Virginia Lee



This is Mama: Survived Cancer Three Times and Now Turning 80!

My mom is a three time breast cancer survivor. Yes, THREE different cases in 1992, 1993 and the last time in 1999. In ’99, folks predicted she had a max of five years left. Seventeen years later, I am OH so happy to say that my mom will be celebrating her 80th birthday at the end of January. 

Many people, especially those who have been newly diagnosed, ask us advice. I wish I could say that there was a “one size fits all” answer to that. Even with my own mom, each separate case brought its own unique challenges, treatments, fears and triumphs. There are a couple things that do stand out, though. At the onset of my mom’s first battle with cancer back in ’92, I often referred to her as a “patient” or “victim”. As a result, I thought of myself as a “patient’s daughter” and a “Breast cancer victim’s caregiver.” Fortunately, after finding support with the Komen organization, we both embraced the idea that she was a Survivor the moment she was diagnosed. Many folks choose to reserve that label of being a “Survivor” for post-remission. For us, that small shift in how we referred to my Mom early on in her battle was quite empowering, I think. As anyone who is fighting cancer knows full well, anything that makes you feel stronger, more positive, comfortable and feeling like you have SOME control is a good thing.

With that said, the “stay positive” message brings me to a different bit of advice. Oh, how I used to bombard my mom with so many pep talks, affirmations, and such, thinking I was “helping”. LOL Like many caregivers, I meant well. Admittedly, I DO think being positive and finding things to laugh about was huge for her at many stages in her battles. However, given the luxury of hindsight, I also see that there was a myriad of emotions and stages of grief involved. In retrospect, I truly see that are no wrongs or rights in how someone SHOULD feel. There are times when being angry, bitchy, or assuming the fetal position are called for (and this applies to the caregivers as well as the Survivors, BTW). For myself, I found that one of the most important things I could do for my mom was truly listen to her without feeling the need to offer advice or “fix” everything. I found that asking open-ended questions such as “What can I do to help?” was more productive (and appreciated) than “Do you need help?” Ironically, my mom’s battles with cancer have been quite good for our relationship. At several points, we thought she would not live much longer, so we made all of the plans, asked the difficult questions ahead of time and we said all that would have gone unsaid. I am grateful for that. As a result, we both come at life with a much more “Every day above ground is a good day” perspective. Really, when we face such awful, dark times it DOES make each of us so aware of how truly short life is and how precious each and every moment is, doesn’t it? At times, we feel so overwhelmed and weak and yet we are SO much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Far too often, we hang on to petty differences that keep us from fully embracing another. There are SO many different life lessons that come with the whole Survivor journey. 

Anyways, as I said at the onset of this, it is my Mama’s 80th birthday this month. This milestone has me reflecting on her life. She was raised in an orphanage, so our biological family is small. Regrettably, most of her friends have passed on too. We both have grown to regard many within the Komen organization as an adopted family of sorts, so I wanted to take this opportunity to whole-heartedly thank everyone for the support they have given us over these many years. Truly… the work you do is so important and appreciated. My colorful mom (she ALWAYS has a hat on with three pink ribbon pins) does tend to attract her fair share of attention (lots of requests for photos) and her story seems to inspire many so I thought I would take this opportunity to share a bit about her. 

I have set up a Facebook page at where I will be sharing photos and a few stories about her. Everyone is welcomed to drop by and leave a bit of love, if they care to.a correction to a personal story you have posted. Thanks.