victorious against.

For many families they succeed, however, for some families they don’t always get to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They lose that loved one and it forces you to think what more could you have done, what more should you have done and are there any regrets that I have. You might be asking once again, why am I bringing this all up again. Well, October is indeed breast cancer awareness month so it causes you to take a moment and think and to reflect, but in addition, my stepdad has been suffering a debilitating illness, early onset dementia, and has suffered a series of strokes as a result.

You see a person one day and they look totally fine, then the next day chaos strikes and your whole world has been turned upside. My mother has been forced to do way more than she ever imagined for her husband who needs her now more than ever. He can’t drive, he’s been hospitalized left and right and then he has forgotten key details in his life. His memory is shot and considering heavily studied Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as an undergraduate stunned me. I had never heard of someone suffering from dementia at such an early age, but here we are.

The brain is such a complicated organ that forces one to really think what is going on with this organ that has so much control over our bodies not just physically, but mentally. My stepdad’s brain has to be as active now as ever before because it is key to battling the impact of dementia and how it starts to slowly take over the body. I’ve been stepping in as much as I can, but at the same time I feel a bit overwhelmed. I’m juggling this, juggling that and I just feel like my plate is full. However, it hits me, I’m NOT DYING people, and I am still healthy so I need to stop complaining, put on my big boy shorts and just roll with the punches.

I’m learning you have to be there for your family when it matters most because in the times of illness it brings people together, you bond, but also you realize who troopers are and who are not. There are those who step to the plate to help and those who just disappear into the shadows. I’m not one who will disappear into the shadows when times get tough, will you?

Written By Peter Sanders