Cancer Scars:: A Survivor’s Daughter

We don’t talk about it. There are no parades or yearly celebratory posts. No bumper stickers or two-story pink ribbons adorning the front lawn. She prefers to keep it pretty quiet. Almost like it never happened. But for me? I remember it all too well. The first time I saw my father crack. The first time I saw my mother as human, as breakable. The word had penetrated our family several times before but never in such an intimate way—cancer.

Cancer Scars:: A Survivor's Daughter | Houston Moms BlogUnexpected Blow

I had my Chevy Blazer so loaded down the back bumper was likely scraping along Highway 90 as I burned a streak out of town headed for adventures I couldn’t even imagine. The unknown world of college lay before me and I was “so ready.” {Until I got there and realized my dad was indeed leaving me there and then I was a little unsure.}

My freshman year:: full of promise and boatloads of unknowns. But then, a blow none of us could have prepared for. Something that would rock our world and have lasting effects for all of us.

Discovering Cancer

Thankfully my mother is generally on top of her yearly exams. We need you to come back inwe found somethingno need to worryit’s just routine. There, encapsulated in her breast tissue were tiny soldiers preparing to launch an attack on her body. Breast cancer.

Naturally, she downplayed it for my benefit:: They caught it earlythere’s no reason to worry. I wasn’t buying it.

I decided now was not the right time for college. It could wait a year. I would come home and be with my family. As a life-long educator, she would not have it. Really, it’s nothing. Then they scheduled the surgery.

Gut Check

Weighing the risk of relapse and complications from various cancer treatments, my parents agreed that removal and reconstructive surgery was her best option—I couldn’t breathe.

My mother would never describe herself as glamorous. She grew up on a farm and after marrying my father, moved about 30 miles down the road to only a slightly larger town, but at least she didn’t depend on well water. But growing up I was always in awe of her ever-polished nails, perfectly looped handwriting, and kitchen prowess. For the first time in my life, my mother could not do something on her own, and it shook me. {Now, she, of course, would argue that this was not the first time. But we didn’t know that.}

When it came time for surgery, I saw my father—the bedrock of our entire extended family—worry. It was an emotion I had never witnessed. We aren’t the most expressive family and maybe it’s because he always kept things in check to keep the rest of us calm. So when he lost it, my entire inner self spiraled. I could not handle the hospital or the recovery—and I fled.

Coming to Terms

There have been many times since then that I have questioned my decision to run, but at the time, I couldn’t stomach what was happening—and the fear of what the outcome could be. I returned to our home and put food away, watered flowers, wrote thank you notes, and anything I could do to distract myself.

I stayed there until they came home. My sister, barely in junior high at the time, came bursting through the hall door, “We’re hoooome.” So naïve, I thought. Or was I the one? Was I discounting the strength of this family? Was I abandoning the hope and faith we had based our entire worlds around up to this point? I locked myself in my room and began to pray and weep harder than I had ever done so in my life.

God and I had a meeting that day on the worn green rug in the third bedroom of a pale blue house. We came to terms with the fact that sometimes things happen to families that don’t make any sense. And sometimes, they get through them, too.

Battling Recovery

It wasn’t smooth sailing. To do reconstruction they had to use muscle and tissue from other parts of my mother’s body leaving her sore and unable to move on her own at times. There were helpless moments when she would slip down too far in the bed and my father would have to come home from work to sit her back up.

I remember the first time I saw my mother’s scars and I turned away, ashamed that I was unable to process what she had to go through. The battle she had waged. As an immature 18-year-old who had already seen my fair share of loss, I couldn’t cope with the thought. I completely shut down even the notion that these microscopic cells could somehow steal this cog from our {sometimes dysfunctional} machine—which would cause it to completely malfunction. Even now, 20 years later, none of us have ever discussed the true weight of what her cancer diagnosis meant.

Get Checked for Cancer

My mother has since been cancer-free. Though it was not the easiest recovery, the course of treatment they chose has been successful. She has had to keep up with medications and follow-up appointments but has thankfully always been issued a clean bill of health.

For myself and my sister, this means always filling in “breast cancer” on our medical forms as an immediate relative. We have to start mammograms four years earlier than people without a direct family history. {Bring on the boob squishing.}

But, because my mom kept up with her exams, she::

• Saw both of her daughters graduate from college
• Walked down the aisle at two weddings
• Was at the hospital when both of her grandchildren were born
• Has been on numerous vacations and visited several countries
• Has continued to dance circles around others with her sweetheart
• Experienced the joy of many Christmas mornings
• Taught her son-in-law to make cream gravy
• Celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays
• Hunted for Easter eggs and cracked confetti eggs
• Sang hymns, lifted prayers, and praised Jesus
• And countless other big and small family happenings

Get checked. Don’t make excuses or put yourself last. You may be giving your family a thousand more memories with you by making your appointments a priority. And be supportive of the woman beside you. Just because she doesn’t carry a huge banner broadcasting her battle, doesn’t mean she isn’t hiding jagged scars underneath.


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