There have been few times I have shared even a snippet of this story with anyone. But I think it's time I do...time for me to open up and hope that I can help someone else through my family's story. So, be prepared...I'm about to get brutally honest and make a part of my life an open book.
Growing up my mom and I had a somewhat typical mother-daughter relationship. When I was a young child I strived to be like her. I wanted to help her cook, I attempted to fold laundry with her, go for long walks finding the biggest sticks and rocks, and I couldn't take a nap without her falling asleep with me. Those years passed by and I hit grade school. Most of these still stayed true although I did want to exert my own independence. But still, I turned to my mom when I wanted to shave my legs for the first time, talk about issues at school, read a good book or to share in the everyday joys of life. After that I hit middle school and I'm sure my mom wanted me as far away from her as I wanted to be. You see, my parents aired on the strict/conservative side. So what my friends were wearing or doing or watching in middle school, I was not allowed. Did I react well to that? No. I believe my entire 7th grade year was spent being grounded from the phone due to the fact that I often talked back with quite the amount of sarcasm. I slowly grew out of that stage, but not completely. High school came and my "cool" factor ( or what I thought) sky rocketed. I was independent....after all I was a big freshman. Ha! But it led to battles over dresses for dances, curfew hours, and where I was allowed to go on the weekends. My junior year rolled around and I was living the dream. School was great. Friends were even better. And I was loving the social life of high school. I had been given a lead in the spring musical, my first, and I had my first real relationship. But in one day, that all crashed down around me.
I knew something was wrong. I came home from school, took a nap, and woke up feeling weird. I had about 10 missed calls from my sisters that I had ignored while I was asleep. I finally answered Lea's call and knew instantly from the sound of her voice things were going to change. "Did you hear?" she asked. I didn't even need to respond. I knew what was coming. At that moment I heard the garage door open and I fled downstairs. As I hit the bottom step my dad walked through the door....I saw the sadness in his eyes. I peered behind him to see my mom, tears lining the brim of her eyes. I shook my head no but she confirmed my worst nightmare. "It's cancer." One never wants to hear that word associated with their parents, let alone come out of their own mouth. She wrapped me in a huge hug and as tears streamed down my face she said, in a calm voice, "Don't worry. Everything will be fine."
"Are you kidding me? Fine? You just told me you had cancer. How can you be telling me you will be fine?" Of course, I did not say this out loud. Instead I did the mature ( ha) thing, picked up the car keys, and took off. I sat in my car and cried until there were no tears left in me. I came home and couldn't talk. My parents sat on the couch talking about treatment options and I wanted to put my hands over my ears and scream at them to stop. That my mom didn't have cancer and this was all a nightmare. Mature again, right? Dramatic? Yes. The next day I was sitting next to my big sis in chapel ( she was my teacher) while two students sang Celine Dion's "The Prayer." There I sat, on the school bleachers, with tears once again streaming down my face. Lyns reached over and grabbed my hand. She stayed strong for the both of us. Life became a blur the next few weeks. My mom's surgery was coming up fast. I was scared. I didn't know how to handle what I was feeling. At a time in my life when I should have turned and ran into Christ's open arms, I didn't. I was angry. How could he love us but put my mom and our family through this?
All of my sisters were in town for her surgery. I went in to tell my mom I loved her before she went back and almost lost it. All I could think of was, " Please let her be here to help me find my wedding dress when the time comes. To hold my baby in her arms one day. To hug me and tell me she is proud of me. " I wanted to take back every hurtful thing I had ever said, everytime I ignored her or chose hanging with someone else instead of spending time with her. My mom did great through her surgery and she looked great after. She was able to choose her surgery option and she choose a mastectomy that would be followed with chemotherapy. She finally came home...to my dad and I ...after everyone else returned home. My dad is amazing. He emptied her drains without ever showing a glimmer of discomfort or hesitance. He stepped up in household duties and his love for my mom and this life changing experience was remarkable to see .I used to watch him and think, " Wow, that is what true love is. That is what it means when the vows say, "in sickness and health." My mom's cancer affected each of us differently. We all reacted different, handled it different, and played different roles in our mom's recovery. I won't speak for my sisters and my dad. This will just be from my experience.
Having my mom home after surgery changed things. You see, all of a sudden she was not able to do things she used to. She was tired but she fought through it. Her mobility was compromised and assistance was needed with the smallest of things. Our schedules changed in our house. So did our roles. My mom and I switched roles . Her ability to shower or go to the bathroom on her own was gone. I would bathe her and than blow her hair dry for her. After her chemo started there were times when I would be doing her hair and just a little more than usual would end up on the brush. I would always hide it in my hand and throw it in a different trash can. She never lost her hair with cancer...she was fortunate. A humbling experience was assisting my mom to use the bathroom. Picture taking a toddler, helping them all the way through. But I didn't mind. She was my mom after all. Aside from that, I shaved her legs, covered her with lotion, made sure she was comfortable, and any other aspect of daily care. I started setting my alarm extra early in the morning so I could help my dad, help my mom, and get ready for school. If my dad wasn't able to head home at lunch, I would so that my mom could go to the bathroom and get something to eat. I always headed back right after school to do the same. I worried about her when I was out with friends, at school, or anywhere other than home. Family friends were amazing and frequently brought over meals that was the biggest blessing. I was tired but my dad, he never showed it. And my mom maintained a positive attitude through it all. One day, she told me the verse that helped her and she hoped would help me. It was 1 Peter 5:7," Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." There my mom was, amidst all she was going through, making sure I was ok and knew that this was all apart of His plan. She would tell me how there was a reason for this, how He doesn't give you more than you can handle, and that someday, we will see the good that came from it all.
