Getting diagnosed with breast cancer is tough, obviously-but the toughest challenges are not always the obvious ones. Fear of death and dying is just the tip of the iceberg. I am generally known as a fighter and can usually be found facing this beast down with an ass-kicking attitude and a dollop of humor and sarcasm, but there have also been dark days indeed. I had so many fears it seemed like every day new ones I never imagined were popping up in my head. What if I leave things undone? Don’t get to everything on my bucket list? What about mending fences? Like Big Little Lies’ Madeline, “I love my grudges. I tend to them like little pets.” There are so many things to fear when you are diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t believe they can truly be quantified, but I know that my greatest fear was not death per se, or dying, but leaving my only child who at the time was just 12. When I was lying on the table getting the diagnostic ultrasound, my first thought was that of course it was breast cancer, how could it not be? After all, my mom had been diagnosed at around the same age. My second thought was oh my God, Lili. A panic set in like none I’ve ever felt, as though I could already feel myself slipping away from her. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t think. The room started to spin so I squeezed my eyes shut. I even thought, if I hadn’t had a child I wouldn’t have this agony. I couldn’t get past the fear that I would be sucked out of her future. Lili and I are close – as close as a mother and daughter can be, and the thought that I might not be here to see her graduate high school and college, get married, have babies, was the most gut-wrenching experience of my entire life, without a doubt.
People often ask how Lili took the news when we told her about my breast cancer. Well, she was 12, so old enough to understand the concept of cancer and dying, but also at an age when she’s going through her own pre-teen experiences and struggles. At that age, I believe girls are pretty wrapped up with themselves which to me was a good thing. We kept it from her at first, until we met with the surgeon, but she knew something was wrong. Kids are way more intuitive than we think. She seemed to understand breast cancer is a serious thing but we were able to allay most of her fears by explaining the different surgeries and treatments I would be facing. She was upset and scared, but hopeful and I like to think it was mostly due to my attitude and tone. You see, I had already gotten into battle mode, kicking ass and taking names, and she knows when that happens I am unstoppable. But it is virtually impossible to stay in that frame of mind 24/7. There are times when I might silently scream and cry in the shower. Sometimes I’m replaying Debra Winger in her hospital bed saying goodbye to her kids and worrying about how the hell Flap was going to raise them. Luckily Tomas is so much more competent than Flap but still, I think little girls and moms have a special relationship.
As it turns out, Lili was my rock. She really stepped up to the plate and helped out her Dad in taking care of me, the house, and the pets after my surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. I could count on her to have empathy but also treat me the same, and not as a sick person. I might have been boobless and bald, and have 1/10th of my usual energy (which wasn’t a whole lot to begin with), but I was still the same Mommy. I still had all the mad Mommy skills, like love, wisdom and humor. We could still talk about clothes, hairstyles, music and world events. We could still discuss teenagerhood that is just over the horizon. We could still hang out, and just be. While the fear of leaving her too soon is still there, it’s fading somewhat. When I catch my mind veering off in that direction, I remind myself cancer will not steal my joy and I must cherish every moment I have with her.