From Cancerous to Cancer Free: How My Mom Won the Fight
When my mom first got diagnosed with cancer, I don’t think I understood what it would mean for my family.
And certainly not for me.
I guess we were all a little naïve after her first diagnosis of colon cancer in 2011 didn’t require chemotherapy. When she went for her checkup earlier this year, we anticipated the same result. But we were in disbelief when the doctor’s told her she would need 6 months of chemo treatment for another type of cancer. In her liver.
Prior to her chemo treatment, she had to undergo a surgery to half 40% of her liver removed. Luckily, it is expected to regenerate itself within 5 years.
Liver cancer is actually one of the fastest growing cancer types in Canada, particularly increasing in men. However, the Canadian Cancer Society estimated that approximately 1,550 men and 490 women would be diagnosed with liver cancer in 2013.
My mom was one of them.
While social drinking and smoking are leading causes of liver cancer, my mom does neither of the two. And by that I mean she's never touched a cigarette and only drinks one glass of Bailey's a year!
You can imagine the frustration that comes from this. I see people who smoke a pack a day and are perfectly fine. But I learned, through this experience, that this is the wrong way to look at it. Rather, we just have to accept that this challenge has been given to us, and before we go looking for excuses and places to rest our blame and grievances, we should put that energy into fighting it.
It hadn’t even really sunk in until my mom came home the first day of her treatment with a fanny pack attached to her. When I asked her what it was she said it was the “chemo cocktail”.
She was strong for the first little while. Well, she was strong all the way through. But there were days when I saw her get weak, and it weakened me too.
There were days I would excuse myself and let tears fall silently in fear of what was next. I couldn’t stand the days I would come home and see my mother unable to be her usual independent self, but still trying to be strong.
The last year, quite frankly, has just been an absolute rollercoaster for my entire family.
But somehow, we made it.
After 6 months of treatment, and 9 rounds of chemo, we got the news last week that my mom had been cleared of cancer.
I fell to the ground in disbelief, shock, and awe. I felt a weight I hadn’t even known to be on my shoulders lift itself and I felt my life begin to piece itself back together, and the worry that rested in the cracks of separation dissolve.
Since then, my mom and I have come up with a list of all the things we learned going through this. We’ve narrowed it down and these are what we believe to be the things that made my mom a survivor.
Keeping in mind that although she won her fight, she was only 1 of the 490 estimated women who would get their diagnosis. We write this hoping that they too, can get some sort of hope from our own experience and come out a survivor, just as my mom did.
I watched a documentary earlier on this year that featured a woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She said that a large part of her healing were her thoughts and her surroundings.
During her treatment, her family made it a point to make the household a very light and comforting place. They only watched comedies; no crime shows, no sad movies, they only watched things that would make them laugh.
She also said that she began every day with thoughts of healing. She would repeat “thank you for this healing” each and every day until she went back to the doctor only to find that she had been cleared of cancer.
When I told my mom this, we started practicing this as well. We stopped watching “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” and watched “Seinfeld” and “Mike and Molly” instead. She had a proclamation in front of her seat on the couch that said “Get up and fight! Life is waiting for you!”
And she fought. And she won.
When you believe in something so wholeheartedly, it’s hard to imagine an outcome other than what you had imagined. I felt, for the weeks leading up to her final appointment, that I would get a phone call from her saying “I’m clear”. And although I hadn’t told her this, those were the exact two words she said to me after leaving the doctor’s office that day.
One of the biggest challenges with cancer, or any illness for that matter, is for others to understand what the sick person is going through. For the first while, I felt that I shut my mom out whenever she tried to explain what she was going through. When I realized that I was doing this selfishly to create my own illusion that she wasn’t sick, I started to ask her how she was feeling, even if it meant hearing the hard news.
You can’t avoid reality just because it’s easy. I think people set themselves up for all sorts of disappointment when they do this because it makes it harder to accept. By accepting the situation, despite the difficulty, we can actually deal with it.
By just sitting and listening to her talk about whatever she had to say, she was able to feel like she wasn’t alone in her battle. And she wasn’t.
I don’t consider myself a very religious person, but I found myself on my knees multiple times throughout the process, praying. I asked for her to be healed, but I also asked for strength for both her and the rest of my family.
I think you find your faith in the hardest of times because you’ve got to have something to believe in, and certainly something to hold on to.
Overall, I can honestly say that the experience did more good than bad. Firstly, because we’re optimists, we were able to extract the things that we learned, the love that we shared, and the closeness that this situation can bring to family if only they approach it properly and together. Secondly, because I’ve seen a strength I didn’t know existed both in my mother as an individual and in my parents as a couple. In turn, that created a strength in me that humbled me and showed me the difference between things that matter and things that don’t.
I hate to be cliché, but there is no other lesson greater learned through this experience than how short life really is.
My mom began to make a list of all the things she wished she had done before she was ill, and what she would do if she had been cleared of cancer. Now that she’s better, we plan on accomplishing each one of those things upon complete healing.
My mom told me that the day she was diagnosed, she said to my father, “I know you didn’t sign up for this.” And my dad just laughed and said, “It’s in the fine print.”
I learned a lot about life, love, and family. And if you or someone you know is sick, allow yourself to be softened by the experience. Everyday I think about the people I met during her illness. I think about the nurses who made house calls at all sorts of hours just to make sure my mom was okay.
But most of all, I think of the people who gave me little pieces of hope and prayer along the way.
The strangers who stopped to acknowledge the cancer pins I would wear on my sweaters at work. Or the one lady who gave me her own pin and told me to hold on to it, smiling and saying it would bring us strength.
And it did.
Prior to this experience, I can’t say I had much faith. In anything, really. But I feel that I view things differently. I believe in people more. I believe in things I didn’t believe in before. And I believe in miracles.
Because my mom beat cancer.
To everyone who is fighting, has fought, or knows someone in the struggle please know that you are not alone. Our hearts are with you, our prayers and thoughts are with you, and we are with you.