I remember that morning like it was yesterday. Those seven words that changed me forever…. “Hunny, I need to tell you something.”
I had spoken with my mom the week before. She had gone in for her annual mammogram. They had found a lump. But, that wasn’t unusual. She got lumps often and they were cysts that the doctor drained. They would show up at most of her annual appointments. But this time, her doctor decided this particular lump was worth a deeper look. Mom had told me they were going to do a biopsy and call her with the results. It was a nerve-racking week. The fact that I lived three hours away did not help.
One morning as I was playing with the girls, the phone rang. It was Mom. I could tell immediately that everything was not okay. After the forced small talk of how my day was going and what the girls were up to, I heard the words that I could sense were coming…. “Hunny, I need to tell you something. I have breast cancer.”
My heart dropped. I started shaking and fighting back the lump in my throat. Trying to be strong for Mom, I asked, “What stage?” She replied, “That’s the good news; they caught it really early. It’s stage one.” A little relief. Mom was crying, and my arms were aching I wanted to hug her so badly. She shared with me how she was scared for my sister and me… and for her granddaughters… saying now that she had been diagnosed, our chances of someday being diagnosed went up exponentially. While, yes, that was a scary reality, it stunned me how much she wasn’t focused on herself. We talked about her options for treatment. She was obviously upset and unfocused. She couldn’t make a decision yet.
Her options were clear and her doctor was confident that they had caught it early enough to save her life. When cancer is what we’re fighting, it becomes very scary, very fast. Nothing is certain. Mom discussed with me her options: a single mastectomy (removing one breast), since they found the lump in only one breast, and then radiation treatments and testing the lymph nodes around there; or going through chemotherapy and hoping that would kill it all.
My mom was no stranger to breast cancer. She had watched her grandmother lose her own battle to it. She wasn’t taking any chances. She had a life to live, grandchildren to love on, and children and a husband who couldn’t imagine a life without her. She scheduled her appointment and confidently asked him to do a double mastectomy (removal of both breasts) and a reconstruction. She did not want to have to worry about her other breast eventually developing cancer and having to go through that scare again.
The doctor was surprised that she had chosen such an extreme option, but he was completely on board. In March of 2010, my tiny apartment in Ames was flooded with dear friends praying and encouraging me while my mother had both of her breasts and some lymph nodes removed. To this day, I cannot make scones (like I did that morning [I bake to relieve stress.]) without it triggering the emotions that ran rampant that day.
Within a few months, they completed the reconstruction. That entire year was painful, hard, and totally worth it. Mom surrounded herself with survivors and prayer warriors. She recalls the best advice she was given was to mourn the loss of her breasts.
God didn’t just help me through that time, He carried me and held me close.
Hope was never lost. Even in those moments when the pain consumed her, she was still anxious to hear how my family and I were doing. I know it was a rough year for her, but she never showed it.
My mom is proud to be cancer-free today. She has said before that when people congratulate her for beating cancer, she almost feels guilty because she didn’t have to fight for her life as hard as most people do. Preventative care is the best possible way to win that battle. Get your annual mammograms! Know your family history. If my mom had not gone to her appointment that day, that cancer could have easily progressed into a much bigger beast. I am grateful that is not her story.