My siblings and I staged a medical intervention a couple of weeks before my 32nd birthday. The mediation was long, four hours, to be exact. It was exhausting. My teenage niece was the tipping point. In the last hour, she came through with the waterworks, “I don’t want my granny to die” was the phrase she muttered through tears.
The day is etched in my memory because it was the day that my mother’s children became her compass. My mother raised five kids, including a set of triplets. I am one of those triplets. She did so on her own with no help from our father. Strong is a part of her DNA, and typically the only way through a problem is with blinders on and prayer. The lump she found three years early would not exist in silence anymore. My mother’s left breast had grown to the size of a cantaloupe; it ached and leaked. The breast declared her attention.
We got her to a 24-hour emergency center that night; the doctor instructed her to get to a hospital to have the breast evaluated immediately. Her cancer journey began in a waiting room next to a Dunkin’ Donuts, where my husband and brother-in-law thought it would be helpful to pick up sugary treats and caffeine for the wait. The irony was unmistakable.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer was my mother’s diagnosis, and she would start treatment that month. Being her patient advocate has been informative. Not only have I gained a clear perspective on my mothers’ overall health but the health history of my family. My grandmother had breast cancer, but in her day, a lump meant the breast was removed immediately. She lived until she was 87. My mother is 67, and her cancer seems to be doing the dance of silence. You could not tell my mother has breast cancer. She still mows the lawn, goes on trips with her the senior center, church every Sunday, and lunch dates with her children. She does not lead on that the chemotherapy has affected her in any way, and besides the loss of her hair, she is the feisty woman I have always known her to be.
She has started to pretend again that everything is all right. She does not speak of her cancer, her pain, or her thoughts about the future, so I look after her. The fear of patient treatment, in my family’s case, means that we have to be her voice of reason. It means that we have to come alongside her to make the unaccepted known. It means that we have to call-out what she denies. The act may extend her life, and we all would like more years with our mother.