In the summer of 2018, I lost my mother in law to health complications after a lengthy battle with cancer.
My husband’s mom was just 40 years old when she received a diagnosis of stage four breast cancer in 2000. Hardship and suffering were not unfamiliar to her when she received her diagnosis. She was a single mother of two teenage boys ages 14 & 15 years old. She worked hard to pull herself up as a provider to her sons in her younger years, starting over, building a career and making a new home.
Mom endured excruciating cancer treatments including a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. These treatments were taxing, they changed her physiology and stole her physical strength and stamina, but they did not touch the resiliency of her spirit. Those that knew her would unanimously agree that despite what she endured; cancer did not define her.
After having cancer in remission for several years, it returned in the form of brain cancer. This was a diagnosis that was truly devastating and yet, she persisted. My husband reflects that mom shared her brain cancer diagnosis with him as he prepared to leave for the military. While he offered to stay behind to care for her she adamantly refused to let him. Her role as a mother gave her purpose. Even as she underwent treatment that left her physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, she was selfless.
The stark reality is that 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. The CDC shares that while there are some things that can lower risk such as regular as exercise, breastfeeding, and considering avoiding hormonal therapy and contraception, risk factors like age and genetic predisposition cannot be avoided. Medical advancements have made great strides in treatment and technology, however, in most situations even innovative cancer treatments affect every element of your life.
As a society we can do much better to care for women who are battling breast cancer considering the physical, emotional and financial implications of treatment. Those that beat breast cancer often suffer silently from the lifelong effects of the treatments that they survive.
Fortunately for mom, her coworkers, family and friends rallied around her during her cancer treatment. As she moved forward with her scars, Mom tried to remain active and independent. Cancer took an undeniable toll on her physical health. The more trials she faced, the more unapologetic she was as she persevered. She was a resource and advocate for friends walking through similar battles.
When mom reflected upon her experience with cancer, she did so with a sense of triumph. Rightfully so, she went on to beat the odds for 18 years. In this time, she was able to watch her sons grow and thrive. She celebrated with them as they hit major milestones, graduating college, starting and growing a successful business, serving our country, getting married, and having children.
Mom passed away peacefully at home on her terms, at the young age of 58. Although she did not pass away from breast cancer specifically, it had returned, and it would be unreasonable to say that it didn’t have an effect. Breast cancer isn’t just responsible for the death of 41,000 women in the United States annually. It is a thief that steals our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and friends.
The loss of a mother leaves one absolutely devastated. There is never a good time to say goodbye to the person that gave you life, nurtured you, protected you, and loved you unconditionally. Cancer may have stolen the physical presence of mom, but it cannot dim the light she leaves behind.
As a grandmother, Grammy Sharon was absolutely in love with her grandkids. They will know of her love as they grow, and her time here becomes more distant. We will make sure that her grandkids remember her love for Patsy Cline, fishing, and playing ball. We think of her as we sit at the table listening to her record collection and as we dance to our wedding song that she sang as we had our first dance. Her life was cut short, however, her legacy endures.
As the month of October and Breast Cancer Awareness month end, let us pause to honor those that we have lost. This evening unprompted, my five year old Arabella began writing Grammy Sharon’s name on a leaf for a thankfulness wreath she had been working on.
Cancer is not the victor if the memory of those that have fought live on. Rest in peace mom. Tonight, love got the final word.