My Mother the Gladiator
August is my birthday month, and my mother always does my birthday BIG. I call her gifts “a party in a box” because opening one of her presents is a special event. The gift is wrapped to perfection and full of confetti, candy, and toy surprises and that’s before you even get to the actual present!
In 2007, I knew my birthday would be a little different. I was 1,700 miles away from home and in the middle of end-of-quarter finals at college, but I had no idea how dramatically different it would be.
My mother’s “party in a box” arrived that month along with many phone calls from relatives too many phone calls, actually. Long past my birthday, I was receiving daily calls from family members who said they just wanted to check on me. I thought the sudden influx of calls was a little odd and even told my mom about it, but she just said, “Everybody misses you.” I was a busy college student trying to get through school, so I shrugged it off and made plans to travel home in September for Labor Day weekend. I had no idea that the reason my boss had gifted me with a plane ticket home was because there was news awaiting me that I needed to hear in person.
My mother picked me up at the airport and as soon as we were settled in the car she turned to me and said, “I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.” My heart broke I mean it I could literally hear it crack into pieces. Mom kept talking she talked for the entire 45-minute trip home but I didn’t hear another word. My vision was blurred from tears, my face was hot from crying, and the shattering of my heart still rung in my ears.
I’m an only child. My mom had me at 19 and raised me alone, so our bond is strong. As soon as I was able to speak, I said to my mom, “You told everyone but me all our relatives, even my boss. How could you do that? It’s been ‘you and me’ since I was born, since I got to this earth. How could you leave me out of this?”
As a daughter, I felt angry and betrayed; but my mother explained that, as a mother, she had gone into protective mode. She asked me what I would have done if she had told me when the diagnosis first came in. I replied that I would have dropped everything and come home to take care of her. And she said, “I knew that about you, and that’s why I didn’t tell you. I have my sister and my mother here, and they can help me. The best thing you can do for me is to make me proud by going back to Texas to finish school.”
We talked more and I discovered that Mom had been diagnosed the month before in August and she was about to have a lumpectomy. My family had dealt with cancer before; my grandmother’s sister lost her battle with breast cancer in the 1980s.My mother’s sister had recently battled breast cancer successfully, but her recovery had not been easy, and she was ill during much of her treatment. So, I was terrified. It felt like having some knowledge of the disease was more frightening since I knew how horrible it could be.
Before I got on the plane to go back to school, I made her promise that she would tell me what was happening going forward. She kept that promise and kept me informed. She would tell me when her doctor’s appointments were, and I would write them on my calendar so I could call immediately afterward.
And I worked hard at school, intent on making her proud. I graduated in May of the following year May 16, 2008 to be exact and I moved back home the very next day.
My mother’s treatment and recovery were not easy. She had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Plus, they discovered she carried the BRCA1 gene so even though she is a breast cancer survivor, we can never truly feel the disease is gone since that gene is coursing through our family. When we heard the BRCA1 news, she sent me information provided by the American Cancer Society on nearby places I could go to get an affordable screening. Even though I was only 26, because of my family history, I began having yearly screenings earlier than is usually recommended. And I had a little scare of my own last year when the doctor found a lump. A needle biopsy came back as inconclusive, but luckily a further mammogram gave me an “all clear.” So, I am diligent with my annual screenings and diligent about raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research.
But I don’t want to end this story talking about me. I want to tell you more about my mother, Tracie, and how she’s doing now. First, let me tell you that my mother is formidable in every way. She is 6 feet tall and has a strong spirit. When I hear my mom say the word “survivor,” she says it like the joyful blessing that it is.
During my mother’s breast cancer journey, I started calling her “The Gladiator” because she is so intent on fighting cancer. She speaks at cancer awareness events and she is a Reach To RecoveryŽ volunteer, talking to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients to help them cope with their diagnosis and treatment. Each time she volunteers, she puts on her armor and battles breast cancer both emotionally and physically.
Another way we all join in the fight is by participating in our local Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. Each year, our team decides on a fun name; we raise money together; and on the day of the event, everyone has a lot of fun wearing crazy outfits, wild wigs, and shaking pink pompoms. It’s really neat to see how excited everyone is.
I’ve come far since I decided to discard the anger and focus on helping to raise funds and find cures so people like my mother will never again have to say the words, “I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.”
- Alyceia K.
Participate in Making Strides. Find an event near you.