October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and for me it is something that touches my heart every year.
I will never forget that day as long as I live. I am out in the park walking my dog. My parents' luggage waiting at the front door for them to head to the airport and travel across the world to visit my brother. My Mom just went for a check-up. I had been begging her to for a while. Nothing was wrong, she felt some pain and we just had to make sure.
And then, I get the call.
My mother telling me that they got back and I needed to get home quick. Okay, okay. Relax. I'll say goodbye before your flight.
I walk in the house and everyone is in my parents' bedroom, which is odd, since we never do that. I get up there and my Mom tells me to sit down. I can see on her face something is wrong. I can tell in her eyes she is fighting desperately not to cry. But she couldn't speak.
All I said was "No", and all she did was nod, and from that moment my life changed instantaneously.
My mother had stage four breast cancer and needed to decide on a mastectomy or lumpectomy. Her tumor was bigger than a golf ball.
We canceled their trip, got my brother, sister-in-law, and niece on an emergency flight, and prepared for surgery. After a successful surgery my Mom needed to heal for a few weeks before starting chemotherapy. We had a nurse come every day, but my mother was not herself. She couldn't do most things and her chest and arm were always hurting her. See they had to remove all her lymph nodes. Once she got the okay from the home nurse we started chemotherapy.
To anyone who has ever gone through this, or witnessed someone close to them, chemo can look like a torture tactic for military. My mother was sick all the time. She couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, and was always in pain. She asked to shave her head and cried the whole time. My aunt couldn't do it completely, so she gave my mother a boy cut. She lost her curls and it broke my heart.
Chemotherapy was supposed to be once every three weeks, but by the second week of her first dose, my mother had a fever that wouldn't budge. We called the oncologist who warned us a Chemo Fever was not a joke and she should be taken to the emergency room. I wanted to call an ambulance. My mother was less concerned, so we took the subway. I poured water on her to cool her and nothing quelled her temperature. By the time we got to the emergency room, I was scared I'd lose her. I set her down, and ran for the reception desk screaming "Chemo Fever, Chemo Fever, please help!"
In Toronto, we have public healthcare. Sometimes you can get lucky and be seen in the emergency room within and 1.5 to 2 hours, usually thought if it isn't absolutely life threatening the wait could be up to 8 hours. I was so scared they would ignore me. I was frantic and panicked.
When they heard me, my mother was rushed in and looked by a doctor. Her oncologist overdosed her with her chemotherapy. She shouldn't have survived. I stayed with her in the hospital for a few days and watched every hair on her head fall off. I watched her curl up into a ball and fall apart. I watched my mother break. But I had to stay strong for her. We all did.
We had a few close calls and life seemed to be working on autopilot. I was still in college, juggling a full curriculum and had a full time job. I was 19 years old, single and wanting to go out and party with my friends. Everything changed. I needed to take care of my Mom - every appointment, every fever, every visit to the emergency room wondering if she'd come out, every sleepless night, and had to support my brother and father who couldn't handle the changes in my mother. I had to make sure the house stayed afloat and kept everything upbeat.
Looking back at it, it seems like it was a dream, a nightmare really. I look at pictures from back then and don't even recognize my mother. She was one of the lucky ones and still is. She has been in remission for many years now and has been healthy. I still make her get checked every year like clockwork.
The nightmare doesn't end there, though.
Mom was in remission. We got the clear, the prognosis and everything looked good. I can sleep. I can breathe. Mom was going to be okay. that is until...
For the first time in years, I finally got a good night's sleep. The one where you feel rested and your body restored even while still asleep. You feel the tension leave your muscles and your body relax to allow a full breath of air into your lungs.
Mom woke me up from my sleep-in opportunity. Dad and her had just gotten back from a doctor's appointment for Dad. It was just a check up, nothing serious. Except it wasn't.
Now, my mom isn't the best at giving bad news. This time, she just said, "Now it's your father". I think I screamed, hit the pillow a few times... here we go again. My body went straight back into stress, anxious and helper mode. Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He needed surgery. This was all feeling too familiar.
Dad saw everything Mom went through and refused to go through it too. He looked for second and third opinions, checked every option possible, looked at holistic and naturopathic options. He even looked at new technologies and signed himself up for a trial treatment. A new kind of surgery with lasers... don't ask.
I spent more nights in a hospital and saw my father recover. He too is a lucky one. He too is healthy and in remission.
Please take a moment and understand the seriousness of the big "C". Not everyone is lucky. I am. If you can donate, share the awareness, give support, and be there for anyone who is suffering or has a loved one suffering.
Also, please take some time to learn your bodies. Pay attention to anything that feels off and be responsible for yourself and your health. Take care of your mind, body and spirit.