I was eleven years old the first time my parents sat me down to tell me that my mom was sick. Being so young, I’m fairly certain that I just assumed that my mom had the flu or something similar and that she would get better eventually. What I didn’t know was that from that day forward, “cancer” would be one of the most commonly used words in our home. I remember sitting on the living room couch with my brother and listening to my parents explain, as best they could to two young children, that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo multiple surgeries to prevent the disease from spreading any further. We were young and we didn’t really understand. I wish I could have stayed that naïve and innocent forever.
For the nine years that followed, I watched as my mom underwent countless surgeries and treatments. Going to the doctors office or the hospital with her became just another event that we got to spend together. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that not everyone spent their days sitting in a waiting room waiting for their mom to finish up with radiation treatments. My mom went into remission and was re-diagnosed five different times. Each time, the cancer moved to a new place and grew more aggressive. Ultimately, in February of 2011, I watched as the cancer finally took my mom away from us all.
Regardless of the state of her health, my mom remained the beautiful, outgoing, positive, radiant woman that I always knew her to be. Her laugh and smile would light up any room. She could turn any negative into a positive and always found the good in every situation. Her cancer diagnosis was no different. Instead of becoming depressed after undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries, she used her situation as an opportunity to educate and inspire other women. I can’t count the amount of times that my mom would excuse herself from the dinner table at a restaurant to use the bathroom and show a friend or family member the results of her surgeries so that, if cancer were to afflict them in the same way, they may not be so afraid of the outcome of those surgeries.
When I began writing this, I thought that I would go down a dark path. However, as I sit here and recall her positive spirit, I can’t help but feel happiness in my heart. I don’t feel my mom’s presence within me as much as I wish, but it’s time like this that I remember she truly is always with me. She may not be here for me to call five times a day and talk for hours like we used to. She may not be here to listen to me cry when I fight with my boyfriend and just need to be told I’m not completely out of my mind. She might not be here to gossip, or shop, or cook with me anymore. I know that she and I will never plan my wedding, talk about raising my future children, or decorate my home together in the years to come. However, I like to believe that she lives on in every smile I give to each person I come in contact with and all of the good advice my brother gives. Come to think of it, I see more of my mom in my brother every single day, and the happiness that that brings to me is unexplainable.
I will miss my mom every single day that I spend here without her. I will never feel like twenty years was anywhere near enough time to learn and share with the woman who I always wanted to become. I feel lost most days because I know that I can never talk to her again or ask any of the millions of questions that have come to mind since we last spoke. However, I am thankful for everything that she did teach me and pass on to me in the short amount of time that we did get to spend together. Some people live their whole lives without ever having the type of relationship my mom and I shared in twenty years. It will never be enough, but I will always be thankful for who she made my brother and myself. She was strong, beautiful, brave, and a light in the life of every person she met. And I got to call her my mom. That will never change. For that, I will forever be grateful.