Looking back fifteen years, I can still see my 23-year-old-self frozen with grief as if it were yesterday. What just happened? Why did this happen? The answers, almost a decade later, still elude me. Witnessing the death of my mother left my heart and soul in a whirlwind of emotions.
It is hard to describe the agony your soul feels when you lose your mother to cancer
. You pretend to act normal and proceed with your daily activities as if nothing has happened in your life. You pass through each day wondering how you can ever exist without the love of your mother. She was the epitome of strength, even while dealing with cancer. She endured ten years of existing in this world as a cancer patient, watching as her body failed her despite the efforts to combat the brutal disease, enduring the agonizing truth that she wouldn't live long enough to see her daughter blossom into adulthood. These were the battles waged by my mother.
She knew this the moment she heard that she was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Despite her diagnosis, she wielded a shield of strength and courage to mask the true feelings of despair that constantly evoked thoughts of her mortality on a daily basis. She protected her young daughter from the agonizing truth.
Some would call this courage. Knowing what I know now, I call it angelic.
Little did I know that fifteen years later at 37 years old that I, too, would be diagnosed with the same cancer that ravaged my mother’s body. My diagnosis of stage II breast cancer brought about thoughts of, "Well, at least they caught it early."
I am told that I am lucky to have caught my cancer "in time": in other words, before it spread throughout my body, much like my mother's. These words are anything but consoling. My diagnosis thrust me into an understanding of the multitude of emotions my mother endured while battling her own diagnosis. It brought about an understanding that no one would ever comprehend lest they walk in both of our shoes.
My personal journal is riddled with thoughts ranging from angst to appreciation. How can one even begin to understand emotions that swing like a pendulum? Happiness is but a few fleeting moments in my life. It appears much like a dream. I can recall what it feels like, yet I cannot fully grasp its totality because of the deep emotional turmoil I've come to embrace as my normal existence. I only know of fear and sadness.
Much of my young life was complex; I only remember my mother as cancer-ridden. To have the same illness now is beyond emotional acceptance. Our correlating existence contains a deeper fear of the unknown despite my desperate attempts of trying to make any sense of her passing.
Would I follow in the same footsteps as her? Would we have the same fate?
I am told that this ideal is cause for shattering all hopes of a positive recovery regarding my own health issues. Yet, I can't help but wonder whether my life will shadow that of my late mother. Telling me to think otherwise is a forceful slap in the face. I know the words I hear from others come from a place of compassion: "You will get through this." I am sure my mother heard the exact same words. But she didn’t. Will I?
Pause. Reflect. How do you feel?
I am overcome with sadness. Anger. Despair. Anxiety. Depression. I endured a double mastectomy
and chemotherapy. I received words of encouragement, words marked with empathy from family and friends. Where are those words now when I need them the most?
My treatment aspect of this cancer journey is over, much like the disappearance of pink ribbon supporters I once heralded. Little do they know, or perhaps they failed to recognize, that their support is still necessary. I am left alone with scars so deep they can only be viewed with a microscope within my soul. Who is willing to take a look that deep?
I am left feeling abandoned yet again. Only this time, I feel this abandonment deeper than the moment my mother took her final breath, leaving me to journey alone in this existence without an anchor. I am drowning. Only I can swim to the shores of salvation, yet the strength to save myself eludes me. I have been strong for so long, I can no longer bare the wars that traverse my soul. I am susceptible to defeat. Who will save me?
Who has the time to pick up the wounded cancer solider after the war is over? This is when we need you the most.
I suppose my words are vented out with anger. I am angry that my mom died from this horrendous disease. I am angry that my body is mimicking her lost battle. Aside from that, her life was anything but a failure. It was beautiful. Only a cancer survivor can appreciate the beauty she possessed while being inflicted with treatments that supposedly prolonged her life. It did anything but that; it prolonged her suffering.
Why is it wrong to assume the position of a realist? Cancer sucks, plain and simple. Perhaps words of encouragement cannot pierce the violent ebbs and flows that occur within your mind when dealing with this diagnosis. You just want to be held tightly, cradled when ill from vomiting after chemotherapy, caressed when your mind feels as if it's about to plunge into the abyss of despair. Words fail. Touch heals.
I am a survivor and I will continue to fight onward, despite the obstacles endured. This is the legacy you've passed on to me, Mom. Courage, strength, and the will to live. Your life was taken too soon. My life is a canvas of blank pages waiting to be written upon. The journey continues.
Do you share the same cancer diagnoses as a loved on? Share your story with us in the comments below.
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