We finally knew what it was to be “seen”.
2023 Children of Hope Scholarship Winner
My mom was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer when I was very young, I was just five. At the time I didn’t fully comprehend what that meant – terminal or stage IV. As the years went on the only things I could notice was she was sick, and bald, and had very little energy and hundreds of doctors appointments. These patterns of bald, sick and weak happened in waves for most of my childhood, while the doctor’s appointments were the one constant. When I think of it, my mom’s cancer almost felt like a familiar family member. The cancer was in every room she entered, it still is. It’s the uninvited guest at our dinner table. It’s here. It resides here, with us in our house.
The first time I could understand what was going on was at the Little Pink Housesof Hope Retreat in Cape Hatteras, it was three years after my mom was diagnosed, I was just eight. I remember being introduced to other children in similar circumstances as me. I slowly began to learn other people’s stories, and even connected with some. It was a strange and eye opening experience to have these new-found connections. I have a brother just a year older than me and a sister a year younger, and even though we were all riding the wave of my mom’s illness, we seldom spoke of it. I think fear kept us silent. We were still getting used to the uncertainty of this unwelcomed house guest.
At our retreat there were fun activities every day that drew me closer to a few of the other kids. I was even pen pals with one of the girls that was near my age for a long time. It was so liberating to not have to hide my mom’s illness or be ashamed of it – there was a quiet, unifying understanding among all the families. Leaving was sad, it was as though we finally knew what it was to be “seen”. We finally knew there were other kids with moms as green as ours, as weak as ours. There were other kids who lived with this same uninvited guest in their homes and we could talk about it with each other, if we wanted. Pulling out of Cape Hatteras in our blue minivan, there wasn’t a dry eye in our car.
It is challenging to describe the experiences I’ve had growing up with my mom’s cancer. It has been there almost my entire life, that pesky uninvited guest, it is our normal. That bulge in her collarbone denoting the port that delivers her life saving treatments. I can’t quite remember her without it. Thirteen years ago they told my mom to “live, hurry up and live” because realistically she had 1-3 years of life left. My mom has withstood ALL the treatments over the 13 years. Dozens of chemotherapy combinations, almost one hundred daily radiation treatments and four heads of hair! But, I think the closest to broke I have seen her was when she lost her mom, her dad and her younger brother to cancer all within three years while she was fighting cancer. I’m grateful for all the moments I have gotten with her. She keeps getting back up. I adore her resilience, her ability to keep living every single moment. Sometimes I even wonder if this uninvited guest has made us more appreciative for each moment? Throughout these years I have felt the end near. It has been so real to know it can all be taken away. We all know this, somewhere deep inside us we all feel this. Teenagers don’t worry about their moms not being there. I have had to live with this worry for as long as I can remember. So every time I catch her eye at a Volleyball tournament, see her beaming with pride as I sing in the school play, I can’t help but feel immense gratitude. I am getting all these moments – even the ones when she’s embarrassing me – singing her face off in the car! I hope to keep getting these moments – all of them.
Nowadays, I try to make peace with this guest.