October. It is a grand time of year, at least I think so. When we truly look around and take in all the scents and changes, especially here in Nebraska, you get this odd feeling that surrounds you because things are going away for winter and trees start to lose their wonderful full green-ness. Yet there is a wondrous beauty in it all.
It is also a month full of dark, spooky, scary, ghoulish things since it will be Halloween at the very end. Also, it is a month about BOOBS! Hoo-haws, knockers, chin dancers, sometimes baby feeders, va-va voomers…aka Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
It use to be a month where I simply dressed up as some random costume and took in a pumpkin patch or two, but in 2011, it became the year that I started to take the ‘awareness month’ more serious.
My mother passed after an 8 month battle against stage four breast cancer. She was diagnosed around the major holidays of 2010, and gone a month before summers end. That is the easy, tight knit way, to wrap that up…
In college, I wrote a piece in creative writing class, which depicted my full range of emotions and how I (being a 22-year-old college kid), was dealing with my mother’s cancer. I entitled it She Stopped Breathing. A
n excerpt was published in our college magazine. Writing this piece was highly cathartic and something I can not attempt again. So instead, with still making sure we are aware of breast cancer, I want to tell you all what it is not, from my perspective, of what my mom taught me in those 8 months we had left.
Breast Cancer is not-
A death sentence.
It is/was a life motivator, at least for my mom. I learned this because the moment mom found out she was afflicted with this disease, she was going to live. And that she did. Mom asked us kids when she was going to be a grandma, since none of us had our own yet. Mom went through chemo and still attempted to make nightly dinners. She slept and slept and slept. Something I am sure she did not get to do much of in her life with 3 kids and a full time job, so maybe this was a type of retirement in a way.
Mom did not stop making appearances. She would be at parish events, graduations and even Oprah Winfrey’s last show (an event screened at a local theater). Mom got to celebrate a surprise 52nd birthday that no one would forget- especially her. The turn out for that was amazing. I am sure some attended wondering if it would be the last time they saw mom, and went away in awe of the spirit she exuded. Mom planted her garden, the last one that would be at our house. She gave advice to others, even though she was the one aching inside. Mom made peace with her past and spoke openly about her faults. She was still the mom who gave you the look of ”I am not mad, I am just disappointed” when I did something foolish, which was needed. She finally allowed for us, her kids, to care for her.
I understand all of those things seem so simple and things anyone could do any day. But mom did not choose to go on an expensive last vacation or try to finish off bucket lists, she kept living her life as best as she could, enjoying the simple things.
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I do wish I could have gone fishing with her one last time because she shined at that.
She wasn’t marking x’s on a calendar to the end day even though she knew she could not be cured. She lived like we all do, expecting to wake up the next day and not being aware when her last breath would come, even with this deadly monster lurking inside her; everywhere.
My mom proved to me that each day did/should count, even the crappy ones. If mom’s counts were too low on Fridays for chemo, we would go home and try to get healthy for the next week. All those days between were a constant, “Is today the day she is gone, or tomorrow” worry for me. But I do not recall ever seeing that on her face.
She kept laughter alive, vulgarities fluent, stories flowing and kept being a mom, girlfriend, sister, daughter, niece and most of all, a friend, to many. I always remember mom talking on the phone to friends and she did not want to focus on her cancer, instead on how everyone else was doing in their life, which was immensely humbling to me.
A lot of people who encounter folks with cancer and/or who are going through a certain fight in their lives, are some of the strongest people we know/knew. I always saw a certain strength in my mom. I got to know her intimately for 9 months of my life before I even knew I existed. I think I knew then the type of strength this woman had.
Her life was not always sunshine and roses, but even with clouds and thorns she truly gave life all she had. That is what a parent does, what a mom does, what someone whos ta-ta’s decide to be like “hey lady, it has been a fun 50ish years but we got something for ya” does.
Breast cancer was a very cruel gift that was given to my mom that she did not ask for, nor wanted to ever open. But as soon as that bow was untied, mom’s first words were “Let’s kick this cancer’s ass!” And that is how I want to remember all of those 8 months. Kicking ass at it all, because she did. Each day, doctor appointment, let downs and let ups…she never stopped living.
I am AWARE of that.
In loving memory of Kelli aka Mom aka One Tough B****(a title she gave herself)