Wanda’s Story: Part 2/3

12096260_10207825550026648_277152327009925616_n

On a vacation in Florida, in December of 1990, my Mom was unusually tired. (This may have also been the year my cousins and I were kicked out of Grandma’s house. Doesn’t every family have a story like that?) We’d return home and she’d make an appointment to go to the doctor. Through a breast examination, her doctor would feel a lump. She was referred to a specialist and shortly after a biopsy would be preformed. We would learn her lump was malignant and had spread to several lymph nodes.

When my Mom woke up from surgery, she told me she fell asleep thinking of me singing on stage, “Hooray for Hollywood.” The series of events in my Mother’s next chapter wouldn’t be anything to sing about. There is nothing glamorous or pretty about what breast cancer does to a person physically, mentally…and how it attempts to claim your spirit (including those around you). Some things are a blur. I was 15 when this all began. Through the eyes of that girl, I’m going to do the best I can to recall my Mother’s story.

In a reaction to chemotherapy, her hair fell out. She went and was fitted for a wig, but she rarely wore it. She would wear a cloth bandanna most of the time unless she was going to a play of mine. Months after she died while I was cleaning the bathroom, I stumbled across it. I picked it up and smelled it. It still smelled like her. I remember sliding down on the wall to the bathroom floor hugging this little piece of cloth and rocking back and forth- just as she undoubtably rocked me so many times as a baby.

She would lose weight and muscle mass. She would complain that nothing tastes like food anymore. From my room, I would hear her vomit in the hallway bathroom. I’d sit on her bed and tell her all about my day at school and despite being tired, she’d never tire of listening.

After chemotherapy, my Mom wouldn’t be “cured.” The new x-ray of her chest revealed, what my Dad would describe to me as being, “tiny little seeds in her lungs.” Knowing what I know now, cure was the wrong expectation to have. Living in remission, would be more fitting. Not dying from complications of treatments is something I know now is also a factor for breast cancer patients. My parents were given three choices:

  • Continue chemotherapy
  • Walk off into the sunset and live the days you have left
  • Have a bone marrow transplant that would give you the best fighting chance

People would change…

My Uncle, who is also my Godfather, came over after she started treatments. One of the first things he did when he came in our house was accept a cup of coffee from my Mom. For the first time, he didn’t want anything. Maybe he didn’t want to trouble her. She shared with my Dad and I after he left that maybe he doesn’t know you can’t catch cancer through a coffee cup? Her best friend, my Godmother, would phase out of my Mom’s life after 20 years. Maybe she didn’t know how to deal with my Mom’s diagnoses, but it hurt my Mom. Especially being that my Mom said that she was a hypochondriac and she took time to listen to every concern she had. But now that my Mom was sick, it seemed like she no longer had time to talk.

Out of a loss, new friendships were gained…

Like my Mom’s friend Carol who she met during car shows with the ’55 Chevy. I can still hear the echo of my Mom’s laugh when she and Carol would chat. Like my Dad’s car friend who had a disabled daughter, Chrissy. At first, my Dad didn’t know him very well, but when he heard that my Mom needed people to get tested for a bone marrow transplant, he organized the entire thing and ensured she had a long line of people to be tested.

Vows were renewed…

Faith was a struggle. For my parents 25th Wedding Anniversary, for sickness and in health never meant more. My Mom became baptized and confirmed and insisted on getting married in “the eyes of God.” (That meant in a church.) She worried my Dad would be in eternity and she’d have no way to reach him if she died. Prior to the renewal of their marriage, the Priest that interviewed my parents asked some really questionable things. Like when he asked my Dad if she slept with pajamas on? The Priest told my parents that they had to sleep with a line (barricade) of pillows between them until they were “married.” My Dad told him, “We will not! My wife has cancer. I’m going to hold her and comfort her every single night.” That’s when my Dad made it clear that we should never let man’s law get in the way of God’s love.

Hospitals don’t sleep…

Neither do those that watch over their Mom/partner/kids/friends while they are in them. My Dad, brother, sister and I all took turns staying over night to watch over my Mom and be with her during the bone marrow transplant. My Dad stayed the majority of the days~ it was hard to keep him away. Even though she was so sick herself, I remember my Mom talking a lot about how sick a little girl on the same floor by the name of Mandy was.

The bone marrow transplant was a success…

Until it wasn’t. My Mom started walking uneven. She was having headaches. She went back to the hospital and had an MRI that revealed that she now had three tumors on her brain. The decision would be made that she would continue on with radiation treatments. She wanted to live long enough to see me graduate high school in June.

I did graduate from high school in June. She did not live to see me graduate. My mother died on January 23, 1992.

I keep her alive in my heart by talking about her…

At least that’s what I tell my kids about a woman who gave life to their mother. I hear her every time my youngest son laughs. I feel her every time my oldest son hugs me. I’ve educated them early on about eating with health in mind and carcinogens. They know they have a Grandma who died from breast cancer at age 47, an Aunt who died at age 47 (from an unrelated illness) and a Great Grandfather (my Mom’s Dad) who died at 47 from a heart attack. While I have a lot of time before it happens, I do plan on having a VERY special 48th birthday when the time comes.

Sometimes it’s hard to count the years…

but it’s easy to count the milestones since she’s been gone: Prom. High School Graduation. Engagement. Marriage. Pregnancy. Birth of Children. I remember thinking when I turned 34 years old how I’ve now lived 17 years without my Mom- that’s as many years as I knew her. I try to remind myself that I was lucky to have an active, loving Mom for 17 years. Some people have their Mom an entire life time but they fail to have a relationship like I had with my Mom.

I’m not a fan of pink ribbons…

My Mother is more than a statistic. Please don’t ever minimize her to a part of her anatomy by saying something like, “Save the Boobies.” She’s not represented in a pink trash can that is good for business. She did not die so CEO’s could line their pockets in profits from walks and runs for a “cure” while taking advantage of good hearted people that think they are helping. We’re all aware by now, aren’t we? My Mother could be your Mother, or your best friend, or your sister or your teacher…Or, maybe you.

Don’t give in to pink washing, instead demand we find ways to protect women and prevent further diagnoses. Please visit Breast Cancer Action to learn more about breast cancer and raise a little hell about it. #ThinkBeforeYouPink

PinkRibbonsIncPoster

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.