On Mother’s Day this past weekend, I spent time with my mother and grandmother. We did the usual things people do on this holiday like drink too many mimosas, and a good time was had by all.
I picked out some charms for a bracelet my mom wears — one of which was a glass bead with a breast cancer ribbon painted on it. I joked with my brother that it seemed insensitive to remind my cancer survivor mother of this traumatic event in her life, but my mother instead decided to wear it proudly.
For reference, my mom is probably the unhealthiest healthiest person I’ve ever known. She’s been dealt an unfair hand over health over the years — cancer, included — but you wouldn’t know it if you knew her. She’s incredibly gracious and proud of her good fortune in other ways, and I think even more proud she’s overcome so many obstacles.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid-40s. I was 15 at the time; as the years wore on, my high school memories were not filled with football games, track meets, study sessions and parties, but surgeries, hospital stays, chemotherapy sessions, and the overwhelming fear of losing my mother.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t an easy battle — her cancer had spread into her lymph nodes and other parts of her body; but she did everything she could to beat it — and she did. And she did so privately.
For years, my mother told as few people as she could possibly get away with. Deeply personal, she didn’t want the unneeded attention or well-wishers or sympathy that often came along with such an illness. She wore a wig in public, hid her surgeries and scars, and went to chemotherapy and radiation treatments in private.
She wasn’t ashamed of it; she was purely diligent and determined. After doing everything for her three kids over the years, she finally put herself — and her health — first. All of her resources, her time and her remaining energy went into surviving. She found the best doctors; did every kind of treatment that was necessary; rested and followed all orders. She took no shortcuts, and she didn’t complain.
I’ve had some health woes myself over the years, just like anybody else, and I’ll be honest: For many, I’ve acted like a complete child. My mother — who's had an unfair share of surgeries and problems — handles everything amazingly well. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself; she just does what she needs to do.
One example: Just a few months ago, my mother took an entirely awful spill while my family was away on vacation (Note: Disney World is not the happiest place on Earth when you need to hang out in a hospital). Stiches and sprains and bruises and cuts — she looked like a very big and a very mean Mickey Mouse completely beat her up.
When I saw her the next day after a night in the hospital (trust me, she did not look good), I burst into tears. She, on the other hand, was sick of the whole ordeal — a whole night of exams and catscans and other tests — and just wanted to move on and not miss out on Disney’s fine collection of rides, which she wasn’t even supposed to enjoy.
I could report and write about health care all day long — which, oh yea, I do — but my mother has taught me more about it than anyone else. Of course, it’s unfortunate she has all the stories and the experience about it, but she has more lessons and most of all, she has the strength. Like with wearing a breast cancer ribbon, she's no longer private about her cancer history; she’s proud to tell people she had it and she beat it.
She’s taught me to be proactive about my own health care, to follow my gut instincts, to put health first, and she taught me that a diagnosis isn’t the end; it’s just something that needs to be dealt first and is really just the first step to surviving. Because that’s what she is — a survivor.
[Also read: What my father taught me about health care]