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  • Writer's pictureDawn Helmrich

A Daughter’s Rape, A Mother’s Cancer

Updated: Apr 23

My mom and I had a tight-knit relationship. I know a lot of people can say that about their moms, but ours was bonded by trauma so thick and deep that no one else but the two of us felt the wounds and scars as deeply as we did. I am not even sure how she managed to survive her daughter being kidnapped, robbed, raped and shot.

She not only survived it but became my rock throughout the years afterward. I stepped out of the courtroom when she stood up to read her victim witness statement because I could not stand to listen to her pain. It wasn’t until 25 years later, when I pulled the transcripts for a book I was writing, that I actually read her words. If you read them you would feel the anger, pain and pure agony in every syllable of her statement.

She watched her daughter self-destruct in the years after and there was little she could do, but hope and pray that I got help. She watched as my mental health declined to a point that she wasn’t sure I was going to survive the trauma I had endured. She sat by my bedside as I wept night after night, drank day after day, dropped out of college, lost my job and all my friends, and hit the bottom of the deepest well I had ever known.


I discussed these issues and more on a new show that I launched with Neil Parekh, “Shining Light on Shadows: A Candid Conversation About Mental Health.” Indira Somani was our guest. She's working on a documentary about her mother's 20-year struggle with depression and her own role as one of her mother's caregivers. You can watch the recording on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Neil’s website.


She also watched as I crawled my way back up and silently cheered me on as I took the steps I needed to heal within myself. She sat next to me as I decided to stand up for others who had been abused, assaulted and, raped.

The day I found out she had cancer everything inside me felt like it was dying. All she said was, “Let’s go have lobster and celebrate.” I looked at her and said alrighty then and that’s just what we did. She was 76 when she was first diagnosed. She did all the things — had surgery, chemo, radiation — and went into remission. I watched her suffer through all of it, but was full of joy that she was better.

Three years later, her cancer came back, this time with an unrelenting vengeance. It had decided to encase her body in a way that no surgery, or chemo or radiation would ever be able to heal. So at the age of 79, she decided to just live each day that she could as best as she could. It was my turn to sit by her side, to hold her hand, to cry with her, and listen to her stories. It was my turn to give to her what she gave to me all those years ago. And I did.

But my silent hell as a caregiver was always there. The anxiety, deep fear, and depression were once again nearly unbearable. I felt selfish for wanting her to not leave me. I felt selfish for making it about me and my feelings. I felt selfish for wishing it wasn’t like this and that I didn’t have to see her suffer while she was the one who was doing the most suffering. She never complained. She cherished every visit from every person. She showed a level of strength that I didn’t know existed and I have never seen since.

The day I got the phone call that she had died, I cried into the phone. I blamed the nurse for not calling me and letting me know that it was going to be happening soon. I had just seen her the night before and they thought she had a few more days. She left on her terms and I was pissed.

The night before she died I sang to her. She loved Amazing Grace and she loved my voice. I sat by her bedside as she was heavily sedated. I wanted to leave so bad. I hated seeing her like that., I wanted to remember her differently, but instead, I sang.

It’s been nearly four years. I still haven’t wrapped my head around her being gone. I still cry at night sometimes. I still feel the deepest sadness and the greatest joy when I think about her. I know she suffered through all of my pain and all of hers, but she never once showed that to me. I’ll never have another relationship like I had with her, and I don’t want one. What we went through together, no mother and daughter should ever have to endure, but I couldn’t have done it without her.

Mom, you would be so proud of me and this show and how I am raising awareness about mental health. You were, and forever will be, the best thing in my life and I will love you today and always….


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