Battle with breast cancer, 11 years later

We almost made it to the parking lot of the elementary school where my mom taught at and I was enrolled, when my mom got the call. Her phone rang as I stared absentmindedly at the overhang shadowing the walkway, thinking it was just another grown-up call that didn’t concern me. But then I saw my mother’s face drop, and the guard she usually kept so tightly wound dissipated. In that moment she wasn’t a mother trying to appease her daughter, just a person getting life-changing news. 

She had breast cancer. 

We both cried, not knowing what it would entail. Cancer was one of those words that could instill fears in just two syllables. For me, only a fourth-grader at the time, it was a word I heard associated with disease and death. The news that my mom was next on cancer’s hit list, brought grey clouds that depressed every aspect of life. I was 9 years old, fearing my mother’s death, a concept I never fathomed before.

My mom raised me a devout Catholic, and was even my catechism teacher at St. Joseph’s Church. I remember staring at the darkened ceiling in my room one night, and praying as hard as I could to God.

“If my mom is going to be okay, just give me a sign,” I begged. 

We had done everything right—went to church on Sundays, never used his name in vain, and devoted our life to God, so the least he could do was ease the fears of a scared fourth-grader, right? 

“Please, it doesn’t have to be anything big. Flicker a light, move the fan, I won’t tell anyone. Just please tell me my mom is going to be okay.”

The silence of reality answered, and at that moment, I lost my faith in everything. Soon after, my mother tried to arrange with my church a way that I could still be enrolled in catechism, though I would no longer be able to attend the classes because of her daily radiation appointments. Our church said there was no way, and despite my mother’s involvement and our years of attendance, we were exiled. 

Though life was uncertain, my mother, as always, was optimistic. She was magic in the ways she could find a silver lining in everything, even with her own health at risk. Every day after school, I was her “carpool buddy” as we’d fly through traffic in the carpool lane towards downtown Sacramento to the hospital where she’d get radiation. She’d make light of it all, like she was a superhero getting zapped, and sing songs joking on the elevator ride up to the hospital’s waiting room.

Alone I’d sit in camel-colored plastic chairs in the waiting room, and wait as long as it took. Cancer sucked the life out of everything, and the waiting room was no exception. It was always so quiet you could hear your own shaky exhales; the only other noise was a waterfall trickling in the corner of the room. I’d zone out until my mom emerged, staring at the fountain for the hour, hypnotized by the calming song of water dancing carefully on river stones.

It became our daily after school routine, and eventually, we adjusted. My mother’s light-heartedness helped make it more enjoyable. I made friends with a sweet receptionist named Jean, who would go out of her way to make sure I felt okay. Because I was unsupervised in the waiting room, I’d fill up water cups and mix them with packets of sugar, and drink my special sugar-water cocktail I knew my mother wouldn’t approve of. Jean caught on and started giving me hot chocolate packets instead.

Throughout everything, I never saw my mom in pain, though I believe she must have been. Besides the initial moment of finding out, she never let me see her down or scared. Above everything, she put my best interest first, and did everything to keep on the production that everything was fine, despite how uncertain and afraid she may have felt. 

As an adult, she’s told me that during this time she prayed to just live long enough to get me through high school.  Eleven years later, I’m in my fourth year of college, and she’s cancer-free. My mom believes her positive outlook throughout her experience helped her heal, and has told me lessons about living life without regrets that came with her into recovery. 

Her healing inspired her to live life to the fullest—she began traveling more, doing adventurous endeavors like zip-lining and parasailing, going to fancy restaurants and expanding her pallet. 

For me, my mother’s cancer made me more health conscious. As life drones on, a feeling of immortality often clouds our reality, and it’s those moments where you’re close to death that shake you from your daydreams and ground you, making one question their own mortality. 

There are no words for how grateful I am that my mom is here with me today. I know not everyone has similar stories to mine, and my condolences and love lie with everyone who has lost a loved one to cancer. 

There is no fear like watching a loved one close to death; it  leaves permanent scars on everyone involved.

In honor of all the women who have battled breast cancer, take care of your own health. If you’re feeling pain in your breast, don’t put it off; go get checked. Make a routine of conducting breast examinations on yourself. Educate yourself on signs, where to donate and how to help. 

Though breast cancer is a well-known illness, it’s still important to bring awareness and attention to it. We need to educate women on signs of breast cancer, such as dimpling on the breast’s skin or swelling, so they are able to catch it as early as possible. Every woman should know how to do a breast examination on themselves to check for lumps within the breast. 

 It is also important to discern foundations that are legitimately trying to support women with breast cancer, and those, like the organization Susan G. Komen, that are just trying to capitalize off of the disease. Most importantly, if someone you love is suffering, do something kind for them to alleviate the burden. 

When you think of breast cancer awareness month, instead of thinking of pink ribbons and fundraiser runs, think of the real woman going through it. Women with cancer are often depicted as being so strong, which they are, because they are not only fighting for themselves, but their family as well. Such strength isn’t only admirable though, but exhausting. 

Women with breast cancer are tasked with alleviating the fears and worries of those around them, while being immersed in their own internal battle. But it doesn’t have to be fought alone—be there in low moments, hold their hand throughout the process, let them lean on you, cry to you, show the ugly sides of struggling through cancer they hide from the world. 

Let these women tear down the facade of the mighty woman, and let them be, even just for a moment, vulnerable. Nothing will free them from the burden of cancer except finally hearing they have “no evidence of disease”, but they will appreciate your support more than you know.

 No one wants to be strong all the time, though women with breast cancer often are, so let them take off their armor. Lend love and support, strength and kind words and optimism and hope—it’s what they deserve.

One Comment

  1. Avatar
    Zephne Ferreira

    A moving and beautifully written work of art! I lived through each moment with you as you shared the fear, thoughts, disppointments and true love and compassion of a little girl and her mother fighting cancer.
    You write in a style and use words and imagery that involves the reader closely in what you are experiencing.

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