A daughter’s story..
I don’t even know what day it was now in August 2004. I just know it was the darkest day of my whole entire life. Or at least at that exact moment I thought it was the darkest day. I had no clue what the next days, weeks, months were going to bring. I was working nights and when I got home at around 9:30 my husband said, “You are supposed to call your brother.” I thought nothing of it, so I pick up the phone dial it and this is when it happened . The word cancer entered my life and still to this day is a part of my everyday existence. To hear my sister in law say “Your mom went to the doctors today and they found something, it’s not good” was the last thing I had expected to hear. Then my brother got on the phone and explained that they had found something and were pretty sure it was something to be concerned about. I remember falling to the floor in my kitchen and sitting crouched hugging my knees feeling very sick. I could not talk , I was crying hysterically and everything started spinning. My husband kept asking me , “what is wrong”.. “what is going on”.. “Vera, what is it.” Finally after about 15 minutes I tried to say it.. “They think ….” , “They think my mom…” , ” has ….cancer:.. Such an awful word. I could now swallow, my chest was pounding. I can remember going to bed that night and laying awake all night long scared to death. I don’t believe I have ever been that scared in all of my life, I lied there and cried while my husband held me, not saying a word , just holding me. He knew that was all that needed done right at that moment.
The guilt was weighing on me like a ton of bricks, Guilt from not being with her. this day my mother was totally alone in that cold lonely room when the doctor and nurses told her she may have breast cancer, she was completely alone. The most horrible day of her life and she was alone. Thank god for the doctor and nurses. They never left her side until my brother and his wife got there.
The next few weeks consisted of another mammogram and waiting then waiting some more.. by the end of September we had found out with biopsies of both breasts that there was cancer both. A little worse in the right. Not quite so bad in the left.. After coming home from the hospital from the biopsies our family had some decisions to make and my mother wanted us all to be a part of her decision. The doctors told us to take our time and weigh all of the options. We went to another doctors appointment and discussed with the surgeon what we thought we may want to do. Was removing the right breast and doing a lumpectomy on the left. We went home again, not leaving my mother alone at all very much, since she was alone when she first found out that there was something we refused to leave her for a minute. About two weeks after the actual diagnosis we were heading back for surgery. My mother was about to undergo one of the most life altering surgeries any woman could ever face. It was October 13, 2004 at our local hospital, she would not go anywhere else for second opinions or surgery , and we did not want to make her.. The morning of surgery was again another dark day .. With just about the whole family there waiting.. The anesthesiologist came in first, to talk to us about the anesthesia he would use, then the nurses came and took us , me , my dad, and of course my mom to the holding room just inside the operating room doors. There we met with the doctor one more time. He talked to us and we cried of course. Up until this point we had not missed a day of tears. This was scary, I was watching my mother , the woman whom raised me and took care of me for the past 30 years fall apart. I looked across the room at my dad, holding up so well , such a strong man, I could see a look in my dads eyes that I had never seen before and I cannot explain what it was.. We were a mess ! They took my mom into the operating room. A few hours later the doctor came out and said “everything went well, we believe we got “it” all “it” is getting sent away, and also had explained that they had taken some lymphnodes from each side to test as well, about 30 all together which is part of the testing..
The next few weeks of recovery was quite a time. My family , brothers, father, mother and myself we were drained. So much support from family and friends. The cards , flowers, food, phone calls. We were overwhelmed with love and support. This was very trying on us all. Emotions were running wild, we were mad, scared, sad. Feeling so many things. Mad at who?? Mad at what?? Scared and sad were easy to figure out. But the mad part, I still don’t get. Who do you get mad at? Who do you scream at? It is nobody’s fault. My mother kept asking , “what did I ever do to deserve this”?? “what could I have done so horrible to have this happen to me”? No answers, NONE !!!
