Sometimes you will forget your mom has cancer.
Not at first—like, the day you hear the news, your world will pause; your thoughts will stop streaming; news and ideas and feelings won’t buffer unless they relate to your mom, and her breasts, and what it means, and why it’s happened.
And straightaway, your language will shift. Instead of responding with fine or great when asked how you are, you’ll reply to almost all questions with, “I just found out my mom has cancer,” and then, “they caught it right away,” and then, “but still.” And people will get it. You will be surprised by how people understand, how many have been there, by how many say, let me know how I can help.
You wish you knew how to help. But you are here, and your mom is there—two dots on a map that require more than a leap of faith. Airplanes, days off work, long and longer recovery times. You book a future flight and in the meantime, you worry. You schedule tentative BRC1 tests with your friends, tests that will confirm or deny that you’re next in cancer’s path of destruction. Your grandma was first, and now your mom, and suddenly breast cancer is a fucked-up family tradition everyone participates in against her own will.
You will love your breasts a little more, fret over them, double-check and triple-check that everything is in its right place. Your mother hasn’t lost hers—not yet, and maybe not ever—but had she not caught it so early, who knows? That’s what you get for being proactive—still cancer, but the early kind. So you excavate the instructions for self-examination from the crevices of your mind, information you absorbed through plastic placards your mother asked you to hang in the shower of your college dorm bathroom. She was always on top of these things, in between washing clothes and sending small tokens in the mail on holidays and acting as a human search engine for questions on how to make a home.
When your mom calls, you will not pick up and harshly remind her that you’re at work. You will not tell her you’ll call her back later and have the luxury of forgetting to. You will respond to every text message, your fingertips dripping with hope. On surgery days, your dad will send picture messages of your mom in her scrubs, tangled up in tubes, smiling for the camera. Moms love photos, even on days like these.
The next few weeks will come in text form: words of encouragement from dad, reminders of doctor appointments, a schedule of when to call. One day your mom will tell you she tested negative for the hereditary gene, and you will lose twenty pounds of mental weight. You’ll continue to cherish your body in private, wanting to make the most of the time you have left with your breasts, and your mom, and the absence of the disease that could take it all away without warning.
And then a funny thing will happen. The parts of your life that were on pause will begin to play again. And on the other side of the country, your mom will rise out of bed one Tuesday morning and be able to walk around, and drive, and cook a meal without feeling excruciating pain. When she calls you, it’ll be, When do you get in? We’re trying to figure out who’s going to pick you up from the airport, and, What kind of food are you eating now, and, I showed my friend Adrienne your writing, she loves it. It will be, Do you want this fur coat? ‘Cuz if you don’t, I’m gonna donate it. It will be, Have you called your grandparents lately? Can you?
Even as you communicate though wires, you will feel the life seeping back into her. You will arrive home to your new apartment one day to find boxes and boxes of housewarming gifts: comforters and kitchenware and pieces of bread covered in salt in a Ziploc bag. “Just throw this in the back of your cabinet somewhere, it’s good luck,” she writes in penmanship you recognize like your own reflection. And these are the times you will forget that your mom is a cancer survivor—she is so much more than that.
This post was originally published on Medium.