I will never forget what my first “big-girl job” boss told me once I opened up about my mom’s breast cancer in 2015. After he told me a tale of someone that he knows’ kid was diagnosed with and died of lung cancer, he said something along the lines of “at least for breast cancer there are a lot of treatments and it is highly curable.” That stung worse than a sunburn on the ass.
The comment provided no comfort whatsoever, because (1) I didn’t want to hear about someone else’s worse-off – this was my momI was venting about, (2) the reason there is a wide array of available treatments is that there has been so much awareness brought to the issue, which in turn inspired various organizations to fundraise and donate money to research and development, and (3) even if there were treatment options at our fingertips, there was never any guarantee that any one would be effective at treating my mom’s cancer, because every person is an individual, but no medical treatment is individualized. But she endured immense amounts of toxic chemotherapy that could probably kill a horse, multiple surgeries that made her an invalid, and radiotherapy that cooked her chest wall to the level of a well-done steak. She went into remission.
There were many things that went through my mind when I first found out that my mom, this indestructible 2-legged piece of steel, succumbed to the disease that had already taken my grandmother, someone my “big-girl job” boss knows’ kid, and your neighbor’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s great-aunt, but maybe also your family member or your friend. I didn’t bother to develop a good coping mechanism. I decided that inhaling vaporized marijuana was enough to make me numb and forget that the issue even existed, only to learn that my reality hasn’t changed once I came back from the high, usually the next morning.
I mourned my mom as if she were already dead. I didn’t realize until a few years later than I had murdered my mom in my mind, without even giving her a chance to fight. The first place I went to was a dark corner somewhere in my brain where I was told that cancer is a death sentence and my mom’s death was imminent.
But my mom responded really well to chemotherapy. She went into full-on beast mode, too – cleaning 4 to 5 other people’s homes daily Monday through Wednesday, 2 on Thursday before her infusion and 2 afterwards, followed by a couple more on Friday, before she was finally able to rest and recover from chemo on Saturday and Sunday to repeat the cycle 19 more times. There was some magical strength inside of her that gave all of us hope for an optimistic outcome and her positivity radiated throughout her entire environment giving a false impression of her cancer diagnosis, which was both aggressive and advanced (triple negative breast cancer stage 3b). She was a true wildflower blossoming even in the most arid of climates.
Watching my mom deal with the physical challenges associated with a bilateral mastectomy was nothing short of heartbreaking. This indestructible 2-legged piece of steel all of a sudden needed help getting bathed, groomed, dressed, and fed. She wasn’t able to walk up the stairs into her bedroom, so she slept in the family room on a recliner while I took the couch to be beside her and tend to her needs, like administering meds every 4-6 hours or draining fluid out of the drain tubes multiple times throughout the day.
I wasn’t trained for the caregiver role and informational pamphlets at medical facilities couldn’t appropriately convey the weight of the task. At the time I didn’t know any other young adult caregiver in whom I could confide or from whom I could seek guidance; I blindly took on responsibilities that come with the job simply relying on my instincts. I took on the role because I wanted to be actively involved in my mom’s treatment and journey to full recovery. I wanted, or attempted, to become a pillar of strength for her so that in moments of her weakness I could carry us both forward.
We became a team. A really good one, too. And almost inseparable. It was important to me that she never be alone at a medical appointment so that I could advocate for her and be the voice that she needed for her thoughts, especially because of the existing language barrier. It was important to me that she has a best friend beside her to provide comfort and alleviate some of the fear or anxiety involved. It was important to me, as her daughter, to know what the medical providers’ plans were regarding my mom, my best friend, my confidant, my mentor, my everything.
I tried to become an expert at my mom’s medical history, treatment, and diagnosis itself. I researched the crap out of Google, but being 25, naïve, and still innocent when it came to medicine of this caliber, I simply trusted that my mom’s oncologist knew better than I ever would, so once my mom went into remission, I became complacent and stopped pushing altogether. I decided that after I had spent a year on an emotional roller coaster which took me through hell and back, tested my patience beyond its limits, and crushed my sanity into every wall and door, window, and whatever else in the way, I should stop letting cancer control any portion of my life and start living that life instead.
So I did just that.