I have always been a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, up until about two years ago. My life has changed in so many ways that I never imagined.
My first Relay for Life was in 8th grade, and to this day I remember that night. My closest friends and I were sitting on our high school’s turf with the participants when we were asked a series of questions, aimed at if and how cancer had affected us. Slowly but surely, every hand was raised. Whether it was a sister, aunt, friend’s grandmother or teacher, everyone on that turf was touched by the disease.
My first situation with cancer was in 5th grade, when my grandmother was diagnosed with uterine cancer. At the time I was 10 years old and had no true understanding of what a cancer diagnosis meant. I have some memories of when she first went through chemotherapy and then remission, and then when it came back.
When I was 14, my grandmother Victoria passed away. At my young age, I assumed that would be the only cancer experience I would have so close to me. How naïve that assumption was.
Fast-forward to the summer before my senior year of college, I was at a routine gynecologist appointment with my mom. We decided to go together because we were both overdue. As I sat in the waiting room for my mom to finish her exam, I had no idea that day would change my life forever.
She walked out of the room with tears in her eyes and asked me to start the car. We didn’t talk the entire ride home, and when we pulled in the driveway, she turned to me and said she would be going back the following week for another exam because they found a lump.
Over the next few weeks I kept this information to myself, aside from family and one friend. The day after my mom’s birthday was when she was scheduled to meet with her doctors to find out whether or not the mass was cancerous. Hours passed, I finally called her to ask what happened. I was not prepared for the words that came out of her mouth. “I have breast cancer,” was all I heard as I tried to keep it together until she hung up. I immediately called that friend of mine and she knew from my eyes. The feeling I felt is indescribable.
The next months were filled with planning, scans, surgical decisions and more scans. Her official diagnosis was Stage 2 ER-positive breast cancer, which seemed promising. My mom decided on a lobectomy to remove the mass along with the lymph nodes affected.
After the surgery, my mom had more scans to determine the next steps. We were told she would need to undergo 24 weeks of chemotherapy followed by a month of radiation. The initial shock of this was scary and upsetting, but we knew she could overcome it. The strength I saw in my mom was inspirational. My mom finished chemotherapy a week before I graduated from Salve.
Throughout this time, I shoved my feelings aside, not allowing myself to feel anything because if I felt anything, I was overcome with sadness. I’m sure this comes as a shock to a lot of people because I am usually described as overly emotional. However, when it comes to my family and feelings close to me, there are definitely walls there.
Being away at school made my mom’s diagnosis both easier and harder. Easier because I didn’t have to face the fact my mom was losing her hair and getting sicker before she got better, and harder because I was not there. My mom’s diagnosis affected me in ways I can’t begin to describe. But after all of her suffering and pain, she has now come out of it on the other side as a warrior. I am so proud of her. As of this past September, she is in remission. I love you mom!
Now let’s backtrack to May 2019. The week of graduation was so exciting, not only because my extended family was able to be in Newport and celebrate with me and my friends, but we were able to celebrate my mom. Now a week or so later, the excitement subsided when I got a text from Angela that she has an appointment for this bump we noticed earlier that month. I passed it off as a swollen lymph node because she had been sick. Needless to say, Angela was sick on and off all year.
After the appointment, Angela was back in Newport, finally moving into our summer house and she visited me at work. In the middle of trying on clothes she received a call from her dad, and as I saw her face, that same indescribable feeling washed over me. She mouthed, “I have cancer.” I knew I had to keep it together for her because if she saw me cry it was all over. I left work with her and we just sat in bed.
Later that day, I called my mom to tell her this news and I absolutely lost it. I was in so much pain, right after my mom overcomes this awful disease, it comes back in my best friend? I didn’t know what to think other than that I had to be strong for her.
Since Angela’s diagnosis, I have gone through the same up and down feelings of not knowing how to feel or what to say. I was with her during some really raw moments of her cancer story. I was sleeping next to her a night before she was admitted to the hospital for a respiratory infection. I cried with her when she just needed to cry.
As you know, Ang is one tough cookie and that is just one reason why I love her so much. I admire her strength and grace of handling this awful hand she was dealt and turning it into something so beautiful — hope for others battling this disease.
Throughout the past year I have bonded with others over cancer and how we have been affected by it in our families. It is definitely a weird bond to have with someone — where cancer brings you together. Respecting their privacy, I am honestly glad to have close friends who understand the inexplicable feelings I am trying so hard to put into words.
Angela asked me to write about how I coped with people I love being affected by cancer, but I don’t really think I can do that. I did not cope with it; I lived it and I felt every last part of it. I wished and prayed it away. I am so thankful for the doctors and nurses that cared for not just my mom, but Angela and my friends’ family members too.
That being said, my life has been affected by cancer in ways I thought it would never be. Sending a lot of love to everyone reading who is battling cancer, survived cancer, lost someone to cancer, is a caregiver and the loved ones of those affected 💜