Think pink

Continued from Issue 1, Volume 69 of the Wildcat Tales

My mom and I had just walked out of my orthodontist’s office. It was dark and cloudy outside as we sat in the car. Her phone went off. It was her sister. My mother’s voice sounded serious and almost in shock but yet still calm and contained, as if she was holding something back.

“The test results came in?” she said. “It wasn’t benign… what does Mom have to do now?”

Even though the subject of breast cancer had never come up in my family, I could sense she was referring to that and that Nanima, my grandmother had it. I find it strange how I guessed something so detrimental.

Then again, I was able to guess it when my mom was the one being diagnosed a few months later.

On that day, she came home when my half-sister’s grandparents were there. They were all talking about something serious. I got a few parts of it, but I could not understand the whole story since they were talking in Punjabi.

I heard, “take care of yourself,” “don’t worry, we’re here to handle the kids,” and other words of comfort. I could sense something was wrong, but when I asked no one told me anything. Once the grandparents had left, my mom took me into her room.

“So this past week I’ve been seeing many doctors,” she said, avoiding my eyes. She spoke slowly, each word leading up to the next. However, in this case, it was building up to something I already knew.

She told me about a mammogram she had after her mother’s diagnosis and her fortieth birthday. “Two days ago I got a biopsy done. They extracted some tissue from where they thought the problem was. The results came today.”

“It was malignant,” she said. “We don’t know what stage it is yet, so we don’t know the treatment or how long it’s going to take. But now I will have lots of doctors to see and appointments to go to.”

I just sat there. I wasn’t shocked or speechless, or even sad. I had expected the worst, and it had happened. I know that sounds bad, but what else could I do?

Despite my expectations, I was hurt by the fact she had not told me about her doctor’s visits in the first place. She was all I had, and she knew that. I know she probably did not want to worry me, but she should know that I don’t worry or panic in these situations.

Not knowing is the scariest feeling. I could see my mother trying to keep calm, but I could tell she was scared. She tried to get as much information as possible, from doctors, cousins, the Internet, everything. And she waited.

The next night, she went to her cousins’ house, doctors who had dealt with many cancer patients. He was not comforting to her at all, but then again, doctors are known to tell it like it is.

I stayed home and I broke down in my closet. The thought of possibly losing the most important and only person I had left scared me. She had already been through so much, as had my grandmother, and now this. All I could think was she – and I- did not deserve this.

After a few minutes I was able to pull myself back together. I had to be strong for her. I needed to be the least of her worries. I had to remain positive.

A few days later, we found out the cancer was stage one. It had not yet spread to the lymph nodes where it could have been circulated to the rest of the body. She had to get a mastectomy and about six to eight rounds of chemotherapy.ribbonpic

The mastectomy went well, but chemotherapy was the hardest on her. As a precaution, she had to be treated even though they had removed the cancerous tissue. Chemo weakens the immune system, kills cancer cells and damages healthy cells. The suppression of the patient’s hormones causes a plethora of side effects. Even though she was undergoing all this, she still tried her best to go to work whenever she could and drive herself places.

Most of her chemo occurred during the summer, meaning I could help out with my younger sister while attempting to take care of my mom. Looking after my younger sister was not new to me. I had been like a second mother to her – as my mom puts it – ever since she was born because both our parents work full-time and are always busy.

I was also the one who got the groceries. Someone had to drive me to the store and pick me up, whether it be my mom or my step-dad. We couldn’t trust my step-dad to get the groceries because he always ended up bringing home all the wrong things.

The fact that her mother was undergoing it with my mom made it even harder. It was heartbreaking to see how much they both wanted to be there for one another and help out one another, but couldn’t physically do it. Right before my mom’s surgery, it was stressful trying to get up to Atlanta really fast so they could at least see each other. But they were together, and that’s what mattered.

The chemo has had long-term effects that she is still experiencing today. Now only certain types of shoes suit her feet. She can get sick and tired easily, plus my mother tends to stress herself out as well. She gets hot flashes, but gets cold really fast too. Sometimes she feels she is living in the body of a woman in her late fifties when she is only in her early forties. It sad to see how much this treatment affected her physically and mentally, but she is a strong woman, and she is handling it pretty well.

I feel that I tried my hardest not to put any stress on her during that time, trying to keep my problems to myself. I am still trying my best to do that right now, but there is only a certain tolerance level for holding it all in.

For as long as I can remember, whenever I have learned or seen something new, things that relate to it seem more prevalent in my life. They just seem to pop up everywhere. This became especially true with breast cancer. I found out about the pink out game. The trademark pink ribbon was everywhere – grocery stores, malls, on shirts, on car windows.

I remembered that a year earlier, our neighbor had been diagnosed. After they found out about my mom, a lot of her friends and relatives got mammograms done. Soon after, one of my mom’s friends who is in the medical field was diagnosed. I noticed that so many people around me knew someone who had been diagnosed with cancer. That’s when I realized how widespread breast cancer really is.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’ll be looking into the realities of breast cancer and the fight against it in part two of my series on breast cancer.