Cancer Sucks.

I just kept staring at those two words… little words, only three syllables, but with potentially monstrous implications. The words were on a button the surgeon was wearing on her white coat as she spoke to my mother following her double mastectomy. I was in a complete daze and on the verge of tears but doing my best to look cheerful and hopeful for my dear mother who was scared for her life and in a fog after having her chest carved out. My father was an absolute wreck. My much younger sister (a tender 22 years old) seemed to be handling it all better than I was. She’s an old soul while I can be an emotional basketcase (like my dad). Luckily, my brother is a doctor and, having seen his fair share of trauma as a cardiologist, was clearheaded enough to absorb what she was saying.

This was January 11, 2013. Two weeks and three days prior on Christmas night, my parents told us Mom had been diagnosed with cancer. I remember feeling like the floor fell out from under me as I watched my parents crumble in front of us. A malignant tumor in her left breast. Growing aggressively. Now visible with a glance in the mirror. Worrisome cysts and calcification in her right breast. Surgery. Double mastectomy. Treatment to follow. When? Where? Why??? Tearful questions and answers while my father, wracked with sobs, kept saying he wished he were the one with the tumor.

I could tell they were bracing for the worst. My beautiful, bright, and vibrant mother facing a health crisis.

We felt helpless. What can we do? We wanted her to have the surgery immediately, remove the evil tumor that was causing pain and hopelessness. But it was a holiday with another to soon follow, so January 11th was the earliest it could happen with hospital and physician scheduling… an interminable two weeks and three days.

I changed my flight to return to LA a few days later than planned so I could be home to support my mother and keep her spirits up. My brother and sister also changed their schedules. We hired a housekeeper so Mom didn’t have to think about dusting and scrubbing bathrooms. Sixty-three years old and the woman has never had a regular housekeeper. My uncle came by to take a family photo of us, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether that would be the last one. We coordinated with my aunt, who’s a nurse, so she could be with Mom after surgery when we all had to return to work. We watched funny movies and tried to take our minds off the dreaded C word.

So how did this happen? My mom takes care of herself, has zero cancer in her family that she’s aware of, and dutifully gets an annual mammogram every October. After this year’s mammogram, she was called to the back for an additional ultrasound. A few days later she received a card in the mail directing her to schedule a repeat mammogram in six months because of a small cyst the radiologist saw. But she felt something was wrong. She had pain in her breast that was increasing by the day. She could feel the culprit. Weeks passed. She called the doctor and was insistent about getting a needle biopsy. Tests came back positive for cancer and she was diagnosed with invasive lobular cancer in early December.

As we crowded around her hospital bed, I noticed the surgeon was smiling. “All looks good!” Really? It does? We had all been holding our breath. The cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes and the margins were clear. The surgery had been a success! Tears of joy and relief. We went from believing we may lose our beloved mother to feeling encouraged and tremendously grateful she’s got a second chance.

To me, she’s an extremely talented artist and has begun painting again. We’re planning a vacation with her this summer. Life is a beautiful thing and there’s a new appreciation for it in my family. I’ve always admired my mother for her wisdom and tenacity, but now I also see her as a shining example of why it’s important to always be your own advocate. Trust your intuition. We feel if she had waited six months as directed by the doctor, this story may have had a different outcome.

Cancer sucks. And we have to help one another do what we can to fight it and survive it.

 

15 comments


  • [...] Stars‘ judge Carrie Ann Inaba on May 11. Anderson will walk on behalf of her mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer late last [...]

    April 09, 2013
  • Lacy Knighton Shuman

    Still praying. So glad you all were able to be here with her. Hope you all have a great summer vacay together.

    March 23, 2013
  • Ani Babikian

    I lost my mom to breast cancer a year ago..I know all about the fear, it was my fear…I am nurse and was visualizing a lot of suffering when the doctor said the word cancer….and none of my siblings understood my fear.
    I feel you and pray for your mom and send positive thoughts to you , ur mom as well as your family.

