My mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer.
If you just whispered, “Oh, shiiit,” you’re not the only one with that reaction.
But, that was a few weeks ago. The whole thing turned out to be the best possible scenario – they caught it early, and she won’t need chemo or even radiation. Once she’s healed up from the lumpectomy, we can kind of pretend this whole thing never happened.
Except that it did.
It turns out that I’m the official family Cancer Sherpa. As Cancer Sherpa, I know what stuff means and how things generally work. I’m the one who explained what margins are in terms of removing a tumor. I know things. I’m like a very sick version of Liam Neeson’s “I have a very particular set of skills” character.
The whole thing revived the latent PTSD I have from my mom’s breast cancer. You know, that cancer that I like to pretend never happened, except that it did? The cancer that now, with a mere 16 years of distance, we can all agree was horrific?
It’s a fine line between sharing my experience and telling stories that aren’t mine to tell. I hope my MIL doesn’t mind that I share her diagnosis. And I hope my mom doesn’t mind that I tell you how even now, even after the dust has long since settled, I am still traumatized and terrified by what she went through, and the scary times our family faced.
My mom is a badass. I think I’ve covered this. But it’s still hard to believe that we are living our lives as if we’re normal, everyday people. Sixteen years ago this summer, my mom was pretty sure she wasn’t going to make it to Christmas. The rest of us didn’t want to entertain this possibility, even though it kept knocking at the door.
Mama was given an 80% chance of reoccurrence. She had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. She went into heart failure on the table. Her body rejected some of the transplanted tissue.
She told me recently that she still can’t believe she went through all that she did. And I opened my big dumb mouth and said, “Well, it’s not like you were just going to lay down and die.”
She could have. But she didn’t, because that’s not who she is. And I’m glad.
She’s said that she knows she’s a bit overzealous when it comes to her new grandbaby. But she explained that she never thought she’d see my brother graduate high school, much less get married or do something totally insane like become a parent. And so, she celebrates.
We’re shell-shocked, if we’re being honest, even 16 years later. But we celebrate.
And so, I’m celebrating for my MIL, and my sweet husband’s family. I will be your Cancer Sherpa, and share what I know only if you really need to know it. Right now, what you need to know is that it’s OK to be upset.
But I highly recommend celebrating.