The date was September 25, 1985. I was 37 years old and the mother of two sons. The younger of my boys was the recipient of my right kidney three years earlier in a then-rare transplant from adult to toddler. Life was good. And then I learned that I had breast cancer in my right breast. My first thought was, “How can we manage all of Adam’s medical needs?” But illness doesn’t ask such questions.
After a modified radical mastectomy, I found that I had lymph node involvement requiring chemotherapy. We made the best of it, with my parents and my husband helping where they could with Jason and Adam, and me being mom whenever I felt well enough.
Finally, I was to have my last chemo treatment. It was March of 1986 and, during the night, Adam awoke with a high fever, which was very troubling. On the ride to the hospital, he went into shock and was placed on a respirator. I delayed the chemo a few days. But, 14 days later, Adam died, and breast cancer was the furthest thing from my mind.
Over the years since, as we have struggled to heal, Jason has grown and married and I have learned to carry Adam’s spirit like a backpack—always with me. Coming up on 20 years since I was diagnosed, I can reflect that, while I would never have chosen to have cancer, it was a most enriching experience. I am light years from the person I used to be. As a nurse, I better understand pain and loss. I have learned to worry about only the things that will matter five years from now, and try to let the other stuff go.
We have traveled the world from Egypt to Turkey, China, Peru, Europe and the United States without concern for security, knowing that, whether I live or die, I will be with one of my boys. I have become more open-minded to other cultures, beliefs and opinions and, while I may not agree, I can respect. Cancer has in some ways been a gift, and I am grateful for the journey.