    March 22, 2013
  • Scott Grissom

    Brooke,

    Last week I found out that my mom, 76, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s in TN I’m in FL. I Drove up last Friday to be with her for her first consult with a surgeon and oncologist. The hardest part was seeing how the woman who raised and protected me was so scared and there was nothing I could do to protect her. She has other complicating factors – Diabetes and Heart problems. She has a very tough road ahead. I appreciate you sharing your blog, sharing similar stories inspires hope!

    March 20, 2013
  • Maria

    Hi Brooke, Same w/my mom – went for mammograms every year. She ended up having 3rd stage breast cancer – She had her left breast removed and radiation only (due to her age, no chemo). She has been cancer free for 2 1/2 years now. Prayers for your mom and family and my mom, too :)

    March 20, 2013
  • Feldeen Walker

    Brooke, I was so sorry when I found out about your mom. It broke my heart knowing what all of you were going through. I kept in touch with Chelsea, Ray and Stacie for updates. So glad good news have been received. I have been praying for her and all of you. She has the best nurse ever. Debbie is the one I would want to be with me! Cancer is such an ugly word. I lost my baby brother to cancer. My brother, Glennis, has had colon cancer twice. He has been cancer free for many years now. Hope all is well with you and your family. Enjoy seeing you on tv. I tell everyone “thay’s my neice”. Love you.

    March 20, 2013
  • mel jeter. "melimel"

    Brooke, never in my wildest imaginings would I think Gigi and Papa would have to endure this frightening ordeal. Your mom is so vibrant and loving and beautiful!! I miss your parents, your brother, and my sweet sweet boys so much. Please give your entire family my undying love and support! Love, Mel

    March 20, 2013
  • Jennifer Mautz

    Oh Brooke, I am so sorry to hear this, but so thankful your mom is going to be okay and she went with her intuition and went back to get checked out sooner then she was told. I am glad you were able to be with your mom during such a difficult time. And you are right, cancer SUCKS! A girl in my mom’s group lost her battle with cancer 2 years ago and now her 2 sons are left without a mom… It is just so sad!

    And yesterday one of my dear friend’s mom found out she has breast cancer. I hope she has the same outcome as your mom.

    Continued prayers for good health for your mom.
    Thank you for sharing your mom’s story…

    March 20, 2013
  • Brandi Durrence-Perkins

    Brooke, I had tears welling up in my eyes as I read your post. I am so glad your story had a good outcome. Your mom is a very special lady!

    March 20, 2013
  • Karey Kennedy Hathcock

    Being that I moved away from Claxton many years ago, I did not know your mother had gone through this surgery. I have known your family for years. Your mother and family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

    March 20, 2013
  • Allison Gober

    Brooke, We have never had the chance to meet…but I am a fellow Miss Atlanta sister! I follow you on Facebook and when I saw your blog title come up, I knew I had to read. We just lost my Father-in-Law to colon cancer this past November; he was only 49 years old. He left behind a 48 year old wife, three children, and 4 grandchildren (one of which is my 2 year old daughter). And, I totally agree with you…CANCER SUCKS! We miss him dearly, but know that he is home with the Lord. I hurt for my husband, who lost his father, and my daughter, who lost her beloved Pop. I am so happy for you and your family that your cancer story had a happy ending. What a blessing and a chance to live, love, and laugh more with your cherished Mom. God bless, and I will keep her continued health in my prayers. Your Miss Atlanta family is very proud of you…keep up the good work out there in Hollywood :)

    March 20, 2013
  • Patrick Quinlan

    Brooke,
    I’m so sorry that your family had to go through this. Yes, cancer does suck but it sounds like your mother has defeated the beast.

    I’m praying for your family and a speedy recovery.

    March 20, 2013
  • Fiona Keegan

    Thinking of you and your family!! I am happy that things have turned out on the happy side! Thoughts and prayers.

    March 20, 2013
  • Johan Holmberg

    My thoughts are with you and I am glad to hear it all went well! Live life every day, that is important I think! And give your mother lots of hugs!
    ///Johan (from Sweden)

    March 20, 2013
  • Stephanie Dawson

    WOW! Brooke, I am so happy to hear your mother has a 2nd lease on life. You and your family are in my thoughts an prayers. She is a strong woman who has a wonderful family around her. I wish her many years of good health and happy memories!

    March 20, 2013

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