I always felt uncomfortable when I sat and listened my aunt, to the woman who raised me as her daughter, talk about my birth mom. It was a heavy nugget in the pit of my stomach that would climb up to my throat and stick there like peanut butter. It hurt mentally and physically. There was always this awkward cloud hanging over my head when she described in detail the final moments of my mother’s life.
With each word, my mind conjured images of my bald mother, wincing in pain, coughing up what my aunt thought was her liver. The story sticks with me like a nagging pop song, dancing around in my head in rhythm. She coughed, until her body shook violently and then she gagged. My aunt stood by her side, shied away from her gagging and almost gagged herself until she realized that her sister needed her at that very moment. So, she stayed and with her bare hands, she caught the black mass that was coming from my mother’s mouth. I hated this story when my aunt decided I was old enough to hear it. I was 12 when I learned to hate Cancer.
It’s something I never wanted to know about my dying mother–you know, the fact that she was dying and Breast Cancer was her killer. Calculated, mysterious, ominous and heartless. The disease ravaged her body until she was left wilted on a cold hospital bed. Three years after she gave birth to me, my mother was saying goodbye to my sister, my brother and myself.
Even my earliest memories don’t include her. I remember trying my hardest to recreate authentic thoughts and memories of her laugh, her walk, her scent, but before Kindergarten, there’s only flickering pictures of distant memories of my aunt in that mother role. It’s frustrating. It’s painful. It’s atavistic. Even the words, when placed together, feel like vomit in my mouth. I wanted nothing to do with the sickness at all, but it was a part of my life without my own consent. And because of that, I grew up hating Breast Cancer with a passion that burned deeper than I ever understood, until now.
As an adult, I learned that I would have to get mammograms more often than the average woman. This is a experience that I, like many women, hate. I understood that because Breast Cancer claimed my mother’s life, my bloodline required heavy attention to my breasts. I looked at these various doctor’s appointments like a routine and went to them almost mechanically and once I got the thumbs up that there was no cancer in my body, I kept it moving with temporary relief while I waited on the next appointment. Breast Cancer became a mechanical thing. Something that represented a distant fear and an awkward, yet painful memory.
When I moved to New York City, I found out about my first Breast Cancer Walk. Because of the company I worked for, I was automatically expected to be a part of the fight against cancer. Immediately, I was uncomfortable. I knew that I had a personal connection to this, but growing up, I tried so hard to keep the odd emotions at arm’s length.But being faced with them head on at an event filled with folks ready to kick Breast Cancer’s a**, all while looking pretty in pink, I felt unprepared, unattached and unmotivated and all of those feelings settled down in the pit of my stomach as guilt.
As I stood in the center of New York City, in Central Park, watching women who were obviously survivors and family members with “RIP” T-shirts on honoring those they’ve lost, it hit me like a ton of bricks that instead of 15 plus years of holding on to such a negative feelings against Breast Cancer that literally felt like an anvil on my back, I could have been fighting the good fight and really making a difference. My aunt always wanted my brother, sister and myself to know about my mother and how she fought in her final days, but I never took it upon myself to pick up where she left off.
I tried to shake myself awake at the walk and I chatted with a few women that looked friendly enough to entertain my brand new sense of involvement. I wanted to know why they did the walk, what the fight meant to them and why should they fight a battle there’s not a strong chance of winning? These women floored me in their responses. Many of them survivors that were cancer-free, almost done with chemo or just starting treatment; but they remained bright, uplifting and hopeful. Their journeys inspired me to walk, not only physically during the actual Breast Cancer Walk, but in my life–I knew I needed to “walk the walk.” I lost my mother before I even got a chance to know her and I reacted like a brat.
I closed myself off from cancer as if my figuratively folded arms could protect my breasts and my heart from feeling emotions that I deemed uncomfortable. I watched some of those people with “RIP” T-shirts on, with smiles on their faces as they trekked through the park and knew at that moment that my closed off attitude against cancer was now a thing of the past. I vow, now, to fight. For my mother. Your mother. Your daughter. My sister. Breast Cancer may continue to claim innocent lives, but I will not let these women who receive a diagnosis fight alone or in vain.
Join the fight with me!