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Breast Cancer Changed the Way I Viewed My Mom

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I’ll never forget the day I heard my mom say, “Girls, I have breast cancer. I will be taking medicine that the doctor says will keep me in remission for five years. I don’t want you to worry about me.”

My life was forever changed that day.

A few months after I got married in October of 1999, my family was hit with this devastating news. It came as a shock for me and my sisters, as well as our significant others’. (Note: My younger sister was not married at that time. There was no history in our family of breast cancer, and no explanation as to what caused my mom to have this malady.)

Growing up, mom was the strong one in our family. I guess you could say she was “Super Woman.” The one who kept things in perspective and a stabilizing force in all our lives.

In most families, the father is the logical, less emotional parent; the mother is more nurturing and expresses her feelings, thus the more emotional parent. In my family, it was the total opposite.

Being an emotional person myself, I was extremely close to my dad and had a difficult time relating to my mom. Her answer to every problem seemed to be, “Take some Tylenol and get over it.”

My teenage years had their good and bad times, as well as some regrets or things I wish I could’ve done differently. It was a challenge for me to talk to my mom because of the way she herself was brought up. Still I knew deep down, beneath that tough exterior, she did to us the only way she knew how.

It took me getting married and being on my own for a few years to really understand her.

Throughout the next five years, she did indeed stay in remission and life went on as usual. Unfortunately, the cancer returned a couple of times, and she passed away in August of 2010. During the third and final time she was fighting this uphill battle, I watched her go from “Super Woman” to what I viewed as “human.”

She learned to rely on others for the simplest of tasks: from doing laundry, dusting and cleaning the kitchen, to getting a spot out of the carpet that was driving her wild.

She made sure my dad would be set financially, and tried to prepare him emotionally for being alone after 36 years together.

I wish she had prepared me for how to move on without her. We didn’t have a lot of heart-to-heart conversations, but she made sure I was going to take care of the practical things for my dad. She was adamant that my dad learned how to text so he could communicate with us more often.

I’m forever grateful for the Tuesday evenings my husband and I went over and helped her with laundry and other tasks, while also watching “NCIS.”

I was with her when she had her last radiation treatment, a last-ditch attempt to stay with us a little longer. That was when I really saw her become “human” and fragile. She was in so much pain, she broke down and cried. She started giving up the fight to live.

She took her last breath August 6, 2010 and peacefully passed away.

It’s been seven years, and I still miss her every day. The images of her as a stronghold, as well as a human, will forever be etched in my brain.

I love you mom. Enjoy your well-deserved nap.

Thinkstock photo by zhaojiankang

Originally published: November 8, 2017
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