Mile 5: that’s exactly what today marks. Five years facing cancer for my mother.
On this day in 2012, while I was settling to a US Fulbright scholar adventure in Egypt, my mom was rushed to the hospital for a heart problem. She hadn’t been to a doctor since my traumatic birth three and a half decades prior, but she was starting to go then because of a troubling case of double vision. During my bon voyage party, I had lovingly called her “the pirate” because of the eye patch.
While getting great care there and with her only child 5921 miles away, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, tumors on both sides.
Her husband (my dad) had undergone his own cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery years before. She took care of him then; now the roles had reversed.
Over the coming years, she would face a double mastectomy, numerous bouts of radiation and chemotherapy, and neuropathy so bad that she even couldn’t feel if she had walked out of her shoes. Her eyebrows and hair fell out. She wasn’t able to do her favorite things such as crocheting, reading, puzzles and gardening. She could no longer help others in the ways she and we had all come accustomed to her doing.
My mom overcame all that and — making sure it was safe — drove herself to nearly every treatment appointment. She went to work every day and Skyped with me with some of the best jokes. (To those who became her virtual, adopted children for a day during Mother’s Day in 2013, we thank you.)
Then came the beautiful day in 2014: no evidence of disease. Two years of survivor walks and survivor fairs and survivor swag. Every six months, we held our breaths during scans then exhaled and told the next inappropriate, love-filled joke.
Last year, her cancer metastasized. While in the hospital for scans, she was standing at the ATM when one of the tumors suddenly and dramatically broke her femur. She fell to the floor and was in surgery almost immediately. Within weeks of home care, she was up and walking again. Fiercely positive and telling jokes the whole time, crying when she needed. I wasn’t sure how to help other than serving as physical therapy cheerleader and bathroom support; I simply spent much of that time in complete awe of her.
She was forced to retire just shy of her 50th anniversary as a working woman but she’s rocking retirement with a newly purchased lakeside cabin where she is the hostess with the most-ness for family and friends, while wearing her compression sleeve on an arm that has doubled in size. She got tested for the cancer gene and is all clear. Her medical team’s plan has included active treatment chemo, palliative radiation, and a hearty regimen of medications that I have no idea how she keeps up with — I can barely remember my vitamins.
She recently had another heart scare due to the chemo but was back into host mode by the following weekend. They are taking a break from the chemo so that her heart can recover. She’s in her early 60s and she’s a rock star.
In a couple weeks, it will once again be Breast Cancer Awareness Month; my mother and I definitely want you to be aware. Cancer is a beast. It’s real. But she and I also want to remind you that September is childhood cancer awareness month. For Donna and Shea, for RackStar Rosie and Happy Abby, for Lauren and Hussain and for everyone at 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital of Egypt, I must speak out. While hundreds of drugs for adult cancers have been developed over the past 30 years, only three have been developed for children. The politics of cancer research and funding are troubling. Read more in “Before the World Turns Pink Tomorrow.”
So for cancer awareness in general, mom’s words are best,
“It has been five years since my life changed along with my husband’s. Cancer changed our lives. I can’t say it all has been bad, though. A lot of set backs but you just keep fighting back. It helps you realize what is really important in your life. Mine is family and friends who have supported and encouraged me. A very special thank you to my neighbors and life lines who have been there though it all. I will always keep fighting with all the special people in my life. I love you all.”