I had a completely different idea of what I wanted this post to be about when I sat down to write it. But I guess my spirit had other ideas so here goes…
Cancer is one sneaky bitch. She will take what’s yours in the blink of an eye and leave you breathless and shaken. Four years ago, my mom died from cancer, breast cancer to be exact. None of us in the family knew she had cancer and I have to believe she wanted it that way. Her death was my up close and personal moment with this disease. I didn’t get a chance to support her in fighting it and I didn’t get to say goodbye. So now I have to fight it alone by being vigilant.
I got my first mammogram the year after she died, and my first follow-up letter requiring me to come back for further testing on a ‘finding’. My knees buckled when I read that letter, fear gripped me in a vise that felt just like when I heard the words “your mother has passed”. My heart was pumping and all I could think of was mom. She wasn’t there to talk me thru the fear, to tell me simply that I’d be okay. She wasn’t there to accompany me to the follow-up, to experience the relief of the doctor telling me the finding was consistent with a lymph node, to hug me and tell me in that voice of hers, “I knew everything would turn out okay”. Because for her it didn’t.
So every year I get a mammogram and hope the doctor tells me the lymph node is still a lymph node and not cancerous cells. Every year I wonder why my mother didn’t tell us she had cancer and get treatment. Every year is another year she’s not here to tell me she ‘told me so’ about one thing or another, for us to laugh at something silly, for us to try and solve the world’s problems (we were actually pretty good at it). She’s not here, but I am so I keep pushing because anything less would not be honoring my mother’s spirit. Anything less and I’m not the woman she raised to stand on her own two feet, to think outside the box, to be strong, to be resilient, to keep getting back up after I’ve fallen or to ask for help when I can’t get up on my own. I didn’t know how strong I was until my mother left me.
You see, I thought my mom was Wonder Woman because she was the epitome of strength. We talked about everything, but not cancer, or more specifically, not her having cancer. My mom was brought up in a household where lies were told and secrets were kept. So she grew into a woman who believed in helping others but was reluctant to ask for help because (I believe), that meant sharing something of herself which she was reluctant to do. For a long time my mother and I were estranged. Consequently, we spent my teens and early 20s alternating between big blow-ups and just not speaking at all (I lived with my dad).
My mom eventually realized our relationship (or rather the dysfunction of it) was a generational pattern that mired her relationship with my grandmother and my grandmother’s relationship with her mother. She didn’t want me to pass it along to my children so we both agreed to work on how we related and interacted with one another. We went to therapy and worked really hard on our relationship and it paid off. We became best friends. She shared with me her deepest scars and I understood how she became so courageous and strong.
I felt we could talk about anything so I couldn’t understand why she didn’t tell me she had cancer. I knew something was wrong but could not get her to tell me what was going on. My mother was a fighter. I don’t get why she didn’t fight cancer. Again, I have to believe she had her reasons and I have found peace in that, otherwise the questions will lead you to an emotional desert. But I often wonder what she’d be doing now if she were here. Would she be proud of me?
So instead of focusing on all the ‘why’s’ and ‘what ifs’, I choose to focus on the memories we created. I choose to be thankful that I had my mom for the time I did. I choose to be thankful that I can still hear the sound of her laughter in my head (I was terrified I’d forget). I choose to believe she’s watching over me. I choose to believe that although I can’t pick up the phone and call her, she’s always here when I need to talk.