I didn't really believe it still though. Shortly after my mom came home she started chemo and a whole new routine took place at our house. On the days of her treatment I would go to her Kindergarten class after school and help out, taking them to computer class and finishing up the day. What amazes me is that through it all my mom still taught. Chemo didn't slow her down. The first time I took her to chemo broke me. I was doing fine, sitting with her as she was hooked up, but than something changed. She must have realized it because she suggested I head next door and grab a soda. It was a good thing because I felt like I was choking....my chest was tight... I couldn't breath...and I pushed through the front doors and took a deep breath of fresh air. How could my mom be hooked up chemo? What in the world are you doing God? How can something good come from this?Looking back, I realize how silly I was to question Him. Because she was immunocompromised we had to be careful at home. Every fresh fruit or veggie had to be scrubbed and we had special soap to use. Mouth sores are a common side effect, so my dad cooked bland dinners so she wouldn't have any irritation. But she still trucked on.. always with a smile...always with my dad smiling beside her.
One of the memories I will always hold close to my heart came during her chemo regimen. When I was in junior high and even high school, my mom would try to hold my hand when we went out. Being the brat that I was I would pull my hand away and tell her I was "too old" ( what I meant was too "cool") to be holding my mom's hand in public. She would reply in a sad voice, "But you're my baby." ( It's like when she used to used to come with me into the changing room or ask to see a swimsuit to approve it before purchasing and I would say no. She would always reply," I birthed those buns!") Looking back at those moments I regret how I responded. My mom tired easily during her chemo. But she rarely showed it, instead she did her best to keep a smile and keep pushing through. She would have me help her walk around the house as she clinged on for strength. When she was able to make it around the house without we would head outside to try walking to the greenbelt. Than we moved onto the mall and would make a slow lap inside the Brea mall....and I held her hand tightly every time. This time it was me who didn't want to let go.
During all of this my mom had the appetite of a hippo. Seriously. We would always go to Arbys after our Brea mall walks and she would order TWO roast beef sandwiches, fries, and she would even finish my food! My dad used to make daily runs to Marie Calenders or Polly's for a slice of banana cream pie. It got to the point where he was tired of making so many trips so he would just buy the whole pie....and my mom would eat the entire thing in two settings all while waking up having lost weight the next day!
Anyway, somewhere, in the midst of all of this, I changed. A part of me grew up way beyond my years. I took my faith and leaped with it. I had lost it for a brief bit but when I pushed aside my selfish feelings and saw how the Lord was working and how great His love and grace is, I was convicted and changed. My faith became a living, breathing, every second of the day part of me instead of merely the routine of going to Christian schools, church, chapel, and the whole bit. I now had an intimate and personal relationship with my Savior that is still growing daily.
And somehow, at sometime...maybe it was showering my mom or maybe it was cheering her on as she made the lap around the mall....I realized I was created and designed to be a nurse. Taking care of someone, seeing their recovery, encouraging them, providing dignity and respect, and doing the smallest of things to make one person's day a little better is what I have been called to do. Even when I tried to ignore it due to fear of failing, the Lord still called out to me that his is what He had created me for.
As silly as it may sound, pink is more than a color to me. It's a reminder of the roller coaster in my faith journey that led me to know Christ in a deeper, stronger, and closer relationship. It's a reminder of the battle my mom fought and the journey my family went through. It is Hope. Strength. Faith. Fight. Courage. Love. Healing. I always said if I ever were to get a tatoo ( don't freak out mom, I'm not saying I am!) it would be the breast cancer ribbon turned sideways to replicate the fish and remind me that the Lord doesn't give me anything I cannot handle, but desires for me to live each day to His glory, and with that He alone will help me through whatever is put before me.
Cancer doesn't scare me anymore. Breast cancer has made it's way through my family. It robbed me of ever meeting my grandma. My great aunt Katie and my aunt Barbara each fought their own battle, traveled their own journey, and overcame it. Oncology has become a passion for me. I would be honored to work with cancer patients one day whether in the hospital setting or simply volunteer work. I'm not sure what field of nursing I will end up in but I do know that I will always look at a bald head and think beauty, fight, and love. I will always look towards a cancer patient and think courage, strength, and hope.
Being that this is breast cancer awareness month, I encourage YOU to do something. Maybe you have never been to the doctor for a annual check up: Call your doctor and schedule one. Maybe you know someone who has fought breast cancer or is fighting : encourage them and let them know you are proud of their fight. Maybe you have lost a family member to breast cancer : Purchase the $1 ribbon at the grocery and write it in their memory. Maybe you have no connection to breast cancer at all: Pray for those who are struggling. Tell your mom, grandma, aunt, sister, daughter, cousin, or friend that you love them. And go buy something pink :-)
Mom, I love you super duper bunches, whole lotta love. I'm thankful for you each day.
"Our Family is a circle of strength and love. With every birth and every union the circle grows. Every joy shared adds more love.Every crisis faced together makes the circle stronger"
My mom helped me pick out my wedding dress....and yes, we still hold hands =)