Cancer — Part I
My mom was my rock growing up, and still holds that title today. The only difference is that we started to level out the playing field where I can offer her as much help as she offers me (at least I like to believe that is the truth).
It’s hard to forget the day when she broke the news to me that she had cancer. I remember her asking me to come up to her room so we could sit down and talk. There is no reason for anyone to walk up a flight of stairs just to sit down, to have a conversation. I immediately knew this was not going to end well.
My brain tries to black out most of the afternoon. There are certain things that I had focused on, like the details of the leather bench, and the sunlight coming in through the window as the sun was setting. The words are lost. I recall her telling me through held back tears that she was going to need surgery because she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was a bit blindsided that she was able to go through all of the testing, biopsies, and appointments without me catching on.
Typically, we would be on the phone multiple times a day, so I’m not sure how an intuit like myself let this slide by. Perhaps I didn’t want to pick up on, and it was easier to cast aside than to deal with. Either way, we didn’t know the outcome here, only that she would be undergoing a double mastectomy and a minimum of five to ten years of treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation. We were able get a giggle out over her getting a tummy tuck and some new bigger boobs in the process. Being flat-chested her whole life, it only took cancer to get a pair of boobs! You always need a silver lining.
The surgery was scheduled for the 27th of February 2012. It took a lot longer than they were expecting and they did find that some of the cancerous cells had infiltrated her lymph nodes. They were able to get most of the margins clear, but she would fear about the possibility of one of those escaped cells finding a place in her body to hide and wreak havoc in the future.
I remember looking at her lying in the bed in the post op suite. I leaned over and tried to watch her chest rise and fall. She was completely pale, and if they didn’t confirm that she was still with us, I would have thought she had made her way to the pearly gates. “Dad, I think she’s dead.” I whispered to my father who was standing beside me. He nudged me with his elbow. I did find out later that although she didn’t respond to us being there, she heard every word we said. In hindsight it does make her laugh that we thought she was dead, not so funny at the time.
The recovery was tougher than I had imagined. She had drains in her wounds and needed help navigating around the house, to the bathroom, and in the shower that first week. The pain from the surgery would subside, but that was just the beginning of the battle. Next, she was up for radiation, following by chemotherapy, and lastly a drug regimen that she would need to follow for ten years post op to ensure that she had the best chances of the cancer not returning. Even with all of these measures, there was no guarantee, so the mental anguish followed her around, and I believe still does today. She feels the ticking time bomb but is always sure to push it out of focus, the less energy she puts towards it, the less it has a chance to cultivate.
A few months after the surgery my wedding was coming up. She was devasted that she would have to wear a wig. I would have been fine with her wearing a Michelin man suit at that point. I was just happy she was there with us for the celebration. The night before the ceremony, my mother, my sister, and I slept over at a hotel near to the venue. We woke up to my mom’s “little bald head” and decided to sing about it. That’s the thing about our family, we know how to spin the negative. We’re not going to lay down without a fight, and we’ll do our best to laugh along the way.
Tomorrow will be the ten-year anniversary of her surgery. She loves to celebrate this every year because she needs the reminder that she won the fight. We love to gather around her and make her feel special any day, but especially on this day. It’s a reminder that life is short, and we are constantly being thrown off the path. I honestly never thought I would lose her to cancer at that time. I think I was able to embrace this positive feeling, because she made it clear that she was not going to give up. She had in her gut that she would beat this thing, and she did. Not everyone is so lucky to tell that story.
I worry for my mom because she is the type of person that holds her feelings in deep. She doesn’t like anyone to know that they are there. She’s always “FINE” even when she is clearly not fine. I hope that she can honor the process that she’s been through and look forward to letting any negative energy neutralize. Life is hard, but we need to go through these struggles to gain perspective on our direction. We can’t be complacent. We’ve got to make waves. There’s never a better time to celebrate life, than with a situation like this. Don’t waste a minute. Get shit done. Find out who you are while you have the chance to. Create yourself and own it.