Family Life

My mom survived breast cancer. Am I next?

On average, an estimated 15.2% of new cancer cases in the United States are women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. That means that 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. 

These statistics are indicative of families, touched eternally by a cancer that is more than just a disease – it is linear. Breast cancer often weaves a thread, mangled in fate and fear, through mothers, daughters, and sisters alike. The survivors among them are the superheroes of nearly every generation of women, powering through all of the anxiety, body disfiguring surgeries or treatments, and impromptu decision-making associated with the onset of such an illness. They take this disease and nip it in the bud, almost passively, acknowledging the unforgiving weight that will forever be weighing down their bodies and minds. 

In some cases, before these women can even think about what comes next, they are sewed up, stripped, and shaved. Left without any sensation in their breast area after a mastectomy, and feeling less and less whole with every visit to the oncologist. It is hard for most women to even feel at home in their bodies anymore. 

In February of 2017, my mother sat in a bleak and claustrophobic doctor’s office for her regular mammogram visit and heard the dreadful words that every woman lives in fear of, “I think we’re going to need to take a second exam. There may be cancer.” 

There was. 

She has told me that she spent most of her life, 38 years to be exact, in terror of what was surely to come. When my mother was 17 years old, the same age that I had been when she was diagnosed, her mother passed away after a long and debilitating battle with breast cancer. Afterward, this disease became a constant threat. So, in some ways, her diagnosis was more of a relief than anything else.

For me, however, it was excruciating. I had a hard time fathoming the enormity of it. Often, I would find myself drenched in hot and burning tears, unable to put into words what I was feeling. I was incoherent and unable to be comforted. I really hated it when people tried to comfort me, too—it felt condescending. I didn’t want to need them.

But, at the same time, I wasn’t even close to being the strong person that I presented to the world. I was falling hard—and fast. Most days, I would go to school or hang out with my friends, but the entire time I felt as if there were a million knives stabbing my chest at any given moment, and I couldn’t help it. Sometimes, I even liked feeling the pain. If my mom had to suffer, then, I thought, so did I. 

Years later I’m able to articulate my thoughts a little more clearly. I was terrified, desperate, and I didn’t know where to turn. So much was happening all the time and I was grieving my old self. That is, the self that hadn’t yet felt such complete and sunken remorse. There was this urgency to do everything right. In a situation like that, there’s no room for mistakes and I was incredibly nervous that I would mess up. Or maybe I was nervous that something would mess me up. Either way, I changed a lot that year. 

Unfortunately, our story is not an uncommon one. 

A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, or daughter has been diagnosed. In addition, women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene are at an increased risk of breast cancer than women who do not carry the gene. 

My mom is thankfully, and gracefully, in remission today. Her fight seemed, on the outside, to be continuous and suffocating. But, she is a survivor, bold and vivacious, in all of her glory. She has the scars and the strength to prove it, too. 

I am well aware that my risk of this disease is high. But, I am also confident that this does not mean that it is a death sentence. Regardless of being only 21 years old, I am diligent in conducting breast exams on myself at least once a month in an attempt to detect any early warning signs of breast cancer. What I search for is any abnormal lumps or changes in the breast tissue/skin. 

The good news is that with advancing technologies the survival rate of people diagnosed with breast cancer is steadily increasing, even though the number of people getting sick remains stagnant. 

Any cancer diagnosis is terrifying, but breast cancer for me feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I won’t be able to stop being overwhelmed by this sharp and unrelenting nervousness until it is completely out of my system. And we all know that there is only one way for that to happen. 

For now, I am trying to focus on what I am able to control. Breast cancer is certainly not one of those things. But, I am in control of my mindset. While it is important for me not to let my guard down, at some point I have to just let go and let it be. I trust that fate will run its course. 

I come from a long legacy of confident and courageous women, all beautiful and bountiful in their own right. So, it would be a disservice if I did not take their wisdom and hold onto it tightly. I mean, I watched while my own mother boldly stared her fears directly in the face. She never skipped a beat, not even for a second. Her resilience against a disease that is otherwise overbearing is nothing short of inspiring and I am so proud of her. Because of her, I am starting to think that maybe I can handle it too, that maybe I can be as brave as her, when and if the day comes. 

I am not alone in my fear, although it may seem like it sometimes. I am one of millions living and feeling these same anxieties at full volume, so I must not let it overcome me. Instead, I have to remind myself to be introspective and to keep moving forward.

The Fam Family Life

My world fell apart when my mother was diagnosed with cancer

It was a silent afternoon when my parents called me and my younger sister downstairs to tell us about the news.

We had no idea what was going on, but we knew something was off. We hopped onto the couch as we watched our parents’ sorrowful expressions.

“Your mother’s tests came back, she has breast cancer,” my father said to us. My younger sister and I exchanged a quick worried glance, but we couldn’t just break down like that. We had to be strong for our parents.

My mom was scared. There was no way to describe the fear in her eyes me and my family saw every day. But one thing I’ve always admired about her was her strength. My mom was a nurse, so she was fully aware of what was going to happen as far as the procedure and the type of care she would need afterward.

He explained to us what would happen in the following weeks. I was the oldest child, so now the responsibilities of the house were to be shifted onto me. I also had to take care of my sister and help her with school, and I had to pass my driver’s license test.

My father had his license revoked the previous month due to health problems, so I was going to be the only driver in the house.

Now it was my turn to take all responsibilities into my hand and balance out the last semester of my junior year in high school, which was basically the most important. It’s safe to say that I was freaking out about how I was going to make it out in one piece.

I was facing something incredibly difficult and I had no idea how to react. Everything in my life changed, especially because I was faced with so many more priorities. But this period in my life was what changed and matured me the most as a person.

When everyone is suddenly depending on you for one thing or another, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But it was during this time when I realized that school meant nothing in comparison to being there for my family.

There was no doubt that family was always the first priority, but for a high school junior, school was everything to me at the time. I had to climb to the top with the highest scores to get into a good college, right?

No, school wasn’t everything.

No matter how messed up our education system is, where people don’t give a crap about what they actually learn in school, school should never be first priority. Health comes first. Health of yourself and of your family. And it took me this experience to realize it.

It was hard to shift from prioritizing school to prioritizing my family, but I had grown so much in these months. It wasn’t about hours of Honors Chemistry or AP US History homework, it was about taking care of my mother and my family.

Everything was brought upon my shoulders, but I wasn’t complaining. I adjusted to my new schedule and felt good being able to be there for the people who needed me the most. Sometimes, our most challenging times can best reflect who we are as people and can really shape how we mature and what we gain.

Through prayer and family support, we all made it out okay.

The doctor was actually able to remove the tumor completely from her body. She didn’t have to go through chemotherapy, but she takes heavy medication every day and will have to for the next five years.

I still remember the day we got the news, none of us could keep from crying. This not only brought our family closer but made us appreciate all the little things in life and the moments we have together.