Breast Cancer is Something I Shared With My Mom, Posthumously

With Mother’s Day around the corner I want to talk about my mom. She died in 2002 at the age of 55. I think as I approach my 51st birthday I find myself thinking about her. We had a good relationship albeit somewhat volatile at times. She had emotional and psychological problems that dogged her throughout her life. Her own mother abandoned my grandfather, my mother and her brother as small children. She got married at 18 to an abusive and controlling man, my father. When she was 37 and I was 18, she finally summoned the resolve to leave him. She had been a stay at home mom through most of my childhood and once my brother and I were in high school she went to work. Despite her emotional and mental baggage she was extremely successful and smart. Over the next 15 years she battled mental illness and alcoholism. In 1999 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t know anything about staging or the different types.  She admitted the tumor had been there for years, but she was afraid to have it checked.  She was malnourished and in an unhealthy state, so much so, chemotherapy was not recommended. Plus, she was still drinking heavily. In 2002 she died and we don’t know exactly how, but it looks like maybe the cancer had returned or she had cirrhosis of the liver. I feel like I let her down but in all honesty she never wanted to listen to those who were trying to help her, or maybe she just couldn’t.

Flash forward to 2015 and there I am with breast cancer. I recalled my mom in the hospital after her single mastectomy and she was screaming in pain. Yes I said screaming. That was my limited experience with breast cancer and mastectomies. When I received my diagnosis and learned I was going to have a bilateral mastectomy, I recalled my mother’s screams and I was terrified. My last day at work before surgery was horrible. I walked around looking either like a zombie or a deer in headlights. People offered words of love and support but I felt like a death row inmate to whom people were paying their last respects. An amazing thing happened after I awoke from surgery, I was in pain, I was frightened, but I wasn’t feeling like screaming bloody murder as my mom had. It was manageable. I had done it. I was even capable of making jokes with my husband. I wished my mom was alive to see me, be there for me.  It was something we could’ve fought together.

I’ve done a lot in my life to undo the damage inflicted by my dysfunctional and abusive father. I married a man who treats me with love and respect. Equally important, he cherishes and loves our daughter. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m often jealous I missed out on that with my own father. Until I had my daughter and saw this amazing father-daughter relationship I really didn’t think about him. But after Lili was born it was hard not to. As far back as I can remember, like maybe kindergarten, I hated my father. Yes hated. He did mean things to my brother and me, playing on our fears, berating us, treating our friends like crap. Physical, emotional and mental abuse. He knew I had a paralyzing fear of insects and thought a great practical joke would be to put dead bugs under his 10 year old daughter’s pillow. Or castigating my friends and calling them losers. How are elementary school aged kids losers? And drinking. Drinking and driving. Drinking and hitting. My mother often made excuses, he is scarred from Vietnam where he served in the Marine Corps., or his parents were abusive. After a while I was like okay blah blah blah, so what? Lots of people grow up in bad situations and are not rotten bastards. I really didn’t blame her for her own drinking problem because that was probably the only way she could cope. I held great anger towards her for not protecting us from our father for many years. I let go of that anger, realizing she did the best she could with the hand she had been dealt. I’m not excusing it, but carrying the anger around doesn’t solve anything. I choose to remember her as the Girl Scout leader, soccer coach, home designer and decorator, a mom who baked cookies and made sure we did our homework, who taught us about God and how to appreciate all of His blessings. And I know she loved my brother and me, I have no doubt about that. I also know she is no longer in pain and anguish, but someplace where she is at peace, with my grandparents, my brother, and our sweet Airedale terrier Shelly. Happy Mother’s Day Mom.