By Tina Conrad
In order to understand my cancer story, I feel compelled to tell my mom’s story. She had breast cancer in 2001 and then again in 2003. She handled each diagnosis with love and feeling and a strength and grace. She was determined to move forward but scared and humbled by it. She was strong but felt weak. She was powerful but felt powerless. She was beautiful but felt ugly. She was still my mom, but she felt like a different person.
It was September of 2001, and my world view had changed with the events of 9/11 in the United States of America. I was a young, naïve and optimistic employee just beginning my corporate career. I even worked with customers in New York City. I just could not fathom what had happened, how innocent employees could leave for work that morning and not return home to their loved ones. I cried at how the world had changed, how innocence was lost and all of the lives lost that day.
At that very same time, my mom was getting tests and scans. My dad was aware of everything, but my mom sheltered my brother and I, not wanting to worry us. My mom had found a lump. Breast cancer did not run in our family, but this was unusual. My mom got a biopsy and a diagnosis that she had breast cancer, one week after 9/11. My brother was living with me at the time, about 2 hours’ drive from where we grew up while he did his student teaching. My mom called to tell us that she had cancer.
My family dug our heals in and helped my mom in any way possible. I remember sending her flowers to cheer her after losing her hair. I visited whenever possible, I called her and chatted to make her feel normal, even though everything had changed. My family grew closer, my relationship with God strengthened and my mom moved on in life, happy and healthy but also concerned about recurrence, like any cancer patient.
Nearly two years later, my mom’s cancer returned. In the same breast, in nearly the same area. This time felt different. I know that I was angry. I was mad at God for allowing it to come back. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why this kept happening to my family. It felt like a personal attack. I am happy to say that my mom has been cancer free for over 15 years. Knock on wood!
Why do I tell my mom’s story with mine? They are different stories, we had different journeys but I am grateful for the example of grit and grace that my mom expressed to me. I always had a built-in support network for my own cancer journey, somebody that just got it and I didn’t have to explain why I was feeling my feelings. When I found out that I needed chemo (16 rounds), I called her sobbing from a parking lot. I cried that I didn’t want to look like a cancer patient. And she told me all the words I needed to hear. She always listened, she let me be, she was still my mom but also my friend.