Since this is breast cancer awareness month, I wanted to share my personal experience.
Every once in awhile I get a call from my Dad, and I can tell by the way he says, “Hi Kid” that something’s up. This time, it was bad news…
Maureen has breast cancer.
My step-mom is one of the kindest, most tender-hearted people I know, and it broke my heart to hear it. She was the one who would stay up for hours talking with me when I was a teenager. She shared her love of music from the 60’s as well as her love of antique shopping. She was very understanding and patient with me when I was difficult. She helped me through some of the roughest years of my life.
My sweet stepmom has always been private about her struggles. This was no different. As she went through her treatments and surgeries, she did so with a brave face, but I knew from what my father said that she was scared and sad.
It was so hard to hear about. I wanted to support her, but I also wanted to honor her dignity. We would send cards and flowers. She would call and tell us how much it meant to her.
Over time, she completed her treatments, she healed, and finally, she was told she is in remission. What a relief!
Then one day I get a call from my mom, Aida. She wants me to come over because she has some news.
She has breast cancer.
The one thing about my mom is that she is the strongest and most positive person I have ever met. She had already lived through brain surgery several years ago to remove a fatty tumor on her brainstem. Her positive attitude throughout the whole thing was immeasurably inspiring to me. She walked through it like a champ. The role model of grace and dignity.
Everyone loves this woman too. She’s a kick in the pants and always fun to be around. She has a ton of friends, and she is super outgoing.
I wasn’t worried. I knew she would walk through it like it was nothing with her usual strong mental positive attitude.
I was wrong.
She asked me to attend a medical overview appointment with her and Bill, her boyfriend of several years. At the hospital, we went into a conference room with several other people to watch a presentation about how breast cancer is diagnosed, the treatments and what the patients and family could expect.
First of all, I was shocked by the realization that so many women are diagnosed, that they have to hold regular group meetings for the women and their families to give all the information to everyone at the same time.
It was a heavy experience. All the people in the room were very quiet. A nurse ran the meeting with kindness and compassion. She told us we would watch a video then each patient would be placed in an exam room, and a few doctors would come in, one at a time. An oncologist, a surgeon, and a radiologist.
I think I was in denial.
It wasn’t until the movie was over that I looked over at my mom, and saw that she was crying. I had not seen my mother cry since I was 10. Instantly, my heart shattered. It felt like a gut punch.
Up until then, I had not even considered that she was scared. As I write this I’m embarrassed that I was so naive. Maybe I just needed to believe that she wasn’t scared so I didn’t have to be, but when I saw her tears, I could not hold back my own.
As strange as it may seem, I think that was the first time she allowed herself to be vulnerable in front of me and it brought us closer. Although it was such a powerless feeling to realize how scared she was and how much she had in front of her, I knew in my heart that she was going to need me and that I’d be able to be there for her.
When my stepmom Maureen found out, she called my mom and offered her support too. Even though they were both married to my father, they had always been very civil to each other. It was not a surprise to me that Maureen reached out to share her experience and offer encouragement, but her graciousness humbled me and I loved her even more for it.
I am proud of the women in my life who show me by example what it means to embody strength, courage, grace, and dignity. I am grateful to the doctors who helped them, the friends who rallied around them and the fact that they are both in remission today.
We are truly blessed.