The doctors appointments became a weekly thing for the drain tubes , first two came out.. then one more , then the last.. Then it was time. We had to get the rest of the news. “Do I need chemo”? my mother asked the doctor?? He referred us to the oncologist there in the hospital and so there we were , more doctors appointments. When we met with the oncologist he did recommend chemotherapy since there was cancer cells in 2 of the 30 some lymphnodes all together, there was a slight chance of it spreading. We (my mom, dad, sister in law & me) visited the cancer center, met the nurses. They gave us so much literature and told us what we would need to do to get ready for the first of eight chemo treatments. What medicines she would need to prevent sickness as much as possible. What to get ready for what to expect. The whole deal was put on all of us in what seemed a dump truck load.. So much to absorb… I left the cancer center that day with all of the literature. I was driving by myself. I looked at the booklets, pamphlets, pages of stuff about “it” the whole way home, crying my eyes out. I wanted to pull over and throw it all out, make it all go away !! It wasn’t long after that, that I started reading that literature and buying more, books, magazines, searching the Internet. I wanted to learn more about breast cancer. I was ruthless.. I wanted to learn all I could. There is so much out there !!
Chemotherapy started right before Thanksgiving , the first treatment we did not know what to expect or how the holidays were going to be. So we tried expecting the worst, the crappy sickness, weakness.. Nope!! My mom felt ok . Treatments were scheduled for every three weeks and each time at least two family members were with her. We sort of pushed ourselves through the holidays , it was sort of a fog. At the cancer center they didn’t treat us like a number. We were all treated like humans and individuals.. Meeting new people , other cancer patients. Making new friends. We became very close to most of them .. From ages 40 to 90.. all sorts of patients , some going daily, weekly, monthly. They told us to expect hair loss after about the first week or so.. We waited, watched , combed.. a few hairs would come out by simply pulling on it.. that week or so really seemed like forever, then it started coming out in gobs on the pillows, back of moms coat. My husband, kids and I went to visit one day and she had decided she was sick of it just falling out every where and when she would cook she was not only worried about lady bugs falling in the food but now her hair too !! So I got out the shaving cream, razor and a towel.. and began to shave her head, I stayed strong and made it out to be fun , laughing , joking around although it was the hardest thing I had ever had to do , I could not cry or breakdown. We bought hats, bandanas.. but most of the time she went with out anything.. balder than bald. Eventually mom went back to work and seemed amazingly strong about the whole “cancer” thing. She started talking to customers that would come in for lunch or just a drink, and by the time they left she had found out everything about them.. Some days she would wear her hat , some days she would go with out, It didn’t matter to her that she was bald. It didn’t matter to anyone. Of course, she got “the looks” and I wanted her to get tattoo on her head.. She actually looked good. The chemo did not make my mom sick at all. Just when things were looking a little brighter one day , after picking up the mail , my dad sat at the kitchen table reading a letter from the insurance company that they had dropped my mom because of the expenses the cancer and brought along!! Just when we thought things were getting at least a little better. My dad is a self employed contractor. We live in Pennsylvania where you get about 5 good months a year that you can actually work and draw an income. Things are not by any stretch at all warm and fuzzy in the check book ! After a couple of months of fighting with the insurance company they added her back on.
Now it has been a little over a year and I am looking back on the past year thinking: “How in the hell did we get through this past year”? It sure has been a rough one, Still to this day my mom cries at least once a day.. We all keep telling her.. “Look at yourself, you are good”. “be thankful for your life and your health”.. What a year it has been for us all..I see my mom a few times a week , we are real close, and she still has bad days. That eventually hopefully will soon get few and far between. My mother is now actively back to work and bingo!! Doing quite well, baking again. Her hair is coming back like wild weeds, she just went for her first haircut a week ago that was fun. I have dyed it bright red. LOOKS GREAT!! We are getting ready for the holidays and each day we become more thankful that we are here and healthy and able to celebrate. Things are getting back to normal for the most part. I have learnt that this awful experience has turned out to be a lesson in life. I think we have all learned that we should live each day to the fullest and cherish every moment that we can with our family and friends. This is my story and I hope to bring encouragement to those who read this from a supporters view, breast cancer does not just happen to the patient, everyone close to my mother was affected, my dad, my brothers, myself and all of our families & friends. I also look back and can’t even count the number of family, friends, strangers .. that said “it will get better”, “things will be ok” , “you have to think positive and take care of yourself”. I thought they were whacked!! But now I find myself in their shoes, telling people that I meet these exact words!!