I am continuously grateful because not everyone in our situation gets as lucky as we did.
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At the age of nine, there was only one other time I could remember my parents sitting my brother and me down the way they did that spring day of my fourth-grade year. The last time a family meeting like this had happened, it was to tell us our grandma had died. Even though the memory has grown a little fuzzy over the last eight years, I remember the feeling. The room felt heavy, and I had a pit in my stomach. I have always been a worrier, and I still am one. I distinctly remember the apprehensive thoughts anxiously racing through my head wondering what the meeting could be about. The next thing I remember hearing was this;
“Mom has breast cancer.”
I immediately felt the weight of the ramifications that those words carried. This was in part because I watched a lot of TV and movies when I was younger that probably weren’t appropriate for the age I was at. The way cancer is portrayed in movies and TV, it’s this merciless, relentless disease that brings even the strongest people to their knees. The understanding of the situation also came mostly from the cancer affecting other people in my life that are close to me. Specifically, my cousin Ellery, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer only a couple months prior to my mom’s diagnosis. She was 17 at the time and in her senior year of high school, and I had seen what the beginning steps of her treatment looked like. This knowledge left me worried, I was worried of what was to come, and I was worried I would lose my mom.
In a sense, I did lose her for a while. There’s a big chunk of my childhood that she was sick for and missed a lot of big things. She quickly became a shell of the vibrant person I once knew, sleeping days away in the far corner of the house unable to get out of bed. Because of this, I took her place in a lot of ways while she was sick and I had to mature earlier than any nine-year-old should ever have to. Cancer treatments are expensive and insurance only goes so far. With her unable to work in addition to the cost of treatments, my dad was working more than ever. I stepped up as best I could at the time, and I learned to cook, keep the house clean, and keep an eye on my younger brother while also trying to raise myself. At certain points of this journey through my mom’s cancer, it seemed like there was no end in sight.
She hit just about every complication possible in her treatment. The chemotherapy and the radiation affected her greatly and made her extremely sick. And, each surgery and procedure came with complications of its own. It is hard to remain optimistic when it seems like everything that can go wrong is going wrong. However, one thing my mom has always said is that “every cloud has a silver lining.” Every time she would say this I would feel an incapability of believing her. How could anything good come out of something so bad?
My first answer to this question arrived in news from Little Pink Houses of Hope. My family had been chosen to go on a week-long retreat to Lake Tahoe California with nine other families in November of 2014. I was ecstatic, we hadn’t been able to go out of town and travel in a very long time, and I had never been to Tahoe before. And most of all, I was excited to be around other kids who understood what I was going through.
When we first got there we were greeted by several very kind people before going to the house we would be staying in for the week. The group activities with the other families began that night and continued throughout the rest of the week. Within the first days, my brother and I grew very close to the other kids. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like a kid again, and there were no bigger responsibilities resting on my little shoulders.
Not only am I grateful for the friendships and memories this trip gave me, but I am additionally grateful for the support it gave my mom. When she was first sick she didn’t really have a lot of people around her that understood what she was going through. However, just as much as this retreat gave me the opportunity to be around people who understood what I was going through, it gave my mom the same opportunity as well. Little Pink Houses of Hope provided my family with a sanctuary of contentment and break from the hardships we had faced in my mom’s treatment up to that point. We were able to leave the worries of what was to come and focus on having fun and making memories.
Since this retreat in 2014, my mom completed her treatments and entered remission. After fifty-three weeks of chemo, forty-two radiation treatments, and six surgeries later things were finally taking a turn for the better. The retreat we went on really put my own situation in perspective. Since that retreat, some of the other moms have had a recurrence, or have passed away. And, although my mom hasn’t been in perfect health since, the cancer has remained in remission and for that, I am continuously grateful because not everyone in our situation gets as lucky as we did.
I was angry for a really long time yet as I have gotten older the importance of gratitude in my life has become ever more apparent. I think a small part of me will always be jealous that I didn’t get to live a simple, carefree childhood like some of my peers. However, a maturing larger presence within myself that I am proud of is grateful for the experiences I have endured. I am grateful for my empathy, optimism, maturity, and above all, I am grateful for the health of my mom.
As I am in the midst of the second semester of my senior year of high school, I have narrowed down my plans for next year to two schools. I will either be attending the University of California Santa Cruz, or California State University-Chico to continue my studies in a biochemistry major. I am excited to continue my education in the subject that fascinates me most.
I am unsure of a career path right now, however I am sure that I want to do something to help people. I am hoping that after getting my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry that I will find something where I can be doing good while doing what I enjoy.