I remember coming home from school right before Easter and my mother sitting me down along with my two younger siblings in our formal living room.
“Mommy is sick.” Were the words I remember being said.
That was about all I can remember of that moment. Those words, that room and the blurry shape of my mother. I was seven when she told me she was sick for the first time.
I began to notice some small changes. My grandma would come to stay with us often and my mother would go for treatment about every three weeks to University of Cincinnati hospital.
I remember the meals.
I remember the hospital room.
I remember being allowed to spend the night with my mom at the hospital and we would play rummy until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.
I can remember when she lost her hair. I was eight then and she had a pixie cut right before she lost it all. My mom was a frequent volunteer in all my elementary classes and one week she came with her pixie cut and the next she came with her shoulder length wig. I remember not thinking anything of it until someone asked me how her hair grew so fast. I remember getting upset with her because at eight I didn’t really understand what “mommy is sick” really meant.
At eight you think mommy is sick will end with “mommy will get better.” When I was sick as a child there seemed to always be a way to heal me. At eight I thought mommy would heal.
I remember the sick going away and coming back again.
I remember never feeling like she was sick. Visibly she was sick. Her hair was gone, one of her breasts had been removed and I remember her wincing at the visible and painful canker sores in her mouth from chemo.
But I remember she never missed a beat for us. She was not lying around when I got home from school even if she could barely peel herself off the couch as the bus came up Thistledown Road. She never bought a halloween costume from the store, she was present in our schools, in our scout troops and I’m pretty sure she took on being the cheerleading coach one year.
I remember feeling angry when I wasn’t eight anymore and the reality of “mommy is sick” was able to sink in deep into the corners of my heart.
I remember coming home from a sleepover one weekend to find her upstairs in her bed after the sick had spread to her brain. There were scrambled eggs all over her from where she had tried to feed herself but her brain could not help her move the fork from her hand to her mouth.
I remember sitting there with her in the four-poster king-sized bed after the eggs were cleaned up and I tried to help her clip coupons. I remember crying when she couldn’t tell me which one to clip so then she tried to point but because her hand eye coordination was so impaired it made it difficult for her to communicate and she wasn’t being understood.
I remember her being frustrated and I remember trying to be patient. I remember I felt so guilty for going to that sleepover. I should have stayed home and soaked up every last minute I had sitting with her in that four-poster bed.
I remember the day my sister and I got off that bus that came up Thistledown Road and my mother wasn’t there waiting for us. I remember running frantically from door to door and window to window with my sister. We both knew.
I remember my dad telling me she wasn’t going to make it. I was fourteen and I looked out the passenger window of our Chrysler minivan and said, “I know.” I remember trying to hold myself together because I felt the need to be strong for everybody else.
I remember sitting by her bedside in ICU and talking to her while she was in a coma. I remember trying to tell her about my dance competition without crying. I remember telling her I loved her and that was the last time I saw her.
I was at home when my dad told me my mom had exhaled her last breath. It was a school night, right before Easter, seven years after I sat on that couch and heard, “mommy was sick.” I remember leaving my house that night to spend the night with friends and I remember going to school the next day like nothing had happened at all.
These are pieces of what I can remember from my childhood with a mother battling breast cancer. These are just pieces of a story that I hope my children cannot grow up to tell of their own childhood thirty years from now. We have come a long way in breast cancer research since 1991 but there isn’t a cure for breast cancer yet. So for now I can only hope, pray for a cure, and share the pieces of my story to raise awareness.
Breast cancer not only takes our mothers, our sisters, our wives and our daughters but it leaves us here with broken stories. As I sit here typing my memories I hear those deep down corners of my heart screaming, “this is not the way it’s supposed to be!”
It’s not supposed to be this way – and hopefully it’s not for someone else in their story.
Lord, bring a cure quickly. For our mothers, our sisters, our wives and our daughters.
Raise Awareness. #october
6 thoughts on “What I Remember”
Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Rachel. My mom is a breast cancer survivor and is celebrating her 91st birthday TODAY. Wish I could ease your pain.
Happy birthday to your mom! What an amazing story of survival and to celebrate during October is such a gift. Thank you for your love and kindness to me. ❤
so beautifully written. I remember our trip to Myrtle Beach and she wasn’t supposed to have alcohol but she said what the heck and enjoyed an alcoholic beverage! I was glad she did something she wanted to and not what all the drs. dictate. I’ve been getting very frustrated with Dan’s stay here at UNC…day number 13 I believe!
Aunt Rowan, I am sorry it’s been a hard road at the hospital for you and uncle San. I cannot even fathom- I was protected from most of those memories. It has to be so hard. I keep praying for you all.
That was the most amazing, heartfelt, well written story I’ve read in a long time. So very appropriate this month. Thank you for sharing. And I’m crying…
Thank you Terri! I’m crying too. It was one of those posts – maybe the only one where I had an ugly cry going on and a box of Kleenex close by. I am thankful you heard my heart. ❤️