On November 15, 2012 I received a phone call.
Sister: Mom’s results are in.
Sister: She has cancer.
[Tears stream down my face as I stare into the New York City sunset.]
I had been in complete and utter shock. “These things only happen in movies and television,” I thought. I told myself time after time that this, too, shall pass. But I was lying to myself. Something dark took over my soul as I questioned all life around me. How was I supposed to come to terms with the fact that my mother, and best friend’s, life was hanging on a thread?
My grandfather had been admitted into hospital early October because a previous cancer made an attempt to return. Throughout all of this, my mother started to feel very ill but made it her sole mission to care for my grandfather. Even after being released, my grandfather needed personal care and attention since being 89 had started to become a physical obstacle. After obvious symptoms became more pronounced and her weight fell under 100 lbs., it was time to take serious action. She had been admitted to the hospital for one thing, treated, “slightly” diagnosed, tested, tested, waited, tested, re-diagnosed and then finally told that her intestinal tumor was definitely Stage 3 cancer.
In all of this, my life began to crumble around me. My obvious negative attitude began to seep through the pores on my skin and spill all over everything important. Relationships faded, I was on the brink of failing classes, I was unmotivated to work and people got hurt. Even worse than that, I kept all of this to myself.
Until I exploded.
It took a lot for me to realize that if I didn’t call out for help I would drown in my own sorrows. First, I spoke out to professors because school was a priority. They, thankfully, understood and allowed me to makeup missed tests, assignments and were not taken by surprise when I was feeling a bit “under the weather.” One by one, I began to tell the people closest to me. I was afraid that people would think I called for a “pity party” or wanted to use my mom’s illness as an excuse to my wrongdoings. It’s hard for me to admit that I don’t always know how to react to situations that take me by surprise. I did it. Soon after, everything became more real. With denial and anger out of the way, I could now focus on keeping a hopeful and positive outlook on the situation. If my mom could do it through all of the incredible obstacles life put in her path, I could too.
She began her chemotherapy right after my last final exam. She was admitted into Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Fla. to remain under close supervision by the group of doctors that would pull her out of the illness. Her treatment, she was told, would weaken her immune system terribly and she would have to visit the hospital every day for the next three months to receive radiation. “Sounds good,” she replied with a beautiful smile. See, the thing about my mother is, she has never let anything get in the way of her goals. Whether it was getting me to clean my room, buying a new house, or surviving a dangerous illness, she plowed through with strong character. She told the doctors she needed to finish her chemo by Saturday… because “she had a wedding to dance in.” Seeing her first-born get married was a milestone she wasn’t going to let cancer make a decision for. So, on Dec. 21, 2012, my mother was released from the hospital after her first round of treatment and on Dec. 22, 2012, she put on a charming gown, stood in awe at my sister’s beautiful union, and, of course, danced like there was no tomorrow.
After spending two weeks in my hometown I realized a lot of things were changing and a lot of things were staying wonderfully same. I still fought with my mother over my messy room. I still ignored her conversations about the silliness in my outfit or what chores she needed out of me for the day. But, I am older. I am stronger. I am wiser. And I loved her more and more every second I spent with her. I never know how to express myself around her because “it’s awkward” to talk about your feelings with parents. However, I know that she knows me well enough to know how I feel and why I react the way I do. It’s difficult to see the person that gives you strength become so weak. The tables turned on us quickly but I found means of adjustment.
She is at week three of her treatment; you know, the point where she’s supposed to lose all of her hair, turn yellow in sorrow, and spend her days throwing up in front of the toilet.
None of that is happening. She looks and feels better than ever.
This “obstacle” served as a reminder of all things beautiful in our lives. My priorities shifted. I realized a strong connection with my family and taking care of my personal health were vital to my existence. I found the motivation I had longed for. We’re part of a bigger plan and, the exquisite thing is, we don’t know what it is. In 2013 my mother will become a cancer survivor.
Mom, if you’re reading this, thank you for giving me life and the lessons that come along with it. I love you.
Update (Winter 2013): My mother’s tumor has nearly disappeared entirely and she is one week away from finishing her treatment. In early February we will know how much of the disease is left in her body.
Update 2 (Spring 2013): MY MOTHER IS OFFICIALLY A CANCER SURVIVOR!