Showing the Way

Today is a significant day. Unfortunately, my mother had to remind me of it.

Two years ago, she had her second mastectomy for her second breast cancer diagnosis.

Eleven years ago, she had her first mastectomy for her first breast cancer diagnosis.

Even now, it’s hard to remember the entire list of treatments, medications, and endless litany of “follow-up” surgeries related to these two occurrences. Shockingly, she has no direct family history of breast cancer and tested negative for BRCA1 and 2. Twice, because the doctor couldn’t believe it the first time.

Bone Marrow Transplant at Duke University Medical Center

I’ve said before that any family crisis is like a tornado. Those at the heart of it have to be the most calm, while the further one is away from the center, the more emotionally indulged one can be. That might sound unfair on the surface, but anyone who has been through it can admit it’s at least partially true. I became the family gatekeeper, answering the phone, giving her health updates to wonderful friends who wanted to share their love.

Lisa Bonchek Adams recently wrote a fantastic and practical article about how to talk with someone going through an illness like this. She comments that written expressions are easier than phone calls because it’s just so tiring. I saw this to be true with my mom, as much as she appreciated knowing people cared enough to call the house.

Rhonda, Marliese, & Eric at MLIS graduation

This isn’t an article about me and being related to a cancer patient, but about my mom and what she taught me through these statistically unlikely circumstances. She showed how a mother will try to (and mostly succeed) protect her children from unpleasant realities. She showed me that you need to protect yourself and rest when you’re tired. She showed me that, if you know something is wrong, call your doctor again and demand another test. That sometimes the outcome isn’t picture perfect, but those that love you don’t care. That wigs will melt from the heat of the oven. That sometimes the best Christmas gift is a glass of wine and eyebrows.

The good wig. The great mom.

People have said my whole life how much I look like my mom.

Marliese & Rhonda, about the same age


And if my sister or I end up going through the same things that she did, I’m okay with that. Because she’ll be there for us.

Marliese, Rhonda, & Marianne at Marco Island


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