It’s March 10th, 2017.
“Are you alone?” are the first words my mom says to me on the phone. I tell her I’m with my roommate at home, and she asks me if I can step into my room for a moment. This is the first sign something is wrong.
She tells me not to worry. She tells me she’s lucky, and that it’s fine, and that everything will be okay. Then she tells me she has breast cancer.
This is what happens to other people. To other girls’ mothers. This isn’t supposed to happen to mine. But it has, and nothing I can do will change that.
My bottom lip shakes, my voice cracks. I can’t cry, I don’t want to cry. My mom isn’t crying, and so I don’t have a right to cry. I hold back the tears, while she tells me they caught it early. It’s stage one, they’ll remove the tumor, worst case scenario, she’ll just need some radiation. That’s the thing about my mom; even when I know she was terrified, when she was facing some of the scariest news of her life, she was still comforting me. She was making sure I was okay. She was the one with cancer, and she was reassuring me.
I hold back my tears until I get off the phone. I tell her I love her, we hang up, and I break. My roommate hugs me while I cry. We drink wine and watch the Bachelor, and I can’t stop the words from playing over and over again in my head. My mom has cancer. My mom has cancer.
I never realized how many commercials there were about cancer treatment until my mom got cancer. Each one hurt. A facebook friend of mine had a mom die of breast cancer. The same type my mom had. The night I read that, I cried myself to sleep. That was the first time it hit me; my mom has a sickness people die from. This was real.
It turned out that the what she told me was the original worse case scenario wasn’t even close to the treatment she would need.
She goes to get a second opinion in Houston. Low dose chemotherapy becomes a part of the equation. Shortly after, this turns into two rounds of chemotherapy, at a higher dose, followed by radiation. Worst case scenario is worse than it originally was, but still, she tells me she is lucky. My mom is a hospice social worker. She knows what chemotherapy does to the body. She knows she will lose her hair, her fingernails will fall off. She will be sick and tired and forgetful. She knows this, yet she still comforts me. The cancer hasn’t spread, though. She is lucky.
This all happens in March and April. By June, my mom has no hair.
I come home often, as often as I can. She looks in the mirror before a family party, and frowns. She thinks she is ugly. I wonder how two people can look at the same thing and see something so different. She sees her bald head, her lack of eyebrows, her pale skin, and she frowns. I will only ever see her as nothing short of beautiful. She asks her if she looks like a man without a wig. I tell her she is no less feminine without hair.
Still, I teach her how to draw on her eyebrows. I glue on her false eyelashes for the party. She puts on her wig, and she asks me if it’s obvious it’s a wig. It’s not. My mother looks beautiful, with her wig and her makeup. But she looks beautiful without it too. Even when she can’t see it, she is beautiful.
There’s a sense of guilt that comes along with her diagnoses. It’s not my cancer, I’m not the one living with it, so I shouldn’t get to feel the way I do. But there’s something about seeing the woman who raised me feeling so weak that I can’t help it. Slowly, I tell more of my friends. They tell me that they’re sorry, and I tell them it’s okay. Neither of us know what to say in this situation. They have nothing to be sorry for, and I don’t feel okay, but these are the things we’re supposed to say, these are the motions we take to feel better.
One of the earliest memories I have of my mom is from when I was a young child, wanting to play dress up. I was too young to be trusted with nail polish, so I was coloring with markers on paper and taping them to my fingers, pretending I had long, pretty nails. My mom saw this, and the next day she came home from work with stick-on nails in cheetah print. It was a small thing, but I remember it so vividly. That’s the type of woman my mother is. I never asked her for fake nails, but she knew it would make me happy. With her family and her work, she gives to people. My mom has beautiful blue eyes and a pretty smile, but her beauty runs so much deeper than that.
My mom finished chemotherapy last month. She will be done with radiation by the end of the month, and from then on, we remain hopeful that the cancer won’t come back. Her hair will grow back, as will her nails. She will regain her strength, and she will feel beautiful again. Someday, things will be back to normal. Someday, this will be just a hiccup; something we look back on. “Oh yeah, the summer mom had cancer. That sucked.”
It does suck. I wish I could’ve done more to help during the chemo. I wish I could’ve been at home the whole time, helping. I wish my mom saw herself as even have as beautiful as I do. I wish I could stop worrying that the cancer will come back. I can’t change any of this. I know that. I can only accept it and cope with it.
I can tell my mom I love her, though. I’ll never stop doing that.
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Vice President of University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Mogul hub. I'm a senior at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana. I'm getting a double major in Political Science and Psychology, and my career goal is to become a corporate lawyer.