My mother was a tall “big boned” woman with deep brown skin, high cheek bones, full lips, a bright smile and bountiful hips. One day in the fourth grade my mom got sick, really sick. So sick that my grandmother, who always had something to say, was quiet that night. I remember watching my mom on the divan not moving. My granny called my uncle, her youngest son, to take my mother to the hospital. She was admitted to ICU. She could have died that night. This was my first brush with cancer.
Rewind… We were sitting in church. This was an old fashioned southern Baptist church with ten members on its best Sunday. My mother was the choir. She had an amazing voice. My three brothers, my older sister and I sat watching my mother give her testimony. She talked about discovering a lump in her breast and how she knew God would see her through it. He would take care of it. That’s what God did. He had the whole world in his hands. What’s a little lump in a left breast? Nothing compared to God. My mother was deeply religious. We were in church every Sunday, went to every revival, bible study, choir practice. You name it we were there.
Fast forward… My mom beat cancer! She was a survivor. I remember how soft her hair was when it grew back. From the start she wasn’t partial to wigs. She let her scalp breathe. I remember her excitement about new beginnings. Raising five kids with no help can be a drag, but she always had a positive outlook on life. I remember being at a gas station waiting and watching as my mom brought a man to Christ. He had approached her. She glowed. She was in a program to help women find a trade. They were building a house. It was the tiniest house you ever seen. More like a ten by ten hut, but she was so proud and happy.
We lived with my granny as long as she could take it until she couldn’t and we left. We moved back into a house with less than par sanitary conditions.
One day, an aunt who scared me and would eventually help raise me, came over. She was tough. She went into the house to see my mom and she came out crying. My uncles were called. We left. This time we didn’t go back. The cancer was back but this time it had spread. One evening, my siblings and I went to visit her in the hospital. To this day I hate hospitals. She had a heart attack when we left. She wanted to fight for us, her five children. We were all that she had.
Finally she came home. Her bed was placed in the living room of my grandmother’s two bedroom house because, quite frankly, that’s the only place it would fit. One evening my uncle was there. She wanted to go to Jack n the Box. He granted her wish and she labored her way to get a Jumbo Jack. Simple things like that you take for granted. Looking back I can see it was the freedom that she missed more than the burger. Eventually she got sicker. The cancer spread to her bones.
In the sixth grade I played sick and got to stay home. My uncle was there reading a pamphlet about death. Being the avid reader I was I read it as also. One part that stood out to me was a piece about people getting better before they die. The day nurse shared some good news about my mom’s progress. The next day a therapist came to talk to us and told us that our mom was dying — and we needed to say our goodbyes. At this point my mom had stopped talking or being responsive. I looked at her not knowing what to say. I didn’t say anything. I ran to the other room. The therapist suggested they get me some therapy.
The next day we came home from school. She was gone. We thought it was a joke but it was real. I remember running outside and my older cousin bear hugging me. I remember telling my older sister it would be okay because she didn’t have to hurt anymore. I remember wishing I had said something. Anything! Just to let her know how much I loved her.
I’m not sharing my story for your sympathy. I would like for you to take away these three key points.
- Talk about breast cancer and health awareness year round. Ask and be concerned. It could be the difference for someone.
- If something is wrong, get help! Don’t wait. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest doctor’s office, neighborhood clinic or ER.
- It could happen to you. Nobody plans for this. Stay on top of your health for your loved ones and those who depend on you.
If you don’t get checked out for yourself do it for those who will mourn you in your absence. Do it for your children. If don’t have children do it for your family. If you don’t have family do it for yourself. You deserve the best possible fight with the best possible odds.