Today, March 3, is Triple Negative Breast Cancer Day. It was started by the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation to raise awareness for this aggressive type of breast cancer. About 15-20% of breast cancers are triple negative, meaning tumors do not respond to a receptor-based treatment plan and have more of a chance to recur than other subtypes.
Every breast cancer my mom has had throughout her life has been triple negative. We have beat it and survived it. But, this time, this has been a challenge we were not ready for. This diagnosis has changed our life – how we live, how we think, and how we act.
As I’m writing this, I have tears rolling down my face – this being the first time in a while that I’ve cried it all out. Today was a difficult day and it seems like each day is becoming more of a challenge for all of us. Transporting her to doctors appointments at Yale – Smilow Cancer Hospital has become more and more difficult. My patience, strength and hope are being tested in ways that I didn’t know were possible. But, we are still all holding on – holding on for that good day, that moment her personality comes out from hiding behind the cancer, that miracle we’ve been so desperately hoping for.
She has become weaker each day, when we believe she should be getting stronger. Physical and Occupational therapy is done every day – but she can’t lift herself up, she can’t walk, she can’t dress herself. She has always been an independent woman, and I can’t imagine what this feels like for her. She has no control over anything any more – not when she eats; when she gets up to go to the bathroom; when her next doctors appointment is; when she will get ready for bed. And she doesn’t have any damn control over her cancer.
We used to call her a control freak. (I know, that’s harsh, but I swear she enjoyed it.) She used to keep the house in tip-top shape, cook dinner every night, do laundry and iron our clothes each night – all while working full time. She kept track of all of our doctors appointments, medications and needs. I see her in myself a lot of the time. She instilled in me the values of keeping a clean house, being a good cook and being organized. I’m sure my husband refers to me now as the control freak.
As a lymphedema specialist examined her arm today, and wrapped it, I thought how much more of the poking, prying, and examining can she take? How much more can all of us take? As I looked at her swollen arm, my heart broke. It broke because as if the cancer wasn’t enough, she has a swollen arm that can barely move and a drainage bag for her tumors that she now carries as her purse. But when you ask her how she is doing, she says fine. Whether she is lying or exaggerating – it shows her strength. She’s strong and that’s why she is the person I look up most to. She carries herself with grace, even though this whole cancer thing sucks.
On our way back to the rehab facility, I turned, looked at her and started to cry. I said, “Mom, what is going on? What are you feeling? Please talk to us.” She didn’t say anything for a few minutes. But then she did and what she said broke me even more. Now, I’m not going to tell you exactly what she said, because I don’t want anyone to get the assumption that she is giving up, but this battle is taking everything out of her.
And, I am scared of loosing my mom. I’m scared of what that feels like. I’m terrified of her not being here for me to call to ask questions, like how long to cook the chicken; or calling her a millions of times a day just to tell her what happened each minute play-by-play. I’m scared of loosing the woman who has made our family so perfect.
So today, and every day that you can, remind yourself of the need to find a cure. Remind yourself that you’re not alone if you’re dealing with this and it is okay to be scared.
And most importantly, remind yourself to live each day to the best that you can.