Five years ago, I sat in my living room, just fresh off the chemo couch. I was facing another five months of being squashed under the weight of chemo’s poisonous twin and triplet monsters as I wearily celebrated Mother’s Day with my family. My scalp was shiny, my tummy was turning and my boob was gone. I felt like a freak of nature to be really honest with you. The life I had planned on, dreamed about was not the one staring back at me. I wanted to run, to hide to break every mirror in the house, to go back to my life as a two boobed, raven haired, slightly curvy, wanna be fem fetal. The truth was ugly, or at least I thought it was, as I sat there with lights flashing and giant signs pointing to the hole in the left side of my chest wall, boobless where once a multi boobed chest used to poke out from under my T-shirts. Now I was sitting, on the couch, with a self imposed gag over my mouth, a bandanna on my bald head and a swollen face, chemo induced, steroid filled body! Who knew when I celebrated my first Mother’s Day in 1997, holding a small, precious bundle in my arms I would have been sitting there nine years later surrounded by my two children watching a bad B movie version of my life, with breast cancer as the guest star? I sure didn’t!
I will be honest with you; I really, really wanted to fall back, to run away from the cancer monster and her consorts. I can tell you I tried a time or two, but in the end I did not cower in a corner, nor did I retreat to my bedroom, off and away from the hustle and bustle of my everyday ordinary life. Instead I held to my core belief: hope is an action word. For one, ordinary is not in my vocabulary, two, life with children, even if you have the C word stamped across your forehead , it’s just not an excuse to stop being a mother. Now before you get upset with me, understand, having cancer is a concrete reason to feel over whelmed, to be tired, over come, even defeated, but the truth is , in my life anyway, it cannot be the excuse you use to give up! Believe me I have lived through many storms in my life, cancer being just one of them. So I can truly tell you when giving up was on the table, when anger and spite felt like the best course to devour or when feeling sorry for myself absolutely held the top number one spot on my list of things to do for the day, I took a deep breath and out hope into action.
Oh man have I felt the need to give in, give up and let it all go and Mother’s Day five years ago was no different. What shook me out of my self induced pity party, and believe me it was a party complete with party horns, streamer, banners and cake, was the fact my children did not deserve a my pity to rule the day. What they needed, was hope, to believe mom was going to pull through, to see mom embracing life, holding on, hanging on to this beautiful, yes crazy life God had given me. On Mother's Day 2006, I was just beginning to make strides in this journey through the dark back roads of cancer. My body was tired; it was dying to be honest, poison pumping through my veins, killing off those crazy, tentacles breast cancer was stretching out into my life. Giving in to the pain was definitely a possibility. Believe me the pain was incredible, at times leaving me crawling up the stairs, pulling myself up, out of breath, while the pain seared through my body, through my chest, phantom pains in place of where a breast used to sit. Was I wonder woman? Absolutely not, I was as plain Jain as they come but what I did have was determination; resolve to give my children a legacy of hope and courage in the face of death. I remember pulling my body out of bed and embracing each new morning, looking out at the day and wondering if it would be my last. I found myself determined to soak it all up, impress those tender moments deep into my heart like a pressed rose in between the pages of a favorite book. I forced myself to smile as tears fell from my eyes, willing myself not to take the day for granted in any way, shape or form. I was not in the clear, not yet anyway and life was not anything close to my aspirations as breast cancer invaded our lives. I was not happy about this plan, but looking back, I see God’s hands, I see His work and His might in my life. I do not see my own strength, but I see His, I hit rewind and I know it was, and is still, the grace of God in my life holding all the broken pieces together.
I found hope at a time in my life when I was still looking for higher ground, to escape the flood waters rising from this fight against breast cancer. I was definitely uncertain of what lay ahead of us. I had no clue what was in store for my husband and my children. I did not know if Joshua and Micah would be motherless, if Johnny would be a widower, raising our boys without me. Who knew what might befall our lives as cancer tried to root herself deeper and deeper into our world. I surely passed through the valleys of pain and fear, sometimes on a loop, passing by the same “Detour this way” sign 100 times a day. But I’ll tell you what kept me sane, what held me together was this: Holding on with all my might, even if it was by a thin string, to my faith, to hope, both kept me from falling to my doom below. Somewhere along this journey I gained the strength and found the courage to keep living, breathing and even loving those who lashed out at me in spite of the obstacles.
As a mother, watching my boys play on Mother’s Day, I felt weak, as if I had let my children down but it was their love, and tears which inspired me, spurring me on, showering me with determination to see the battle through, no matter the ending. I would say even today, five years later my life is full of uncertainty. Many times I still feel as if I am holding my now teen age boys hands, skipping painfully and singing over the river and through the woods, pushing our way through murky waters and cloudy days. But, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt the gifts I have given by being a mother are strength, hope and endurance. I live my life, one day at a time, as richly and fully as possible. I celebrate now, realizing I have indeed been given the gift of mortality, viewing life for what it truly is, fleeting and precious. I live each day as if it were my last. This year, five years later, as Mother's Day has come and gone, I choose to continue, battling by my family’s side, cherishing their unique, powerful, extra ordinary place in my life. Today I celebrate my children’s lives and their precious unconditional love in my own life. Yes, being a mom is bittersweet; but the results are tried and true, giving each of us Moms the extra push to continue keeping our feet on the less beaten path, cancer or not.
So today, the day after Mother's Day I celebrate the life, the hope and the passion I have been given. I celebrate the gift of motherhood. I celebrate my boys, goofy, silly and wonderfully made, both, in their own way inspiring my courage in a world where breast cancer does exist. After all, fresh off the chemo couch or not, those of us battling cancer may own her scares, but she does not own us!