When someone is diagnosed with cancer, the effect on the patient is pretty obvious, and sometimes we forget how much and in what ways the diagnosis may impact the family members and friends. In this school assignment to write about a first time experience, Jacob opens our eyes to what he felt when his mother, Angel, went through breast cancer. We are grateful that he allowed us to share his essay. We think Jacob is pretty amazing, and we are sure you will agree after your read his words.
Hugs, Mary Beth
While I don’t like to talk about this often, as it makes me feel like I’m “boasting” about a struggle that was not truly mine, I’m also often told that it’s a little uncaring to not note my part in it at all. So, for my essay, I will be writing about my first experience with breast cancer in my family.
Before my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I don’t think that anyone in my family (including me) knew that much about cancer, other than the basics: That it has no “cure” yet, that it kills a lot of people, and that a lot of people are working to find out more about it. So, when the news hit, it significantly changed how we saw the disease and, in a way, the world as a whole.
It was April, 2010, when I was told that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in the 7th grade, and was only 12 years old at the time, so I didn’t really know how to react. She said that she was actually fairly lucky, since the cancer was found on a routine mammogram, and it could be removed. We found some comfort in this, but we still were very scared. I had no idea what I could do or what would happen, but I still tried to help her when I had the chance. She tried to comfort us by doing things like bringing home books on how to deal with cancer in the family, ranging from very factual booklets, to childish picture books, but they never really helped me. While I did care, I didn’t want to read about it when it comes to how it would affect me. While I had full faith in my mother overcoming the disease, the books only felt like salt in the wound.
Her treatments carried on into high school, and here’s where we all got to see its effects first-hand. They tend to make cancer treatment out to be much simpler than it actually is. Cancer treatment is made out as just chemo, radiation, and hair loss, when that is only part of it. There were many days where my sister (who was about 7 years old at the time) and I would have to be home alone because mom was in the hospital, and dad had to make sure she was okay. When she was home, she was no longer as energetic as she was before. She walked around in a half-asleep state, and didn’t have the energy or strength to preform many basic tasks. For the most part, she may as well have been bedridden. As the time went on, we got to see all her hair disappear. When I say all her hair, I mean her eyebrows and eye lashes as well. She went from having long brown hair, to lacking all the subtleties you would expect of the human head. The strangest thing was that this was the easiest part of it all. We all even found humor in the situation, in how silly it was. My mom even joked about how she “now knows how a newborn baby feels”. You could always get fake eyelashes, draw on fake eyebrows, and get a bunch of silly wigs and hats. However, you could not get a replacement for all the pain that the treatment makes your body feel, nor could you get back the energy that it takes away.
To make matters worse, my dad works in the Navy, and had to deploy a few months after my mom was diagnosed. Combined, these two things had a very powerful effect on everyone. Throughout all of this, I tried to not let it affect me. I told people at school, both friends and teachers, but I tried not to bring it up often. This wasn’t only that I didn’t want to talk about it, but also because it felt like I would be making an excuse at the expense of someone else. My mom was the one suffering, while I was perfectly okay. To me, claiming that it affected me academically would be faking a broken arm after seeing the attention that the person with the real broken arm got. I did care about my mom’s health, that’s why I didn’t want to undermine it by complaining about my “suffering”. While it did affect me heavily, it would have been arrogant for me to “take credit” for the suffering that was not experienced by me.
Eventually, my mom was able to overcome the cancer and successfully had it removed from her body. But, this taught me another thing I didn’t know about breast cancer. A lot of surgery goes into attempting to bring back healthy tissue that was removed. The most surprising thing was that the reconstruction surgeries are the ones that seemed to be the most dangerous. While the chemo made my mom weak and sick, the reconstruction opened up the possibility of much worse things. One of the scariest experiences I had during this was when my mom began to feel unusually sick. We all watched her to make sure she was okay, even calling over a friend who was a nurse. That’s when my mom and her friend realized what was going on. The device put in place to help reconstruction had caused a major infection to begin to develop. This meant that it must be removed, alongside all progress towards the reconstruction. That was when I saw my mom go from seeming okay, to being in great sorrow and despair. She didn’t want to have it removed, even refusing to go the hospital at first. I didn’t understand this, and I’m not sure I even understand it now. The tissue that was lost was not, as far as health goes, important. It also didn’t make her appear strange in anyway, with even having many thing that would hide it if she felt otherwise. But still, she seemed to initially choose her health over losing it. This was the closest I felt to thinking that she was going to die. She eventually went to the hospital and had it, as well as the staph infection, removed.
After a few years of treatment, the worst is now behind us. However, the effects of the cancer are still present. My mom is still going through reconstruction surgery, but nothing even coming close to before has happened. The cancer has not returned, and I hope never will. Her hair has regrown, and she has regained much of her strength. She’s now active in the breast cancer support group “Beyond Boobs!” and has found a lot of people who have or are going through same thing as she did. Everyone in my family is now more aware of the effects of breast cancer after seeing what it can do first-hand.
-Jacob (16 yrs)