Sunday, March 9, 2008

my mom: 33 years after cancer

i'm in the highest risk group possible for the skin cancer melanoma. a fair-skinned redhead with many freckles, a family history and some irresponsible, severe, blistering sunburns as teen. i match every factor on the list.

it hit me today. my mom got malignant melanoma and 33 years later, is still healthy. she's alive and well after cancer. she survived weeks in the hospital, undergoing experimental treatment and major surgery. my mom is here for me because she lived through cancer herself.

you know, i never thought i would get breast cancer; i was certain, however, that i would get skin cancer. the year i turned 31. the age my mother was when she got cancer. that was the year i was sure it would strike me too. since i was a child, after my mom recovered from cancer, i've made regular visits to the dermatologist to get checked over. in fact,
after her recovery, she hauled my younger brother and i into her doctor's office and had every single inch of us checked. it's a ritual i have repeated many times as an adult, whenever i had health insurance.

my mom's cancer was stage-3 malignant melanoma. i was young but still remember it looked like a fat, black watermelon seed pasted to the back of her leg. mom isn't as fair-skinned as i am and as a teen in the 1950's, she tanned with baby oil and tinfoil, just like all her friends.

they didn't know then, the connection between tanning and skin cancer.

she spent several weeks in the hospital. her doctor had just returned from the cancer center in houston, texas with training in a new kind of treatment. basically, they took the blood out of her leg and for one hour, pumped super-strong chemotherapy drugs (pure poison, really) through those veins instead of blood. then another hour of pumping a cleaning solution to rinse out the chemo. finally, they put her own blood back in the leg. she was very lucky. the treatment worked brilliantly. and the cancer had not spread to her lymph system yet. the man who shared her hospital room died of the same disease. yet my mom walked out of the hospital that january day and has been cancer free for 33 years. you don't hear alot of stories like hers. sadly, we hear most about the ones that didn't make it.

i wanted to tell her story here because we all need more good news and she is an amazing miracle!

can you imagine how our lives would change if we had lost her to cancer? at the time, we were a family of four kids and at eight years old, i was the eldest. my baby sister was just one, still nursing. like many families, our mom was the emotional glue holding it all together. i remember it as a very lonely time. my did still had to go to work and visit mom at the hospital. thankfully, we were part of a very supportive church and those ladies came to our house everyday with food. they also cleaned and helped keep the house going. you can get too much of a good thing, however; i developed a life-long aversion to casseroles, the comfort food of the 1970's.

maybe it's because my mom has been through so much personal trauma that she is able to support me so well during my own crisis. that certainly is a factor. but a much bigger factor than her past experience, is her love for me. what an incredible blessing.

thanks, mom for being just what i need right now. i love you.


Anonymous said...

Moms can do it all. Hang in there.

michaelendo said...

I was in High School when my mom had breast cancer. She hid it from my brother and I (that probably wasn't hard considering i was a selfish teenager) She got through the chemo and has been clear ever since. And although she is still a smoker I admire her for not letting it effect her responsibilities and her family. I always thought that if I ever got cancer I would want to be that way. My mom is a huge inspiration for me.

Laurie Constantino said...

Wonderful post Tay. I've been off the computer working through my own issues, but have finally surfaced again. I've read through your posts and am sending your cells all the good energy I can.I particularly enjoyed the abundance check piece and this, your hopeful and life-affirming post about your mother. You WILL get through this!

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

You are so very lucky to have such a supportive mother! What I would do for a few ounces of that!!!

V Kingsley said...

I have often wondered at how it might have gone differently if my mother had been alive during the worst of my chemo.

As my sister would say (in a Maine accent): Hard sayin', not knowin'.