On September 1, 2000 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. On September 29, 2000 she had a lumpectomy and they removed all of the lymph glands on one side. She went through chemotherapy after the surgery and had her final chemo treatment on December 22, 2000. After that she began radiation which ended in March. On September 29, 2010 my mother will be cancer free for ten years.
My mom handled her cancer like the trooper that she is. Because my Aunt Jackie had been diagnosed some years before and unfortunately is not a survivor, my mom had always been prepared for the possibility. She went through her treatments with dignity, strength and pragmatism. Sitting in the chemo room with her was frightening but my sister and I did it because she needed us there and we needed to be there. When she started to lose her hair she called our friend and hairdresser Robyn who came over and shaved her head for her. She had ordered a wig already that looked very much like her real hair so that helped. Over the months of treatment my mom had good days and bad, more good than bad fortunately. She continued to work throughout the treatments and did very well. Chemo days were hard on her but she attacked it like she does everything else, with both barrels blazing. I remember once being at her house the day she had her (I think) third chemo treatment. It was late, maybe 1 AM and she, my daughter and I were sitting in her living room. She was talking about things she wanted to do in her house. Annie and I were tired but my mom would have this burst of energy after a chemo treatment, I think in preparation for the down days. Anne and I were struggling to stay awake and my mom got up, we thought to use the bathroom or get something to drink. After a while when she hadn’t come back Anne went looking for her. She found her cleaning the garage at probably around 2 AM. My mom in her robe and slippers and sun tossed blonde wig was putting things away in the garage like it was any other day. We convinced her that this was not the time for tackling new tasks and she came in and eventually went to bed.
My mom is a breast cancer survivor, thus each year on Race for the Cure day she, my sister and I take ourselves downtown to celebrate. We have other friends and family who join us and it means a lot to my mom but there is a certain “rightness” to the three of us being there together, mom, my beautiful little sister Debbie and me. It would mean even more if my daughter could be with us but unfortunately she lives and works in New York now, making it difficult to get home for the race.
My mom and I like to go down early and take in the scene. We park about six blocks away and walk to the grounds to check out the booths etc. We also go to the survivors pavilion where we can get a bottle of water and a pastry. This really is my only complaint about the event, they should not be serving danishes and donuts! We arrived at the pavilion yesterday and sat down at a table with a nice couple. Shortly after we sat down some other people arrived including a family. Husband, wife, son about fourteen, daughter about twelve, daughter about eight and son about four. The mother was in a wheelchair wearing a pink shirt signifying a survivor and a pink ball cap on her head with no hair. She had a “chemo look” about her, anyone who knows that look knows what I’m talking about. She had dark circles under her too big for her face eyes and her skin had a slightly grayish tinge to it. She smiled weakly at everyone and picked at the cheese danish her husband had brought her.
If you’ve never been in the company of these strong amazing women at the Komen Race, their support and encouragement is legendary. If my mother sees a pink shirt anywhere at any time signifying a cancer survivor she will take a moment to speak with her and they briefly exchange stories. Just yesterday we were walking along the pathway at the Komen Race and my mom spotted someone with a “survivor 40 years” on her shirt. She stopped to congratulate her. Throughout the day at the race you will witness women who have never met before hugging and crying together while their friends and family look on fighting back their own tears. Breast cancer is a family illness like no other and when you spend time downtown on race day you will understand that.
One of the women at the table, another pink shirt, gently asked the mom in the wheelchair “when were you diagnosed?” The mom in the wheelchair smiled a watery smile and said “this is my third bout”. Instantly my mother and I turned our heads away to hide our tears. As I blinked back the tears and turned back to the table she pointed to her chest, arm and head while saying “first breast, then bone, now brain”. It was a profoundly sad moment made even sadder when the woman who had asked the original question rallied and said with more spirit than the situation warranted “Well keep fighting the good fight!” The mother in the wheelchair heaved a great big sigh, shrugging her slim shoulders and curved into herself a little in her wheelchair. Her oldest son laid his arm across the back of her chair and gave her a reassuring pat as we heard her small tired voice say “I’m tired, I’m just so tired of fighting”.