(I’ve wanted to write about this subject for a long time but never quite knew how.)
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2013. She went through 2 surgeries, a long time of chemotherapy and radiation. I knew the hospital like my home for about a year and a half.
I’m not going to write this as a cancer patient because I wasn’t one. I’m going to tell you how it was to meet the disease and how it was to see my mom live with it.
Nothing and nobody can prepare you for the day you sit in a doctor’s office next to your mom and he tells her she has cancer. That word is like a knife going straight through you.
The worst part is that it’s not you with the big bad disease. It’s your mom. The person you love most in this world.
So you look at her and even if you’re about to cry you decide you can’t. You’re going to be strong for both. You decide your job is to keep her safe. You decide you’re going to be by her side every single day. You’re going to get through this together.
And you don’t even have to tell her this. You get out of the doctor’s office and when you see she’s going to cry you hug her and you don’t let anybody else see it or feel pity for her. You are her shield.
We got in the car and we were kind of lost. We didn’t know where to go so I suggested the beach. And we walked by the ocean for the rest of the afternoon. We ate ice cream and took a picture.
I was the one to break the news to my brothers and my dad.
I don’t like to cry in front of others. For a really big number of reasons but mostly because I’m vulnerable and nobody needs to see that. So that night when I was in bed I cried. I cried for a long time. I cried for every single time I wanted to cry that day. And when I woke up in the morning I didn’t want to cry anymore.
In the beginning of September my mom went through the first surgery. It was the big one. The one with the most changes. I was in her room for the entire thing waiting for news and waiting for her.
It’s the scariest thing in the world because you don’t know what’s happening and you can’t do anything. So you wait.
Finally the nurses came to get her bed and a few minutes later there she was, kind of loopy but okay.
My mom was okay so I smiled the biggest smile I could smile.
The next few days were a relief. She was recovering and I just wanted to sit next to her and help with everything I could.
She came home with two surgical drains still attached to her but it was manageable. I was just so happy she was going to spend my birthday with me.
I don’t remember exactly what happened a few days later but she started to bleed from one of the sutures. She didn’t panic and we rushed to the local center. A nurse made her a new bandage and we went home in the next hour. I still don’t know how I was that calm. I didn’t know I could be that calm.
The results from the first surgery came and the doctor told us she needed to be admitted again. We had been informed it was a possibility but it was still a blow.
For the second surgery the nurse allowed me to follow them to the OR. I held my mom’s hand until the door opened and they pushed the bed inside.
I waited again. For hours. In mild panic, afraid something could happen. Answering my brothers’ calls from time to time to inform them.
Then I finally saw the nurses come to take her bed and I saw her minutes later.
My mom was okay so I smiled the biggest smile I could smile.
The next days were happy ones and she came home.
We went to nurses appointments for new bandages and doctors appointments for check ups. And then it came the big talk… the one about the treatment.
My mom would start chemo within a month or so. It was scary mostly because we didn’t know what to expect. Everybody speaks of chemo as a demon that makes people even sicker. That takes away even the smallest kind of hope and dignity.
We came in for the first treatment. I was able to sit next to her chair and we ended up spending a few hours reading and talking and sleeping. But this first day was the hardest physically. The day that made her really sick for the next week. Luckily after the doctor changed a few prescriptions, my mom never felt that bad again.
In reality, the chemo day wasn’t the hardest mentally. The days that would follow were the bad ones. My mom wouldn’t feel nauseated but instead she was kind of off. Forgetful, nervous, sensitive. These are all side effects that will always be here and we learnt to live with them.
Hair is a big thing. It’s true that it’s just dead cells but socially, if there isn’t any, people stare and comment. They feel pity and they’ll treat and look at you differently. So we got a wig.
The process of cutting all your hair and seeing yourself in the mirror with some that isn’t yours, affects your whole self esteem. My mom only felt like herself the day we went to take it off and saw her new hair. I loved her new hair. Tiny but awesome. She looked beautiful.
So I want to make it clear that cancer is not just a disease: it changed everything. Not just in my mom’s life but in the lives of everyone who lives with her. It not only changed her perspective of things but also the way our family looked to everything else in the world. Our hopes and our decisions: they were all based on if she was okay or not.
For us, chemo in itself was hope. It existed to kill everything that’s bad. And if it took some good too, then we had to learn to live with or without it.
After that it was radiation. A few minutes a day for weeks… Every day there was a trip to the hospital for just half an hour.
The cool part was that my mom never stopped driving and being the person she was. So we would still go shopping and eat out together just as we always did.
And then it was over. No more treatments, no more being in a hospital everyday.
I was there. I was there every single day of treatments and appointments. Every hour of that waiting room and every minute listening to the doctor. I don’t know if that was much of a help but at least she wasn’t alone. I never wanted her to be alone.
We didn’t fight cancer. My mom fought cancer. I was just there to keep her company.
She followed the rules because she knew they had to be followed. It was not even a choice. It was unpleasant but she did it.
And she’s here. I have my mom. I wake up everyday and I can hug her. And that’s the biggest blessing I could ask for.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m really proud of my mom. Not only for never giving up or for being strong but mostly because I watched her get up every day, get dressed and do what had to be done.
Because we got through this together and this situation showed us the really important things about life.
Like I said before, I’ve learnt more these past years than in my whole previous ones.
There is no more silly drama that affects me or no more stupid worries to bring me down. I know now that I can’t waste time with what doesn’t make me happy and I’ve learnt to identify it.
Do you have any questions? If you know someone who’s going through something similar feel free to share it in the comment section below.