On January 26, I found out that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer-- something that no one in my family has ever had. I’ll never forget how she told me. My sister Facetimed me and she had just gotten home for the weekend (I’m a twin), and my mom abruptly grabbed the phone and said “Sweetie I have bad news”, thinking that a relative died, I prepared myself, but a second later she said the worst words I’ve ever heard: “I have breast cancer”. My own mother-- with cancer. I think I cried for the rest of the day, and the next morning I woke up with my eyes nearly swollen shut. I think the initial reaction was the hardest part- I didn’t know what to do, what to think, and I hardly knew anything about the disease. I was in my bedroom when I found out, and I walked towards the front door of my apartment to get some fresh air, but I collapsed crying so hard in my living room. My neighbors (I live at Theta), abruptly took me into their apartment, and I had friends with me for the rest of the day, to the beach, to dinner, to the nail salon, just anything to try and cheer me up and get my mind off things (although I cried in the middle of the restaurant). Although her cancer was caught early from a mammogram, it’s still terrifying to think about since everyone’s recovery is different (hers right now is surgery and radiation but that could change). Two days later, at my sorority chapter meeting, Asia and Julia came in to explain GWHI, and * bam * a light bulb went off in my head. I finally had something that I could channel all the feelings I was feeling into something that was bigger than myself and my sadness.
This has affected nearly everything in my life. She was having surgery the next Thursday, and I emailed all my professors, explaining the situation, and told them I was going home for the weekend, and they all wished her the best. However when I was home over the weekend, it was nearly impossible to get any homework done as I was helping my mom post-surgery. Depending on her further treatment, I’m worried I’ll be missing more school. However my mom (who is VERY pro-academics), is non stop bothering me to make sure my homework is done (I can’t text her for more than 5 minutes without her telling me to go back and study). In terms of my social life, all my friends have been SO supportive, and girls in my sorority that I barely even knew reached out to me. I was even given a “sunshine basket” by our standards board! So many people in my community have been offering support to my mom and myself, and I’m so grateful. Through my moms entire surgery while we were waiting for her- I had friends that were texting me asking for updates on her surgery, praying for her, and that made me feel better that my friends don’t just care about me, but they care about my family.I’ve had friends from my hometown that have offered to drive my mom to radiation appointments once that will start! My work has also been great, offering me as much time off as I need and getting shifts covered so I could rush home.
When it comes to handling it, obviously the first thing I did was cry-- which I wouldn’t say was “handling it,” but it was definitely healthy to get everything out. I then ordered pizza that night and ate nearly the entire thing by myself (don’t worry-- it was a small). Because it’s so recent, the best thing I’ve done is talk to my mom, and strengthen my relationship with her. I’m also reaching out to my friends, and the true friends I have are the ones that are there for me and supportive of me and whatever i’m doing and however I’m feeling. I think this experience has really taught me what I value in life, and has taught me to focus on the things that matter the most, because time is limited and you have to be grateful for what you have. Lastly, I’ve been creating a routine- making sure I look cute (hair and makeup down every day, whereas I used to just do mascara, eyeliner, tinted chapstick and a messy bun on the way to class). My mantra now is look good-feel good, and try to hide my emotions as best as I can.
One other thing I did, besides talk to people and try to look my best, is to wear something sentimental to me. My mom, having twins, was given a necklace with two baby shoes on them when we were born. When I was in second grade, I saw a similar shoe at the jewelry store and my mom bought me it. The day of her surgery was the first day I’d ever worn it since I found it while going through my stuff when I got home… yes over 10 years later, and I’ve worn it every day since to keep it with me.
While I didn’t share it directly on social media, I did make one post on Instagram that was symbolic to it. Immediately after I found out, my twin in Theta brought me to Avila Beach (one my mom and I had visited before), and I made a heart in the sand made out of shells, and sent the picture to my mom (and then collected some of the shells and brought them home to her). I captioned it “Life’s a beach”, and while it didn’t directly explain what was happening, it was a tribute that only I know about and is very special to me. I didn’t think this was something I could share directly social media because 1) it’s my mom’s illness, and 2) breast cancer is one of the worst diseases that a woman can have, ad while cancer is a horrible illness, there is something so intimate, and so vulnerable it. Also, it’s such a new diagnosis that it’s too soon for me to share it with others as there is possibly a long road ahead of us, and I’d rather celebrate remission, not the journey. I think people avoid posting struggles on social media in general because not everyone understands, and people usually portray their best selves on social media to have a large following. I also don’t think I will share it on social media until after it’s over, but I think the symbolic post is all I’m going to do (maybe a few others ones-- we’ll see). After, I might share a post of me and my mom, but I wouldn’t allude to her illness in the caption, since my close friends already know about it and I don’t need to share it to the world. If I were to share it, I do think the effect would be positive, as my mom is a huge role model to me, and almost everyone has a mom that’s their role model.
I would say to someone who is going through it is to just keep your head up, and keep your eye on the prize-- which is remission and a cure. The first couple days I was extremely sad, but spending time with my mom at home has made me feel so much better, and it’s better to be positive than wallow in sadness.