Finding Strength When Cancer Hits

By: Rosa Elena

On October 24, 2014, my world turned upside down. Mom had been experiencing a painful, burning sensation on the upper left side of her breast. We decided to visit her doctor and figure out the problem.  A mammography detected dense tissues, but no signs of cancer. Yet, a sonogram revealed a small dark spot towards the back of her left breast. My family and I held on to hope while all these exams were being performed. Neither test is 100 percent accurate, so a biopsy was the last option. The biopsy confirmed our worst fears. Mom was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer.
The first thing that went through my mind was “why her?” Cancer is a heavily discussed topic in the media and in day-to-day life but one never thinks it could happen to them. You often think “it can never happen to me,” but one day life throws the curveball at you. Now what? When mom told me the bad news, I put on a brave face for her and told her we will figure things out. As soon as I locked myself in my room, I broke down in tears. I couldn’t believe this was happening to her. Tears streamed down my face as I let out the anger I felt towards the doctors for not figuring this out earlier. There was a demon growing in my mother’s body, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
For the next two weeks my mind went to a dark place. I was irritable and lashed out my anger towards my friends, family, and boyfriend. I turned down every offer to any social events, and even considered taking the semester off to be with my mom. There was nothing positive about life for me, and my grades began to slip. My depression and anxiety took control, and blinded me from supporting my mom in a time when she needed me most. Mom eventually noticed how quickly I was falling into a deep hole and talked things out with me.
She explained that her cancer was detected early, and there were treatments available to fight it off. The doctors opted for her to go through a partial mastectomy first, and then radiation therapy for six months. There would be side effects, but it would not be as bad as chemotherapy. Afterwards, time would tell if the cancer left her body. She begged me not to drop my classes, considering it was my last semester at Lehman. I agreed not to drop my classes, but I did not join any extracurricular activities. I had to be there for mom anyway I can.
While I focused on raising my grades, I researched the treatment my mom would receive. The more I educated myself on breast cancer, the more confidence I had that she would live.  On her first day of treatment, she bravely walked into the hospital room where the radiation therapy would begin. In her hospital gown, she gave me a big smile and said “I am going to beat this.” She had me and my thirteen year old sister to fight for. I just nodded my head. All these question came into my head as the minutes passed by in that room. “Will this work?,” Can she beat it?,” “What more can I do to help?”
The radiation therapy had it’s side effects. After each treatment, she felt exhausted. She slept for hours and lost her appetite for certain foods. Her left breast swelled up and turned red. She complained about the burning sensation being worse than before and horrible headaches. Mom received enormous support from family and friends. Aloe vera plants arrived from Puerto Rico to bring relief to the burning she experienced. People visited her, brought her soups and smoothies, and provided comfort. Each gesture of love gave my mother the strength to continue the fight.
Those six months were the longest my entire family ever felt. I managed to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Lehman, despite my inner demons trying to take me down. Each day I saw my mom battle through the cancer, I thanked God she was still with me, and did my best to be brave for her. The doctors monitored mom’s health every step of the way, prescribing her medication for the side effects, answering any questions we had, and updating my family on her progress. When those six months were over, mom went through various tests. I cried tears of joy with her when her doctor said “you are cancer free.” She had done it! She beat cancer.
It will be three years since I felt my world shatter. Recently, mom went through her annual check up. It had be reduced from three times a year to once. The results came out negative. The burning sensation comes and goes but it is not as bad as before. There were so many things I learned from this experience. One, I know my reaction could have been better when I first heard about the diagnosis, but I am human. It’s okay to cry and release your emotions, even when you need to be strong. Second, no matter what life surprises you with, there will always be people to support you. Third, with faith and love, anything is possible.  My mother prayed to God everyday for her health, and I believe he heard her and gave her a second chance at life. Last, but not least, sometimes we have to go through a really dark storm to find out how strong we truly are.
This year, I will participate in the Breast Cancer walk in New York City. My mom’s name will be in on a t-shirt. Every step I take will not only be for her, but for every individual breast cancer has affected. Watching my mom fight cancer not only opened my eyes to this monster, it transformed me into a stronger woman.



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