One afternoon last October my mom and I were talking. At the time, she was caring for the twins on a regular basis. She mentioned there was a day she would be unable to care for them because she had a doctors appointment.
I inquired as to whether or not everything was ok. "Sure" I remember her saying. It was just a routine follow up to her annual mammogram.
"This happens all the time" she said. "I have fibrocystic breasts and the doctors always seem to find something and it always turns out to be nothing."
Ok, I thought. She knows her own body. If she's not worried then neither am I.
And so I forgot.
Until I got a call from my sister at work a few days later. Apparently my mom had been trying to get in touch with me but had been unsuccessful. When my sister conferenced my mom in to the call I knew something was going on.
I heard terms such as insitu ductal carcinoma and infilitrating carcinoma. But the question was, what did all these things mean ?
My mom, my sister and I talked for a few minutes more about what would happen next but it was clear we were all overwhelmed and didn't know what any of this meant.
I later found out exactly what those words meant.
It meant that my mother had breast cancer.
I felt powerless. Was this really happening to my mother?
After losing my father suddenly in 1999 my mother had become everything to me and this was so unfair. I wasn't sure this was something I was prepared to handle.
But she was handling it , in fact she was handling it better than I.
So I found myself pulling it together for her. She'd been an exceptional, unwavering support for me over the years and now it was my turn to do the same for her.
And so I prayed. I asked for strength for both myself and my mom. I asked for help in combatting whatever might be next. And most of all I prayed that this disease wouldn't take my mom as heart disease had taken my dad years before.
My mom turned 60 about a month later . We'd talked about her 60th birthday the year before. We discussed huge parties, trips we would take , grandiose celebrations to ring in her 60th year. But that was put on hold. For we knew that
three days after my Mom's birthday she would undergo a bilateral mastectomy.
I hadn't really allowed myself to cry until the day after her surgery. Everything had been surreal up until that point and only when I saw my normally vibrant mom lying in that bed, weak and in pain from major surgery it was more than I could bare.
But we weathered that. She weathered it. With amazing strength and pride. She got through it.
When I felt she was ready to talk about it. I asked her how she felt about losing her breasts. "Well, they were diseased and that was something I didn't need in my body". Her response was so healthy I was just in awe. And at those moments when I felt so sad for her and questioned why she had to go through this ordeal she picked me up. I remember her saying "I have to live life for today because tomorrow is not promised but while I'm here I will live life to the fullest"
Then Christmas was upon us but we had little time to soak in the moments for we knew that three days later my mom would start chemotherapy.
She started with a drug commonly referred to as AC .Its job: to kill diseased cells. Only, it doesn't distinguish between cancer cells and other cells. Particularly hair. Two weeks to the day after she started the drug her hair started to fall out in clumps. My mom had worked hard to grow her hair to her shoulders and it fell out in a matter of days.
At one point my mom went out and got a sassy wig. But now she rarely wears it. Instead she wears a pink bandana. She wants the world to know she is fighting this disease and she is surviving it.
And today we've reached another milestone in this journey. Today, June 8 2007 marks the end of my mom's chemotherapy treatment. And that is something to shout about. She endured 8 weeks of one drug and 12 weeks of another. The first caused nausea , extreme exhaustion, diarrhea, mouth sores and a whole host of other side effects. The second drug Taxol that she's had to take weekly for the last 12 weeks caused extreme exhaustion, muscle aches and neuropathy.
It's been a long road but we've made it.
She's made it and tonight we'll celebrate. We will celebrate her character, her strength and her ability to stare down this evil disease and fight it with both fists.
My mom has breast cancer.
Breast Cancer does not have her.