At age 35, my mother was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. I was eight. I vaguely remember her losing her hair while getting more ill and weak with chemo treatments.
After a brief period of remission, the cancer came back — and with a vengeance: Stage IV breast cancer, found in her bones. A body scan brought more bad news: the cancer had shown up in her lungs and liver. After months of treatments, it still spread and the cancer made its way to her brain.
My ever-glowing and positive mother began to lose herself. Movement was scarce, speech became difficult and the look of hope seemed to have drained from her face. I hardly knew her anymore; my brother could barely look at her. I have no trouble remembering what came next.
Our older cousin was having a party for her twelfth birthday. I vividly remember the “bouncy house,” the laughter, my brother’s smile shining for the first time in months and the phone ringing in the distance. I remember my family members running out from the house, tears streaming down their faces. I remember being rushed into the car, not being told what was going on. And I remember my grandma’s response when she finally answered my questioning: “Your mom’s not going to make it much longer.”
My heart sunk. I couldn’t breathe. There is nothing comparable to that feeling of knowing someone you love is lost.
After what seemed like years later, we got home. I ran to her room and was met with the most surreal scene that I never expected. My mother had become a statue, bathed in an unnatural blue hue and cold as stone. I tried to hold in my tears, but ended up choking on the bitter taste of devastation.
According to breastcancer.org, 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their life. It is also the second most commonly diagnosed and second most deadly cancer among American women.
While women under 30 are less susceptible to the disease, it is widely recommended that they complete self-exams regularly and get annual clinical breast exams starting at age 20.
New studies released in 2013 by the University of Minnesota and Harvard School of Public Health have shown that exercise and certain foods can actually help prevent breast cancer. As for those suffering from the disease, new drugs and mammography technology have been utilized to ease and speed recovery.
There’s something to be said for those who have lost someone to cancer, but there is more to be said for those who have personally suffered through it. Heroes aren’t found in comic books, heroes are found in the people we know: a friend of a friend, your friend, your parent, your grandparent, those who suffer from heart-wrenching illness but still trek on.
It is vital for us to educate ourselves and know the risks so more of our heroes don’t have to be lost to this disease.