Friday, October 22, 2010

My Breast Cancer Story

Unless you've been living under a rock (or suffer from some sort of color-blindness for the color pink) you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In light of that, I thought I'd share my breast cancer story. No, I haven't had it myself, but loved ones who have been afflicted become part of our story, and several special women are part of mine.

Both of my grandmothers and my mother have had breast cancer, so I have gone through life figuring that--whether the gene tends to skip a generation or not--my number is coming up at some point. That sounds fatalistic, but I know we'll try to catch it early, and I have little doubt I'd beat it. Perhaps I'm over-confident, but these three most important women in my life survived it, and so could I.

My paternal grandmother had it back in the 1970s, when she was in her fifties. She had a mastectomy, and that was that. She had a fake boob that she would often forget to wear. If you saw it laying around, it looked like a raw chicken breast.

My maternal grandmother had it in her eighties, in the early 2000s. She had a lumpectomy and came through just fine.

And in between those two, my mother had it as well. She was in her forties, and I was fifteen. She had a lumpectomy and radiation. And she came through it, just like I knew she would from the moment my parents told me what was going on. My main memory of the actual event was visiting Mom in the hospital before her friend took me to see Phantom of the Opera. I'd gotten tickets for my birthday, but then Mom couldn't go.

What I remember surrounding Mom's cancer, though, is how Dad told me later that she thought I didn't care. That she was afraid she was going to die and not get to see me graduate or get married or have children, and that I didn't care.

Mom and I butted heads a lot (as many teenage girls and their moms do) and I know Mom worried a lot about our relationship--but of course I would care if I thought she was going to die. I would be devastated if something happened to my mom. The thing was, there was just no doubt whatsoever in my mind that she would beat it and be just fine. Not in the way that some people pray so hard and are mentally determined that their loved one will survive, but in sheer confidence that modern medicine could take care of it, lickety split. And it did.

It was clearly very naive of me to think that way. I felt terrible as it became more apparent to me how my mother must have felt. (After six years of guilt, I made a donation to the American Cancer Society for my mom's 50th birthday as a final act of penance.) I guess I was just a self-centered teen without much exposure to tragedy, since at some point since then, I realized that even with modern medicine, not everyone beats it.

A girl who was in my church youth group growing up lost her mother a few years ago and may soon lose her dad to cancer as well. A guy I knew in college--thirty years old with a wife and young son--has been battling esophageal cancer for eight months, and after thirteen rounds of chemo, the doctors are at a loss. And of course, there are the children--six year olds who are diagnosed with brain cancer and die from it, all over the course of one summer. What havoc is wreaked by this monster of a disease!

I am so thankful that my mother and grandmothers survived. I pray for those currently in the trenches of such battles. But I also imagine what it might be like one day when diagnostics and treatments and procedures all live up to the naive idealism of a sheltered fifteen year old. When people of any age and maturity can say, "Cancer? No problem. We can beat that."

That's my cancer story.
What's yours?


Kim and Josh said...

This just gave me goosebumps! I hadn't thought to to one of these myself, but since it has wreaked havoc on my family as well, I think it just might be my next post. Thank you for sharing and honoring those who are lost and those who are survivors. I, too, hope that someday (soon) it's something that we don't worry about.

SpeasHill said...

I don't know how I originally missed this post, but I'm glad I stumbled back to it now. Thanks for sharing your story. Having worked as a pastor and an oncology chaplain, my cancer story is one of many, many stories, and my deep theological analysis is that cancer SUCKS. And I also hope that by the time it comes around for me or you or Kate or Becca, it is a disease that used to be fatal. Thanks again for sharing so poignantly.


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