“Honey, I found a lump. I’m going to have an ultrasound, but I know it’s nothing. Please don’t worry.” My heart sank. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was a young child. It had been almost 19 years since then. Now, here I stood listening to her say it was nothing, but wondering if our world was about to be turned upside down again. I had a 2 month old, a 3 year old. My relationship with my mother was better than ever. I needed her. I couldn’t lose her. Not now, not this early. I’m only 22.
My mom had the ultrasound done. They told her it looked okay and to check back in a few months to make sure it wasn’t growing. That didn’t sound right to me. Not with her history. My gut was saying this was wrong. A little time passed and I mentioned to her about getting a second opinion. It turned out that she wanted one too. She decided to go straight to the doctor from years ago. The one that got her through the first time. They did a biopsy. My mom assured me this was standard precaution. I knew it wasn’t. I prayed. . We waited. It really is agony waiting on results like that. I can only imagine how my mom felt. She distanced herself. I think it was hard to be around me. We were both very emotional.
My mom was at work. I was home with my little girls. It was the day they would call with results. The weather was beautiful so I put my tiny baby into her carrier. We were playing outside. The sun was shining so bright. None of it calmed my racing mind. I texted her. “Hear anything yet?’’ 3 o’ clock rolled around. “Please text or call me. This waiting is awful.” Nothing. 5 o’ clock. I knew she’d be getting off work. 9 o’ clock. Still nothing. I called my dad. “Is mom home?” “ Yeah, she went straight to her room after work.” This isn’t good. I knew in my heart. I cried. A little while after my husband got home from work, I left. I sat, alone in my car in a parking lot, and sobbed. I told my mom I was coming over. She finally answered me and said not to worry. They would be performing a PET scan. The day of the scan I baked her favorite pecan pie and bought her some new hoop earrings I knew she needed. I left it all on her bed along with a card my daughter made for her. She texted me to thank me. I went to her house later that evening. We cried together in her kitchen as she confirmed it to me. The cancer was back.
She was staying so positive. For me. Always thinking of someone else. How selfless she is. They decided on a mastectomy. The previous time she was diagnosed, she went through it all. Removal of the mass, chemotherapy, and radiation. There would be none of that this time. This was good. This will be simple, I told myself. Her surgery was scheduled for Halloween day. Why so far away? With tears in her eyes, my mom showed me her breast. I tried not to react, but inside I was frightened. Not from the appearance, but from the pain she must be feeling. The unknown of waiting. Her breast was changing rapidly and we both agreed it needed to be removed sooner. The scheduler worked a miracle and moved her surgery to the next week! It was such a relief knowing this would be removed from her body soon. Unknowingly to her, I was constantly thinking of how it could be spreading. Worrying that I could still lose her. Leading up to the surgery, I cleaned my mom’s house, put a la-z-boy in her bedroom and stocked it with DVDs and magazines. I pumped milk for my then 4 month old because even though my mom didn’t want me to spend much time away from my babies, I knew I would. She needed me, but didn’t want me to know it.
The morning of surgery, I picked her up from her house. She looked beautiful. No makeup, 60 years old and more beautiful than ever. She had a white button down shirt on with a silky, salmon colored scarf that was covered in a pattern of ribbons. The little pink ones that you walk past the whole month of October, which it ironically was. They were a constant reminder to me of how strong the woman I came from is. When we arrived at the hospital, she got prepped for the surgery. We met with her two surgeons. They were in good spirits. We all were. This scary thing inside of her was soon going to be gone forever. I asked my mom if she had said her goodbyes. She looked puzzled. “To your boob, mom.” We laughed. I kissed her cheek, squeezed her tight and we exchanged “I love yous.” They wheeled her back and it was time to play another waiting game.
I went home. I needed to nurse the baby and I thought it would take a while before they were finished. About an hour later, they called me from the hospital. The first part of surgery was complete. It would be about one more hour for everything to be done. The surgeon called me and told me everything went great. I went back to the hospital. I wanted to be there when she got settled into her room. One of her best friends was there with me. It was nice to have some company. When they brought my mom in, she was still a little out of it. She was hungry. I fed her some jello and lemon flavored Italian ice. I told her the roles were reversed. “You used to feed me and now it’s my turn.” She chuckled. I knew all of this got to her though. She is a very independent woman. It bothered her for me to see her as anything other than strong. What she didn’t know was that I had never thought of her as more strong than in that moment. How brave she was to me. How amazing to have lived through this disease not once, but twice! I left the hospital that night with plans to be back for lunch the next day.
I cooked a special breakfast for my little family at home when we woke up. I was in the middle of eating my pancakes when my mom called. Her voice sounded strange. “They’re taking me back for another surgery.” There was bleeding underneath her skin. A hematoma. I got ready quickly and headed to the hospital, hoping to catch her before they took her back. I didn’t.
I was the only one in the waiting room. They actually had to come open it up for me. It wasn’t a normal day for scheduled surgeries. This was considered an emergency surgery. That scared me. After what seemed like longer than it was, the surgeon came out and sat down next to me. He told me they cleared out the blood and stopped the bleeding. She would be fine. I wanted to ask him why this happened in the first place or why nobody paid attention to the fact that her skin had been turning black, but I didn’t. Things happen. I knew this. It was over now. She was on the road to recovery. There were a few more, uneventful, days spent in the hospital and it was time to take her home. We stopped and had lunch. You would never know what she had just been through by looking at her. She had two drains connecting from the surgical site. I reminded her about keeping track of the drainage and she quickly reminded me that she is in fact a nurse. I still didn’t want her doing too much. She is always taking care of everyone, and now it was time for the focus to be on her. She did wonderful. Sure, there were emotional and painful moments, but I dare you to find anyone who complains less.
It’s been 4.5 months since then. I sit here writing this with high emotions. Partly from reliving the details and partly because tomorrow I take her to the next (and hopefully) final surgery. She will be getting an implant. Some may think it’s to have a womanly figure, but not me. I see it as a big F*** you to cancer. It tried to take her life twice, and she is coming out of it with an even bigger appreciation for living, and a new set of tits.
Originally published at medium.com