On the afternoon of October 10, 2008 my mom got news that would change her life forever and make my sister and I question our faith in God. That day I knew the call was coming from either my mom or someone at the doctor. I knew if my mom was on the other line, we were good, but if the call came from someone else, it was bad.
Well around 3 PM, my cell rang. A local number but not my mom’s. When I picked up the phone from my office desk at my job at the time, I could hear my mom hysterically crying in the background. I knew immediately what the person who called for her was about to say. Before the woman on the line could identify herself, I started whimpering – It was positive. My mom was about to begin the fight of her life against breast cancer.
A woman who had been so selfless with my sister and I growing up. Someone who like everyone else was not perfect but had lived for my sister and I since the day she became a mother, was about to have to fight off breast cancer. We knew so little at that point. We had no idea how large the tumor was or what kind of fight she had ahead of her but we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Immediately after hanging up with the woman I began hysterically crying and called my boss to come in and take over for me. It took her about 10 minutes to get there and when I left I rushed over to my mom’s house. My mom was sitting there on the couch with my sister and the friend who called me. She looked like she had been beaten up. I was so angry. I was so angry at God for giving my mom a cancer that killed so many, mom’s, daughters and grandmothers. Why did she deserve it? I didn’t understand.
Word of course got out that my mom had breast cancer and I started getting random messages on facebook. Some from people I knew, some from people that I didn’t know very well. But people started coming out of the woodwork, with stories about how someone they loved had fought off the disease too. It was awesome. It was like this secret club that almost everyone is a part of, and when you join it, they all supported each other.
The next week the doctor appointments began. The process was long and complex. Some days mom had a “screw cancer” attitude but sometimes she was just ready to give up. I knew I had to stay strong for her and accompanied her on every Doctor appointment that I could. She had to have 3 doctors, a surgeon to remove the tumor, a plastic surgeon for reconstruction and a oncologist for the after-care. She was given the choice – Mastectomy or Lumpectomy. My mom was so scared to lose her breasts completely so she chose a lumpectomy. We learned her cancer was aggressive in nature and probably had only developed in the last couple of months before that. She went through the whole process including the 10 hour surgery and the two day hospital stay. For many, this is the end of treatment. This is where the healing begins for many however not for my mom. Due to the aggressive nature they recommended she undergo chemo, following a regimen of radiation.
The chemo I think was the worst. It almost killed her. After every treatment she would become so weak and sick. She lost all her hair and every time she would recover it would be time to return for another treatment. She lost 10’s of 20’s of pounds and just got sicker and sicker. Finally – she had her last appointment for chemo. This one probably hit her the worst because she was so weak at this point. Next the radiation began which for some is worse but for her nothing was as bad as the chemo. She had pretty much recovered from her surgery and she was cancer free. Her hair began coming back. I was so proud that she had gotten through all of this alive and so happy to still have my mom. Although much skinnier, she was still here and loving life more than she ever had before.
At this point we always knew the cancer could come back but we never imagined it would. Well, almost exactly 2 years later my mom called me after her 6 month checkup. She had a bad mammogram on the other breast. This time it wasn’t as scary for some reason. Not for any of us. We knew she survived it before and was certain she could survive it again. They did the biopsy and again the call came, this time from my mom. Calm and collected. The breast cancer had returned in a less aggressive state than before on the other breast. None of us cried. We all went in with a “Let’s do this” attitude and my mom was ready to fight. Because this was the second time they suggested a Mastectomy and my mom thankfully agreed. She was told with a Mastectomy she would be less likely to have chemo and the recurrence chance would drop to nearly 0%. This surgery was a doozie. In January 2011, I sat down with my mom to setup for her surgery prep. This surgery was going to be a long one. She would go under for what ended up being 16 hours. First she had to have her breast tissue completely removed and then the tissue in her stomach would be moved up to develop her reconstructed breasts. After 16 hours she came back from surgery in body but not in mind. She wasn’t herself almost that entire stay. During the recovery, I stayed there every night while my marriage fell apart due to forces I could no longer control. Recovery this time took longer from the surgery and getting her body back into a shape that felt normal is a fight she is still fighting.
My mom has been cancer free for over a year now. I hope she never has to fight Breast Cancer or any Cancer ever again but they keep very close eye on her. I didn’t write this blog to make you pity me or feel bad for my mom. I wrote this for awareness. My mom had not had a mammogram for over 15 years prior to the one that caught the aggressive cancer in her breast. She went in to try to get approved for a reduction surgery and they caught the cancer. The doctor’s predicted the tumor would have been 10 times it’s size by October 2009. Was it God? Was it coincidence? How did she end up getting that mammogram at the right time? We don’t know. We will never know, but I’m so proud that my mom was able to fight off the deadly disease, not once but twice and I’m confident she would be strong enough to do it again but very hopeful she wont’ have to. The moral of the story is folks, get your mammograms when your supposed to. Cancer doesn’t care who you are or who loves you, it can strike at any time. I hope you…. well learned something. Til next time!