Breast Cancer Can’t Break Bond between Mother and Daughter
Stephanie Graves remembers how she felt while pregnant with her first child and the doctor tried to determine the baby’s sex by the heartbeat. She wasn’t sure whether she would be having a boy or a girl but she just had a feeling she was going to have a daughter.
Stephanie was far away from her family in Germany when she gave birth to her first child in the States. She held her little girl and so many thoughts crowded into her mind.
“I wanted her to have a better life than me,” Stephanie said. “I wanted her to have a great career and be a great young lady. I wanted everything for her.”
A childhood full of great memories
It seemed Stephanie’s little girl, Boober! and 2015 calendar model Michele Yepez, was always making her mother laugh. One time the family took a trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. Stephanie made a detour to the restroom and when she returned Michele had scampered onto the stage at Festhaus and was performing the Chicken Dance, waving her arms and wiggling her bottom as the packed house cheered her on.
“Michele was an outgoing little girl,” Stephanie said. “She hated baby dolls but she loved animals, especially dogs. I remember her running over to the fence and sticking her little hot dog fingers at the neighbor’s Doberman. I was worried that the dog would bite her but he loved her.”
Michele’s family owned a little mixed-breed dog and he had a doghouse in the backyard. Stephanie recalled how Michele would crawl into the doghouse while the little dog would stand outside of it.
When Michele was a little girl she and her mother watched her favorite movie, Lady and the Tramp, a hundred times together on the couch. Michele knew all the movie’s dialogue by heart.
A mother’s worst nightmare
Stephanie had just hung up after wishing her parents a happy anniversary when her daughter called her that December day in 2013 to tell her that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I couldn’t even think,” Stephanie said. “I couldn’t function. It was the worst day of my life.”
Two days after Michele was diagnosed Stephanie went with her to a follow-up appointment. She went with her daughter to all of her subsequent doctor’s appointments, too. Stephanie did not go with Michele to her chemo appointments. Instead she took her grandchildren, Mathias and Elise, for the weekend so their mother would have time to herself to recuperate and rest.
Stephanie drove Michele to the hospital for her mastectomy surgery. “That morning I felt like I just couldn’t take her there,” Stephanie said. “I couldn’t bear that thought that my child was going to have a part of her body taken off. That was the second worst day of my life.”
Supporting the supporters
Stephanie grappled with guilt after her daughter’s diagnosis and during her treatment. She had had a breast biopsy prior to Michele’s and hers had been negative. “I wondered why did it have to happen to my daughter?” Stephanie said. “Why couldn’t it have been me instead? I was older and didn’t have little children to take care of like Michele did. Why did it have to happen to her?”
Stephanie relied on support from her mother and sister in Germany to help her through her daughter’s treatment and diagnosis. Her husband Ray was there for her to talk to and lean on. Her friends and coworkers also provided lots of love and support.
After everything she went through with her daughter, Stephanie’s advice for other moms facing a similar situation is to be there for their children. “Go to as many of the appointments with them as you can,” she said. “Listen to the doctor – be your child’s ears. You are stronger than you think at that moment.”