A lump was found in her breast just a month after her 52nd birthday at her yearly mammogram. I had given birth to our third daughter a mere 10 days before her biopsy and surgery.
Mom is the type of woman who needs a huge support group and there were five or six of us together in the waiting area at the hospital while they did her biopsy to determine if it was malignant or not. What does one talk about while waiting for a love one to find out their fate? We talked about
the birth of M. We talked of what my other daughters were up to, what
grade they were in at school, what would they dress up as for
Halloween. It felt odd to be breast feeding my baby while my mom's
breast was being poked and examined. How could a breast betray the
I sat with my sweet baby who lay sleeping in her Moses basket of yellow gingham and white ribbons. I nursed her when needed. I didn't know what to think or say. Really I didn't understand the gravity of what it could mean to have breast cancer. No one I knew had ever had breast cancer. No one talked about breast cancer in 1985.
The Dr. came out to let us know that indeed it was malignant. The lump was way back against the rib wall on her breast. So far back that it was not a lump one could have found by self breast exam. He looked at us all, seeking out my step-father, Papa, to tell him the news and what he felt she needed to have done. It was rather a shock to hear that she indeed had cancer. How would my mom handle this once she came to following the biopsy?
Her Dr. was extremely conservative. He had lost his wife to breast cancer and was adamant that she need a radical mastectomy followed by six months of chemotherapy. I felt numb. Did this mean she could die? My Papa was not a man of many words and with this he seemed so very down and less conversive. Worry was written all over his face. My mom following her return home after the biopsy, before the scheduled surgery, was full of worry as well upon a threshold of fear of her future. She was the one who kept Papa upbeat and active. How would she be able to do this knowing she had to battle with cancer? She worried for him I think more than she worried for herself.
The surgery was done and was "successful" according to her Dr. It was hard to do much for her with three little girls to take care of. She had her three staff housekeepers who worked in her home to do what they could for her with the grocery shopping, errands and taking care of her. They did meals for her and Papa as well. She didn't want us to come over to help out or visit. She just couldn't digest what had happened.
I felt her Dr. was a butcher. She had a long ugly incision on her chest where her breast once was. I never saw it till many, many years later. She never would talk of the discomfort she might have had, she just kept it all inside away from us. If only she had taken some time to consult with other surgeons she might have had a different experience or plan. It is awful to think of how many women were disfigured by a radical mastectomy in those days. It was felt that was the only way to make sure you were potentially cancer free and even then they wouldn't say that. Only if you survived after five years would you be possibly cancer free. Because of what that surgery does to disfigure you, the ability to have breast reconstruction isn't possible.
Mom's chemotherapy made her very ill. She would lay in her bed following the treatment, sick and miserable. During the time she was on chemo I wasn't to bring the girls over to visit if they had a cold. Well, when one gets a cold it will spread, so there were many times we didn't see her for weeks during the treatment phase. She stopped her chemo treatment after three months. She hated feeling so ill. She seemed to feel she was not going to live, let alone make it to five years post surgery and chemo treatment. She began to spend too much money. Papa and I had a talk about this spending frenzy she was on. He didn't know how to approach her on this matter. We never did understand why she did this and I hope that maybe he was finally able to talk to her and she cut back.
The Christmas holidays came and she seemed happier. She had lost all her hair to the chemo and had been wearing a short wig when she was away from home. At home she wore a scarf. I never saw her without something on her head. We all tried to get back to some sense of normal but my mom really didn't believe she would be around to see her grandchildren grow up. She simply excepted this idea of hers which really didn't help those around her. In an odd way this was a special Christmas for us as for once she was genuinely happy. She had a tendency to get depressed over the holidays but that year she had decided to live in the moment and appreciate whatever happened.
The worst of her getting through this nightmare was after a year of surviving she wanted to move from our beloved Wildwood home. Out of the blue she called to say they had bought a home and sold
Wildwood. It was never listed on the MLS. They had a shark realtor who
brought in a buyer and with the stroke of a pen the home was sold. They had been looking at homes off and on and would tell us out of the blue of their house hunting. My Love and I would of course try to detour them from doing this. Mom felt so sure she wouldn't be around that she wanted a smaller home for Papa to have after she died. She felt that those days and days of laying in bed following the chemo made her sick of her bedroom and she didn't want to be there any longer. I only wish we could have known before they sold that lovely home. I resented that realtor for being so pushy, it didn't help that I knew her and I my parents were social friends with her. Even as the home was packed up we all grieved over their moving. Of course they sold that next home in about five years. It wasn't the right home for them.
Several years after the breast cancer, the chemo and then the move, she decided to have her other breast removed. She was fearful that her other breast would betray her as well. After the five year mark post cancer she still didn't believe she would live. I think she always felt there would be death on her doorstep, no matter what any Dr. would say.
Illness can make us feel and do things we would normally logically think through. We react versus consult. Faith and a positive attitude can be so productive to healing, yet that door doesn't always open for everyone. This happened to my mom 26 years ago. She is still a survivor of breast cancer.