Today it is estimated that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer sometime in their lifetime. It seems everyone knows someone who has gone through it, there is even a whole month dedicated to the awareness of it. There are 4 of us on my street in just the last 5 years (and there are only 8 houses). The fact that “everyone is doing it” doesn’t make it any less awful or scary, but hopefully what it does is make people smarter.
My breast cancer was aggressive, it was treatable, and most importantly, it was caught early. Found it in my annual mammogram. Actually, there were two tumors and you couldn’t feel either of them. They were small, and weren’t there the year prior. I’ve been getting annual mammograms like clock-work since I was 35. Every year, same time, same place. Nobody had to remind me or convince me to do it. Between 35 – 40, I actually had to convince them to do it. They said I wasn’t old enough, my breasts weren’t fully developed. I said “bullsh$t”, you didn’t know me in junior high!
I got the mammograms because I was scared and because I was smart. Twenty years ago this week my mother began her breast cancer battle. I remember the day of her surgery, April 11, 1994, like it was yesterday. Like me, she had a lumpectomy. But 20 years ago, it was not day surgery, have a corn muffin and some ginger ale, and head home to your ducky blanket.
I was 25, living in the Boston area, and the surgery fell in the week I had off between jobs. So, off I went to CT to sit with my Dad during the surgery. It was a long day. (Foreshadowing of what a good mother she’d later become, thankfully my sister Amy packed up a huge basket of magazines, snacks, and other essentials I would never have thought of, and sent it off with me for the day.) I had no idea what to expect, it was scary, I didn’t like seeing my Mom in the hospital, but I knew it was helping my Dad by being there. We waited in the family waiting area all day, it was forever before we heard anything. It was torture. Little did I know it was not the last long day I would spend waiting for someone I loved to come out of a major surgery, but I guess it was good experience, I am now a professional.
For someone who hated doctors, hospitals, and all things medical, Mom did great and got to come home the next day. The tumor she had found, then chose to ignore for a while, was breast cancer and it had gone into her lymph nodes. It was 20 years ago, there were no pink ribbons, there was no friend who had gone through the same thing, there was no Google! It was a big scary unknown.
Luckily, my Mom is smart and she is tough. She asked all the right questions, got all the right doctors, and she did what they recommended. Back then nobody could tell you exactly what to expect every step along the way or give you drugs to make you feel better, nobody really even talked about it. And you couldn’t parade around with your bald head, you had to wear the stupid wig! With my Dad as her Chemo Buddy, she did the chemo-therapy and then radiation. She too kicked breast cancer’s ass!
She doesn’t have a phone filled with selfies documenting that time in her life, but I found this picture which was taken about a year after she finished her chemo – same curls as me right now and yes, that is a Miller Lite in her hand!
So, there we have it, 20 years! Wow. Not sure if “congratulations” is the right word, but I know “thank you Mom” sure is. Thank you for being strong, for fighting, for showing me the way, and for making me smart. xoxo