Strong like my Mama

Every morning my mom comes into my room to wake me up. She always greets me with a kiss on the cheek and says,“Buenos días mosha.” Her way of saying “Good morning beautiful”. 

But that morning in May was different. The sound of my mom opening my bedroom door woke me, and I waited for her to come to my bedside, but she did not.

 I knew she had a doctor’s appointment earlier that morning, but didn’t think much of it, although looking back I thought it was strange my dad took the day off to go with her. 

“How’d it go?” I asked as she stood in the door looking at me.

 “Come to the living room, we need to talk,” she said, her voice breaking. I asked her again  what was wrong, growing more worried by the second. But she repeated herself, telling me to go to the living room. 

It was exactly two days before Mother’s Day when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was so crazy to grasp the idea that my mother, the woman who has been my best friend since birth, had breast cancer. 

I always thought I would be the one diagnosed. A history of breast cancer runs on my dad’s side. My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer before I was born, and as a result had a mastectomy. I remember as I was growing up she would have yearly exams to make sure the cancer wouldn’t recur. 

Around 2016, four years before my mother’s diagnosis, I found a lump in one of my breasts. I told my mom and we both feared it would be breast cancer because of my connection with my grandma. 

I remember going into the clinic to get tested, and seeing all types of women with shaved heads, pink shirts, and pink ribbons. I thought to myself, “If I do have cancer I’ll get a ribbon tattooed, dye my hair pink and go all out.”

Thankfully, the bump in my breast wasn’t cancer, it was just dense tissue. Still every now and then I get tested to make sure there was no cancer. My mom had no connection with anyone who had cancer in her family. She had routine mammograms. I always thought it would be me, but it was her.

So many questions raced through my head after hearing her diagnoses. Why her? Will she beat it? What does this mean for our family?

 I was devastated and felt like I couldn’t breathe. I feared for her life. The first thing a person associates with cancer is death. We all hugged my mom when we learned her diagnoses and reassured her that everything was going to be fine. 

Truth is, none of us really knew. 

I didn’t cry when she told us, neither did my brother. We sat there making a game plan as to what were the next steps. As I got the chance to get away from home, I went to my best friend Aylin and let it all out. I cried uncontrollably. My fear of the unknown took over me, as Aylin and I talked about it at midnight in my car.

Everything happened so quickly. I called to make an appointment with the oncologist to start the battle with this horrible disease. I always made all of my parent’s appointments since they are not entirely fluent in English. But this time, as I’m still trying to process my mother’s diagnosis, it felt strange to say “My mom was diagnosed with cancer and needs an appointment.” 

I’ve never gotten used to saying it out loud. 

My life was completely changing before my eyes. I was about to take on yet another role in my life—I was already a student, an employee, a sister, a daughter, but now, also a caretaker. When someone has cancer it affects everyone who loves them.

All together there were five doctors taking on the task of healing my mom. I thank God everyday for choosing the best doctors to care of her. Every single one has left a positive mark on my family and encouraged my mother throughout her fight with breast cancer. They all assured me they would care for my mom as if she was their own mother, an effect my mom often has on people with her big heart and nurturing personality. 

It was very difficult for us to take on my mother’s breast cancer during a global pandemic that restricts so many things. I can’t go inside the doctor’s office and hold her hand while they explain medical terms to her. 

Having to wait outside broke my heart, but I knew it was for the safety of everyone. I had to translate everything the doctor’s were saying over the phone. The quiet struggles of first generation Mexican American children were heightened by the pandemic. 

My mother made many  life-changing decisions. She had the option of either getting a mastectomy and losing her whole breast, or getting a lumpectomy, which is a less invasive surgery, but needs radiation treatment afterwards. She decided to have a mastectomy to better ensure that the cancer will not come back. Then she had to decide whether she wanted an implant to reconstruct her breast. 

Her plastic surgeon explained that it is always easier on the patients’ mental health when they have reconstruction surgery as opposed to living the rest of their life with one breast. She made up her mind and went for the implant. After seeing multiple doctors, my mother finally had a mastectomy to hopefully get rid of the cancer this year on July 24. She had to go through all of it alone due to the pandemic, but outside the hospital our whole family was rooting for her. Following the negative result of her coronavirus test, she was good to go. 

After the surgery my mom struggled to do her everyday tasks. I had to shower her, change her into her clothes, clean out the drains they placed on the side of her abdomen. All of this took a toll on her mental health. She felt depressed for not being able to care for herself. I reassured her that I did not mind doing all of this for her. 

It was as if everything came full circle. She took care of me when I was a baby by feeding me, cleaning up after me and raising me into the woman I am today. I felt as if I was repaying her for everything she did for me while I was growing up. This brought us so much closer and strengthened our relationship when I thought it was already the strongest mother-daughter bond there was. But like always, my mom showed me there’s always room to grow.

Two days after her surgery my cell phone rang at 1:32 p.m., it was both of my mom’s surgeons. They personally wanted to tell us the news—that’s the type of relationship my family and I built with her doctors. It felt as if they were part of our family too. I ran to the living room where my mom and the rest of the family was and put my phone on speaker. 

“You are cancer free,” I quickly translated to my mom, and we all cried tears of joy. I prayed for those words for months and they were finally here. Although being cancer free does not mean it will never come back, those words brought peace to my family, while the whole world felt like it was on fire due to the pandemic. They ran more tests on my mom and determined that the chances of her cancer coming back are less than 5%. 

This breast cancer awareness month was different for my family and I. Although there were no events to commemorate the month because of the pandemic, everyone wore pink to honor those who have had to deal with breast cancer. 

This time around, we celebrated both my grandma and my mom for winning their battles. Seeing pink everywhere means so much more now. When my mom sees small businesses, soccer teams or others wearing pink, she feels seen and supported.

No one wants to see someone they love battle this horrible disease but it’s true when they say God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. I urge every man and woman to self assess themselves for cancer. Cancer has no morals. It attacks everyone no matter their standing in society. 

If you notice anything unusual, don’t put it off— get it checked immediately. 

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