Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month! You usually do not hear people wishing you a happy anything when it comes to breast cancer. But I want to share a story with you as to why I view BCAM as a happy occasion.
My mom, who my entire family refers to as “Meme”, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September of 2002. She had just turned 40 that May and when I write that I think “she was just too young to be hit with such a scary diagnosis.” Her body was being taken over by Stage 4 HER 2 Positive Estrogen Positive cancer. If you Google that it will send anyone into a freak out frenzy. To summarize her cancer diagnosis, it was basically the worst form of breast cancer possible. There was a lump in her breast, and had spread to at least 6 lymph nodes, wreaking havoc on her body. I was 11 when my parents sat my brother and I down to tell us what was going on. You know those moments in your life when you can recall every detail? This is one of mine. I remember the look on my parent’s face, the couch we sat on, and how loud my brother and I cried.
From what I remember there was very little time between the time they told us to when she had her surgery. Meme underwent a Bilateral Double Mastectomy with a Tram Flap reconstruction. To summarize, she had both breasts removed and they used her abs to reconstruct her breast tissue. I knew surgery was the first step to her beating this disease, but I was not prepared to see my mom lying in a hospital bed unable to move with drainage tubes coming out of her stomach and chest. My grandmother picked us up from school the day of Memes surgery and took us to the hospital. I walked in the room and instantly started to cry; I remember my mom being so strong and reminding me that everything was ok. They say the family needs to be brave for the patient, but that day my mom was the glue that held us all together. She never once acted scared or weak.
Meme’s recovery was not fast. I remember she had tubes coming out in so many places that I was afraid to hug her. She couldn’t stand up straight for some time, due to the reconstruction part of her surgery. We had a leather recliner that she lived in for a good couple of weeks. One fond memory I have is she and I would watch “Days of Our Lives” in the afternoon. Watching the craziness of that show gave us a distraction from the reality of her situation.
Surgery is usually just the beginning of a cancer patient’s journey, next comes the treatment. Meme started very strong doses of Chemotherapy in October and went every three weeks for six treatments. I went with her a few times over Christmas break and even though it was brutal, Meme and the nurses made it an enjoyable experience. Popsicles were given, lots of TV was watched, and conversations with other patients were had. The type of chemo she was given basically killed her and allowed her body to rebuild again. With chemo there are ok days and there are awful days. Extreme sickness, hair loss (she let me shave her head when she started to lose it), and having no energy just scratched the surface. We all had to be extremely careful not to get sick; she had no immune system essentially, and a simple cold to me could shut her body down.
After 6 months of watching Meme endure the burden of cancer, things started to look up. She finished chemo in April of 2003 and we all went back to our non-cancer lives. Until September. After all the surgeries and chemo, we could not believe that the cancer had returned. This time it showed up in her chest wall. Talk about crushing. The doctors gave her a 20% survival rate at this point. If you are a betting person, you know those odds are not good (heck any person knows that 20% blows). This was a moment of defeat for our family, but not for Meme. Instead of feeling sad, she went straight into action. She immediately started daily radiation treatments, more chemotherapy, and a new drug call Herceptin.
She went in for her scans the following year and we all held our breath…all came back clean. A clean bill of health. No more cancer. But her journey wasn’t over. For the next 10 years Meme went every three weeks for Herceptin treatments. 10 years of having the reminder that she had cancer. 10 years of it being present in her life. 10 years of always having the thought in the back of her mind that the cancer could return. That is how l looked at it, but not Meme. Her mind set was, “it keeps me alive and I am grateful for that."
After 10 years of being cancer free, she and her doctors decided she did not need Herceptin treatments anymore. Her port was removed, that monthly reminder of cancer was gone. Fast forward to October 2, 2019. Meme is still cancer free. She has yearly check-ups just to make sure all is well. We all hold our breath and thank God and his Angels when everything comes back a-ok.
Now you know Meme’s journey. This details only a glimpse of what she endured, and I still look back at that time and think “how the hell did she overcome the odds?” There are two answers to that question. 1. Our family was surrounded by Gods love, mercy, and his team of angels. If you do not believe in the Devine power, start believing my friend. This story is proof miracles happen every day. 2. Meme is the strongest person I know. Through it all she never cried, felt sorry for herself, or gave up. She simply wouldn’t take dying from this disease as an option.
So, during the month of October when you see burley football players wearing pink cleats, pink ribbons on lapels, and commercials encouraging you to donate to breast cancer research, do it. Because without it, Meme might not be here today. Donate for a friend’s mom, an aunt, a neighbor or someone you don’t even know. We all are affected by this disease, and if we can help someone not go through what Meme went through, I say it’s worth it. Skip your coffee for a day and gift it to helping find a cure. My hope is that one day the words “mom has breast cancer” can be erased from our vocabulary. Now you know why Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a happy time in our household. It is a celebration of what Meme has overcome, the odds she beat, and the life she gets to live.
Meme and I on my wedding day
16 years of being cancer free!