How Did My Migraine Respond to the Stress and Grief of My Mother's Diagnosis?

A little over a year ago, my mother was diagnosed with a rare cancer that has a small survival rate. She and my family entered her treatment plan with as much optimism as possible. We were close to a major cancer-center with the best doctors around, and she was going to be part of a research study trial of a new medication.

This diagnosis brought on major life shifts not just for my mom, but my entire family. We took turns bringing her to the cancer center. She had several appointments per week, and the visits lasted all day.

How did I support my mom?

I was one of her major support people. I often enjoyed the days at the hospital with her. Despite the appointments and treatments, and times that she wasn’t feeling well, the days at the hospital meant time together. We chatted, watched movies on her iPad, Googled things together, checked out the hospital gift shop, and treated ourselves to the biscotti in the cafeteria.

How did migraine respond to the stress and triggers?

The fluorescent lights, masks, and long hours sitting were sometimes a migraine trigger for me, but often I was migraine-free. I think my body knew it had to be there to help my mom. I often feel better migraine-wise in stressful situations. Instead of finding stress as a trigger, I think adrenaline may prevent migraine attacks for me. Through the year of her treatment, I was only experiencing a few attacks per month.

Did it hold up when her cancer relapsed?

As we were approaching the anniversary of my mom’s diagnosis, she had a relapse of her disease, which had been in temporary remission. With the return of her disease, her treatments became more frequent and intense. Days at the hospital were longer, and she was feeling sicker. Even with the extra stress, my head held out.

How did I fare when she passed?

In the last week of her life, she was admitted to the ICU. My family and I stayed by her side day-in and day-out until she passed. I had one migraine during that week, although I did not allow it to keep me from the precious time with her.

After she passed, we had the funeral arrangements and plenty of other time-consuming work ahead of us to get affairs in order. I was migraine-free for the services, and for a week or so afterward. But as a few weeks passed, and life got to the new normal, I started to feel tired and started experienced several migraine attacks a week.

Was this a let-down migraine?

In looking back at other times I’ve had a migraine flare-up; it often was in a period following a stressful event. This is called a “let-down migraine.” So, I wasn’t surprised that I was experiencing more attacks in this period after the acute stress had passed. I knew, when grieving, to be gentle on myself and know that I would be feeling a lot, physically and emotionally, for some time.

Migraine disease impacts us throughout different life events and changes. For me, it became a companion to my grieving process. It is ever-present in some form or another and demands that I take care of myself during tough situations. This can be frustrating, but it’s something I’ve come to accept I must make space for.

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