It’s not Just Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. An estimated 26,000 Canadian women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.Government of Canada
a few weeks before Christmas in 2019, my Mom was sitting on the couch watching Kelly Ripa tell a comedic rendition of her agonizing mammogram experience. As my Mom was cracking up over Kelly’s honest and quirky humour, she decided to proactively check herself.
Lo and behold, she felt something suspicious. With my mom’s quick reflexes, a doctor's visit and immediate mammogram were scheduled in the coming week. Once her arduous test was complete my mom gathered her things and dizzily made her way out of the room, silently praying for the best. It wasn't until my mom reached the receptionist desk that she felt a veil of concern drape over her. “Are you going back up to see your Doctor?” The receptionist asked. “No, I’ll wait to see if there is a follow up requested.” My mom wearily answered. “I’d advise you to go up to your Doctor immediately.” The woman concluded with a kind smile. As my mom made her way back up to the Doctor’s office, she checked in with the receptionist who cued to find a seat amongst the sea of patients. Shuffling through the patients, my mom looked for a seat amongst the jackets and chaos. As soon as she touched the seat the Doctor’s door swung open and called my mom in. He disclosed that the results did not look good.
Three lumps were found in the mammogram, two growths and one in her lymph nodes. A biopsy, CT scan, lymph node test, and bone scan were needed to determine which route to take.
After the blast from the results, my mom and step-dad went home to let the news settle.
It was as they pulled into the driveway that I called to cheerily ask how her mammogram went. My Mom shared the news and I felt a force suck me down.
My first selfish thoughts were:
- ‘It’s just breast cancer, what the hell is all this for?’
- ‘My Mom is walking me down the aisle at my wedding.’
- ‘She is healthy, she will be okay.’
The thoughts played ferociously in fast forward in my mind; future children, holidays, accomplishments, nights when I’m sick.
My life line.
I need my Mama.
My Dad’s colon cancer: that was scary, my Grandma’s Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: that was scary. My Mom’s breast cancer – I thought this was okay!
It’s just breast cancer, right?
This is not ‘just’. This is everything that she knows. Her body, her vessel. How would I feel?
I never would have imagined this as a rip-tide, sucking us further and deeper in.
When she first felt the lump I remember saying, “okay… breast is the best one right? They can remove it and you’ll be fine, so this is ok Mom! Positive thinking!”
I look back now and think:
How insensitive am I?
How many times have I been this insensitive to others?
No matter what sickness or what stage; act with compassion.
After I hung up with my Mom, I went to pick up some Apricot Seed Kernels from a local farm. My Dad beat stage 4 colon cancer 19 years ago. Along with conventional medicine, Apricot Seed Kernels were something he swore by.
As I opened the front door of the farmhouse I hadn’t thought about conversing with someone; I thought I could pop-in, grab the kernels and pop out. Total millennial thought.
The woman at the counter gave me a compassionate smile and gentle “Hello”.
I had balled hysterically the entire 20-minute drive over. It probably looked like I’d suffered an allergic reaction, in regard to my swollen eyes and blotchy face.
Blushing, I swallowed hard and through a shaky voice I said, “Hello! I’m here for Apricot Kernels?” My inner voice was saying ‘Yes! You can do this; you’re not going to cry!’
I hadn’t told anyone other than my fiancé who I had called bawling on the way to the farm.
As I stood there, I began to think ‘please don’t ask me anything.’
Without a doubt she turned to me and asked,
“Are they for you? Or someone you know?”
I broke down to a complete and utter stranger. That simple question completely broke me.
“My Mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer; testing is still needed to see if it’s spread but yes, these are for her.”
As I looked down to clean my tear stained glasses, I was expecting a response like my own misunderstood view. ‘Oh, breast cancer is the one you’d want. It’s easy to treat.’
I felt a sense of warmth embrace me through her response.
The woman gently rubbed my shoulder, looked me in my swollen red eyes and said, “I’m so sorry.”
Three words we need to say more.
Assume less, sympathize more.
Through my Mom’s diagnosis, and my interaction with this woman I’ve learned an important lesson. Sometimes all we need is for others to simply be there.
Allow your positivity to be your invisible cloak. No words, just presence. Engulf others with your positive presence.
What have I learned?
Let others lean on you without the need to speak. Each day a warrior wakes up, they’re fighting.
May we step out of our own comfort, at least for a moment and lend our warmth and empathy to others.
No battle is ever easy, no matter what you may assume.