A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Caring for Mom

Breast cancer, as you can imagine, isn't just a disease of the victim. It affects everyone who is connected to your life, especially your family.

Of course, my husband was greatly impacted, and obsessively worried about losing me.

But the toll on my parents is what broke my heart. What do you do when your child is sick and you can't make her better? Parents think they're supposed to cure all ills and remove all pain, and when they can't, it's torture. This was the case with my parents as I observed their grief and fear over me.

Right after it was discovered that I carried the BRCA gene, Mom & Dad were over at my house for Christmas Eve dinner. Mom was acting strange, so I pulled her aside and asked to speak to her in private.

She broke down hugged me tightly: "This shouldn't be happening to you...I'm the one who should die first, not you!"

Well, first of all, no one was talking about dying...at least, yet. I was researching surgery options at that point, not caskets and funeral arrangements.

But, I understood what she was saying. She was terrified of losing me...and all mothers take a solemn oath before they deliver their first child that they'll do everything in their power to make sure their children outlive them. That's just the way it should be, according to moms everywhere. Unfortunately, that's not always the way it turns out.

I tried to comfort her, but I knew the only thing that would reassure her would be for me to sail through these surgeries and reduce my chances of getting cancer in the future.

I realized more deeply how much my mom was suffering when she shared with me a heartbreaking email she had sent the prayer group at her church. In her anguish, she wrote:

"Julie stopped over tonight to tell us about her latest report. I can't believe she has been inundated with cancer like she has. Fortunately, the surgery was done in the nick of time since they found pre-cancerous, non-invasive cells in the tissue of the fallopian tubes. She says this was "good news" but they need to remove the uterus in 3 months down the road. I only hope this will protect her from any future cancer but who knows if it will or not?
It is very upsetting to me having brought her into this world, but now the damage has been done."

A beautiful response came from the prayer group leader, who knew the vulnerability of being a mom:

"We are keeping Julie our prayers. God, who began a good work in her, will continue it until the day He comes again! Through her healing, we will all be blessed. Hang in there. God is in control."

To my great relief, I wasn't the only one who had spectacular friends. So did Mom. Amazing, dynamic friends--with years and years of care-taking experience as moms and grandmothers.

One of Mom's best friends drove up from a beach vacation in Florida -- over a 7-hour trip--to make sure she was with Mom during my first surgery. She brought with her homemade soup and muffins. (During my second surgery, the same friend was at the hospital again with freshly baked cookies for my husband. She has earned sainthood, as far as my husband is concerned.)

Mom also received a flood of cards, calls, emails and offers to bring me food. In fact, Mom had more correspondence about my cancer than I did...which was fine with me.

When we heard the good news about my pathology report, Mom received over 50 email responses from friends and well-wishers.

People's generosity carried Mom & Dad through this nightmare than no parent should have to face--and for that, I am indebted to all the people who took time to place a call...or write a note...or say an encouraging word...or give my parents a big hug. These simple acts go a long way in getting us through the tough times in life. And when you think about it, they are actually the mightiest acts of all.

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