Author: Cassie Hughes
I can still clearly remember where I was and what I was doing when I got the call that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Disbelief hit me first, followed by all of the questions. When did she know? Why didn’t she say she was getting a test done? And probably the biggest, what’s our next step? Because as of then, it wasn’t her fight, it was ours. I was not going to let her go through this alone.
Due to the rare type of cancer she had—stage 2 secretory breast cancer—the doctors wanted to move quickly. First, she had a mastectomy. After her surgery, the doctor said he wanted to proceed with chemotherapy. My mom lived alone and while she had friends and some family close, I said from the beginning it was OUR FIGHT. A week later, I packed up my Jeep, and my dog and I headed to Lake Tahoe. I had no idea when I was returning as I said goodbye to my newly purchased house, brother, and friends.
My mom’s best friend, Linda, came with us to nearly every appointment and surgery except when my mom had to sign all of the waivers in case she didn’t make it. I thought it was just another appointment with the oncologist to discuss what would be happening in the next week. It definitely wasn’t. We were there to learn about possible side effects she may experience from this poison that was going into my mom’s body to save her life. Inability to work, bladder cancer, sickness after treatments, low immune system, and the super fun one to hear – death. I don’t think I ever thought it was a possibility until then. When my mom had to sign the paper saying she understood the possible side effects, I had to sign claiming she was of sound mind. I can still describe everything about that moment: the look of the room, the nurse, where we were sitting, and how oddly sunny it was inside.
Fast forward to after her first chemo treatment, the first major side effect made its appearance . . . hair loss. Each morning, my mom would come to me and say she swore her hair was falling out in bunches (which it was) and asked if I could tell. I lied. Of course, I could see the thinning patches turning into bald patches, but I was not about to tell this amazingly strong woman that yes, her hair was falling out and yes, it was noticeable. Shortly after that, we went wig shopping. Apparently my mother can tell when I’m lying!
How do you tell when a strong woman is truly hurting? You hear her cry. Not to me or to her friends, but I overheard it to a nurse on the phone. My mom got really sick during her chemo treatments, and her white blood count fell drastically. I honestly don’t remember the 40-minute drive to the hospital, I just remember that we took my Jeep, covered in mud, and got some pretty odd looks when we parked. Since my mom’s count was so low, and she was undergoing chemo, we got our own little waiting room for her safety, which normally would be great, until they forgot about us. Someone didn’t enter paperwork correctly and we were not “checked-in”. I would like to say that I was understanding when the poor nurse told me about the mistake, but I wasn’t. My mom was sick, so sick I heard her crying. I was not understanding – I was furious. Shortly after, my mother was admitted.
During each chemo treatment we sat for a few hours and talked with the other ladies receiving treatment about their battle. I was humbled by the strength and positivity from these women. Some of these women were going through their fight alone, or for the second or third time, and some knew it was unlikely they would survive. But you never heard any “why me” stories. You heard stories of strength, stories of family, and saw pictures of children and grandchildren. You also heard jokes and laughter, because no matter how hard the fight is, these amazing women weren’t going to give up.
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Author: Cassie Hughes