To be honest, Breast Cancer Awareness Month sometimes scares me. The biggest part of my anxiety issue is the "what ifs". Even though I do a monthly breast exam and have a yearly mammogram, in the back of my mind I'm always thinking that I've missed something. Every October that worry is magnified because everywhere I turn, I see pink, and hear another story.
It's also the month that my mother found out she had breast cancer.
All of the women in my family have lumpy breasts, so we often get summoned back for another "look". My mom didn't give it a second thought when the breast center asked her to return for more pictures.
I'll never forget the moment she called and told me she had cancer. The world around me became slow and hazy. I tried to focus on what she was saying, but everything was drowned out by that one word - CANCER. How could my mom have cancer? She was only 56 and very healthy. Cancer happened to other people. Except this time it didn't.
Two weeks later she had surgery, and after they wheeled her away I sat in the waiting room and cried and cried. I needed my mom - my kids needed their grandma - it just didn't seem fair.
But fair had nothing to do with it. Cancer can happen to anyone.
In the weeks that followed her surgery and subsequent radiation, my mom was physically weak. I cleaned her house, did her grocery shopping, took her to appointments. I thought if I stayed loud and busy I could push the fear away - fear that I might lose my mother. Fear that I might get breast cancer too someday.
But it was during the quiet times where I finally fought the fear. Sitting with my mother, I learned how strong she truly is. Through the weeks of her treatment, she stayed positive, brave, and resolute. Even though she also had moments of fear, she remained determined to beat this terrible disease, and she never gave up.
My mom has given me many things in my lifetime, but she gave me the greatest gifts when she was fighting breast cancer. She gave me strength, taught me resilience, and reminded me to look for the positive in any situation.
And what we all learned was the value of early detection. Because my mother's cancer was caught early with a routine mammogram, she was able to be cured with a partial mastectomy and six weeks of radiation therapy - no chemotherapy or further surgery was needed.
So finally I get to my point, which is this. If you've never had one or it's been a while, PLEASE schedule a mammogram this month. Not knowing about cancer won't make it go away. If you're afraid to do it for yourself, do it for your children, your spouse and your friends. Don't wait any longer.
It's been fourteen years since my mother's diagnosis, and she remains cancer free. Every year when she returns from her mammogram with an "all clear", I am so thankful. And every January when I schedule my own exam, I hear my mother's voice in my head, telling me to push aside my anxiety and be brave.
Be brave. You can do it. It will be okay. Thank you mom.