The Never Ending Story
My 27-year-old daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019…no family history, no BRCA…just the luck of the draw. I used to believe that breast cancer if caught early was a one-and-done; you do surgery and chemotherapy and radiation then if you survive you ring the bell, go home and go on with your life.
My child’s experience couldn’t be further from that belief. There are still a multitude of physical side effects directly related to her cancer experience that she deals with every day, from lymphedema to brain fog to muscle weakness and fatigue. She is unsure at this point if the medication used to save her life has taken away her ability to have a baby. And her calendar is still full of appointments with oncologists, radiologists, dermatologists, cardiologists…add any -ologist that comes to mind.
The emotional triggers can still drop both of us to our knees. Something as simple as seeing someone wearing a pink ribbon or a beanie to cover a bald head can make both of us struggle to breathe. I still have helplessness dreams where I need to run but my legs won’t move when we are waiting for scan results to come back to tell us whether or not the beast is still dead. And every time the phone rings I center myself in a safe, protective place in case she is once again going to say “Mom…it’s cancer”.
The advice I would give to a mother who is going to be a caregiver to someone who was just diagnosed is that it’s a good idea to frame a cancer diagnosis in the context of being in a recovery program; take it one step, one challenge, one day at a time. There is often no end date to cancer, and if that is your goal then it can be very difficult when that one more thing, and then another, and then yet another comes along. I get up every day and think to myself “She doesn’t have cancer today” and go on with what I need to do. And if a pink ribbon trips me up a bit, I close my eyes for a second and remind myself of that. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, whether the next test result will toss us back into the abyss, but if she walks in my door today I can hold her in my arms, breathe her in, and make one more memory. And hope that it keeps being a never ending story.