Here’s What My Mother’s Cancer Has Taught Me
I remember being 7 years old and telling my mother that I hated my teacher. Standing outside the linen closet with my bare feet on our carpeted floor, my mother explained that I did not really “hate” my teacher; I just disliked her. My teacher was a person and she did not deserve my hate. My mother was the most influential and important voice in my short life, so I agreed. My mother had no room in her heart for hate: she taught me love.
30 years later, I have found that I have never been a hateful person. Instead, I strive to remain positive. I learned from the best, and my mother was an example of gratitude and optimism. My mother insisted she was “rich” her whole life, although working class would probably be more accurate. She said she never minded growing old, as many were not afforded the privilege. I cannot count how many times she stopped what she was doing to set an extra spot at the dinner table, to fix the guest bed and to give what she had to anyone who was in need. We had a full life, with room for only love.
Then cancer invaded my mother, not only once, but twice, by the time my mother turned 58.
The first time my mother went for her routine mammogram and later was diagnosed with breast cancer. The second time, she left work and got herself to the emergency room with back pain. She left the hospital with a broken rib, a broken back and the knowledge that her plasma cells had turned cancerous and had ravaged her body, eating through her bones: it was called multiple myeloma.
I have spent my life politely disliking a lot of things, and perhaps I have saved my hate for something that truly deserves it.
I hate cancer and hate all that it has taken from my family.
I hate the memory I have of my mother’s face crumbling when the doctor told her the news.
I hate that I returned to work from my maternity leave with swollen eyes because we received the diagnosis the day before.
I hate that I had to stay strong for my children and hold back my tears when we did not know what the diagnosis meant.
I hate that my mother missed my daughter’s first home run and her countless softball games in the warm summer sun.
I hate that my mother had to be admitted to the hospital on my birthday. I know how much it pained her to tell me because she did not want to ruin my day.
I hate that I missed hugging my mother on her 59th birthday because I had a cold and I could not risk giving her any germs.
I hate that my mother was not sitting at my table at my cousin’s wedding and that my father stayed home because he could not bear to go to a family wedding without her.
I hate that the parking lot at Panera will forever remind me of the time she told me the cancer cells were in her spinal cord. It is where I sat when my tears forced me to pull over the car.
I hate that my mother cannot host Thanksgiving again even though it is her favorite holiday and our family’s most loved tradition.
I hate the guilt I carry any time I laugh, smile or forget that the woman I love most is in pain.
I hate the moment I saw my mother without hair and the memory I have of how small she looked.
I hate when I watched my mother, who always had boundless energy, struggle to walk up the stairs.
I hate that my 5-year-old son asked how long grandma was going to be sick.
I hate the feeling of my heart sinking every time I have to send my mother a picture or a video of my children. I know it is a very poor replacement of her seeing them in real life.
I hate how many times I saw my father cry.
I hate that the entire year of 2019 seems a little darker, a little more fuzzy and more like a chore than any other year I ever lived through.
Hate has reappeared in my life in the most destructive and invasive way possible. It seems like my relationship with my mother’s cancer is lasting much longer than I would ever imagine, and I have accepted that my relationship with cancer is not over.
Although my relationship with cancer is dark, unstable and dysfunctional, I vow to take from it anything I can. I will take the moments of hope. I will take the remission. I will take the small victories. I will embrace the joy and be grateful that my mother is still here, as there are countless that are not so lucky. Cancer has given me hate and heartache, and it has stolen more time than it deserves.
Cancer may have taught me to hate, but my mother taught me to love. Love wins every time.
Getty image via Chinnapong.