A couple weeks after my mom was diagnosed with cancer, a friend in his 30s was also diagnosed with cancer. He has a young daughter and has been keeping his own blog about his treatment and progress. In one entry, he talked about calling the summer of treatment his "lost summer." My mom is now done with treatment. Although we are all relieved that she is done with treatment- we have learned that with cancer you are never really "done." She will have follow up appointments with at least three different doctors (radiologist, breast surgeon, and the oncologist) that are spaced out in a way that she is meeting with a doctor every six weeks. This will continue for quite sometime, possibly up to a year. Even after that year, she will still have frequent visits to the doctors, they will just be spaced further apart. She will continue to take medications daily for the next five years to prevent this cancer from trying to invade her again. Now that treatment is "over" have been thinking about and reflecting on this last nine months of treatment.
I remember when my mom told me about the "spot" on her tests...it was probably cancer..there would be more tests...everything had to happen quickly. Shock. Disbelief. Hours later - maybe the next day - it all runs together - I remember being handed a massive pile of reading materials she received at the doctor.
"What kind of cancer did you say?"
"Inflammatory Breast Cancer."
"I can't find it in any of these stupid books."
"Keep looking, I think it is in there."
It was not in there. I went back to my home in Oklahoma City and I remember looking on the Internet. I was going to find out what this inflammatory cancer is.
I found it.
As my limbs went numb I began to quickly understand why this was not in any of those books. This is rare. This is aggressive. This is serious. This is very serious. This is a whole different ballgame. This may change my life as I know it. This may change all of our lives as we know it.
I feel like my person jumped out of my body as I read on. This type of cancer is so aggressive that by the time it is detected it can only be staged at at stage IIIB or stage IV. So you mean to tell me that at this point I am hoping that my mom has an advanced stage three cancer? Really? That this is what my prayers are focused on right now..."Please God, please, can my mom find out that she has stage three cancer...?" More shock. My mom did in fact have stage IIIB cancer. And the treatments...they were going to be horrible...long...aggressive...intense. To this day I cannot fully describe how she took it on. She was like a warrior mother. A warrior sister. A warrior Grammy. She has kids, a grandchild, sisters, brothers, friends, and she was fighting to be here with us longer. In no way am I saying that she was not bothered by the treatments. Who would not have some pretty intense "why me" and "it is not fair" moments? But you would hardly know it most days. She was determined that she was going through the treatments, she wanted the most intense dosage available, and she wanted to get on the other side of this cancer. Even as the her skin was burned and gone in places during radiation and the doctor said "we need to stop", she said she would keep going if that would help her chances. She was diagnosed in May and hoped to be done with treatments before school started. Obviously, not the case. I can see why someone would call it a "lost summer" or in her case "a lost year." But she did not. In between the treatments, the bed rest, the appointments, and the tests...she has has been living her life.
As I look back on these last nine months, I think about the living that has been done and the time that was not lost.
This year she was able to see both of her children celebrate anniversaries with their spouse.
This summer she swam with her granddaughter as she was able to swim for the first time by herself.
This year her nephew was accepted for medical school.
Her brother retired from the fire department.
Her son celebrated a birthday.
She celebrated a birthday.
She was present for sibling birthdays.
Her granddaughter started preschool.
Her granddaughter developed a love for talking to her Grammy on the phone and has had countless conversations with her about the things that three year-old children talk about.
She has been able to enjoy having a sister live in Tulsa after living out of state for several years.
She has enjoyed countless outings with her siblings.
She has been to watch her brother play hockey games.
She watched her grandchild play in her first soccer game.
She watched her church and work family pour unlimited support on her and her family.
Her son had a big Halloween party with friends, her grandchild dressed up like a princess, she had so much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving, and she celebrated Christmas with her family.
Earlier this month, her siblings met her and presented her with an "I believe in Miracles" ring to celebrate her fight against cancer and the joy she has brought to each of their lives. This was not time lost. This was time lived. It was not easy, but the hard part is over. To say that this time was lost, takes away all that did happen over the last year. I think my mom recognized this while it was happening (well most days anyway) and I think that is part of why she made an effort to be there for all those events and celebrations.
Now we celebrate that she is now on the other side of cancer. We celebrate that these special occasions and events were not the last time she would be present for them. Nine months is the time that passes before new life is given. In a different way, this last nine months have given new life to my mother - and to our family. We can appreciate in new and significant ways how we are blessed that she has been able to beat this horrible and aggressive cancer. We celebrate that there will be many more years ahead of us that will be greatly lived and appreciated. And we are hopeful and thankful that these years ahead are not has hard as this year has been.
Thank you all for reading and keeping updated on how my mom has been doing. I will check with my mom to see if she would like this blog to remain up. If it does, it will not be updated frequently as - thank God- there is no longer as much reason to. Our family does appreciate all your support and we recognize that this journey would have been much more difficult without your help. Your support has made getting to the other side of cancer seem possible. And now...back to living...