my mother is my hero

Each year, months are designated to support different types of cancer to raise awareness and funding for research.

My two favorites are September and October.

September focuses on Childhood Cancers, some of the most underfunded cancers that need more attention and financial support. October focuses on Breast Cancer awareness, which receives a ton of attention and millions and billions of dollars in funding. It hasn’t always been that way and I’m hoping that with the increased attention that Childhood Cancer has been getting in recent years that one day we can say that Childhood Cancer and Breast Cancer BOTH receive millions and billions of dollars in funding each year.

Until then I’ll keep promoting both.

It’s Personal.

What I CAN say is that Breast Cancer is a personal issue for me…really for my mother.

I will never forget getting the phone call from my dad to tell me that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It wasn’t something readily discussed 17 years ago so it was not only a shock to my emotions but also to my brain. What was this? What caused this? What will this mean for my mom? For my parents? Will she live? How are the different stages defined? What kind of breast cancer is this? What will my mom go through? What will my dad go through? Will my sister and I get this too? There’s how many types of breast cancer??

A lot to digest. A lot to understand. But I wasn’t the one that went through this. My mother was. She was the one that had to fight this disease and beat it.

When I heard.

I had just turned 20. I had just moved out and was living in my first apartment. Life was fun and carefree…life didn’t have speedbumps…but my mom’s life was getting ready to. My dad, my sister and my mom lived this every day and I have struggled with a touch of guilt for not being there for my parents and my sister every day like I would have been if I had been living at home. I know though, that there’s nothing that I could have done differently had I been living at home as well.

It was my mom’s battle to fight. Not mine. Not my dad’s. Not my sister’s. And I know we would have each taken it on so that she wouldn’t have to fight it, but we couldn’t. We could be there for her to make her laugh or show her that we needed her to hang around a lot longer or to show her that life keeps moving and she had to be the referee for the rest of her life, between my sister and I (politics + family + different views = mom’s refereeing). We couldn’t take the pain away and as much as we wanted to help, we didn’t have a clue what she was going through.

The fact that my mom can’t eat red jello to this day just shows how powerful a memory can be. The red in the chemo pumped into her each month took away something as small, yet as normal as being able to eat what she wanted, when she wanted. And it’s not that she loved red jello…or red koolaid…or red anything…it’s just that this disease that she didn’t invite into her body by recklessly smoking or drinking or anything else, caused her to reject even simple things, red things, reminders of the taste that the chemo leaves in your mouth or the weakness that it causes.

She was robbed of the small things and the big things.

Things like feeling like a woman, a wife, a mom. Things like her hair…and in case you ever wanted to know (lol), Dennis women have fabulous hair and skin. We don’t even have to really take care of it much more than the once a day wash and rinse and it turns out fabulous…because of my mother’s (and grandmother’s) gene’s.

Yet, my mother had to face the fact that she had to shave her head. She had to lose her hair. But thankfully, her loving husband, my father, was there with her when she discovered that it was coming out, on vacation, and he shaved it for her so that she could wear some amazing wigs that she searched for, researched about, paid top dollar for, and had cut similar to her hair style.

One of my favorite memories of my mom at that time, is that one day she informed us that she had been told that many times when hair grows back after falling out from chemo, it will come back in completely different than before.

And so the prophecy was fulfilled. Her hair came back in kinky curly…the same hair that she had wanted my sister and I to have for our entire childhood (and the perms that just went bad…really bad), she received. I was kind of excited that what she had always wanted for us, she received (and not for payback, I promise :)).

And as always, she made the best of every situation…she was super excited about the curly hair and she swore that she was going to go ‘au naturale’ and not ever dye her hair again.

Six weeks later (and she’ll probably tell me I’m wrong on the length of time), she died her hair back to her ‘natural color’ (aka – the color she really liked at the time). And it was fabulous because I saw a spark in her again because she, then, really felt like she was ‘herself’ again.

Fast forward six months…just six months…and she found out that she had another form of cancer that had been caused by the follow up drugs used to help keep her breast cancer at bay. How hypocritical is that?? We’ll treat your chemo and keep it away by giving you drugs that may cause more cancer in a different part of your body??

So more surgery but luckily no more chemo.

Then regular visits to her doctors to see if everything was gone. Every six months, she kept her Dr. appointments and would sit with baited breath to make sure that the cancer was still absent from her body.

And it stayed like that for a long time!!

Strength.

Fast forward years, and years, and breast cancer walks, and more breast cancer walks and fundraisers, and then more years…and then they found more in the other breast.

This is strength. She defined strength in this moment.

She barely told a soul. She accepted it quickly and quietly and made decisions swiftly and with a confidence that I hadn’t seen the first time. She went in, had the other breast removed; had reconstruction done; recovered; worked through her recovery; held my daughter through her recovery…and showed me what strength is. Showed her granddaughter what strength is. Showed everyone how tough and amazing she really is.

Doing what you need to do, to get things done that you want to get done, for the people that you live for…that’s strength…that’s my mom…a Breast Cancer fighter and survivor.

She gives me strength like no other woman ever could. I hope to set the same kind of example for my daughter one day (except I’ll pray to skip the cancer part :)).

Love you Mom!

Donate to something today…My favorites are:

Chicago Marathon Fundraiser for Camp Sunshine – Rachel N. Jones

Camp Sunshine – Benefitting Family with children with life threatening diseases

Breast Cancer Fundraising – Susan G. Komen

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no more pity parties

Oh. My. Goodness. Did I have a pity party for myself or what a couple of weeks ago!?! I needed to express my frustration and my anger about my current situation dealing with the Irish Idiot (my husband) and thank goodness my mother is a saint because she got the brunt end of it simply because she happened to call at just the wrong time. She let me have my moment, which was very kind of her, and then afterward I collected myself, apologized, and kept moving.

It’s been three years since I was a single parent and it’s tiring. My daughter has now hit the world record in the number of times a child can say “mom” without taking a breath and I’m convinced that the boys are determined to draw blood from each other this summer. And I’m drained and stressed and emotionally a wreck. So I broke down and had a pity party…a six hour pity party. At roughly the six hour mark, I had had enough and I stopped, took a deep breath, prayed, and decided to keep chugging along at my new life.

That day was kind of a turning point for me for some reason. Every day since, I’ve had moments during the day that could have caused another break down, but I’ve been able to keep it together and not focus on the rough stuff and focus on what I do have. Trust me, it’s not easy at all, but I have to for my sanity and for no other reason.

It’s easy to get sucked into yourself and the situation that is looming over you, especially if you work from home or are a stay at home mom and/or wife. When you see the same four walls every day, you forget that there is life outside of the house but having other distractions that can really help you through the rough stuff.

So today, I’ve decided to preach to you the need to stop the pity party, especially if you have a divorce looming over you, as I do. And this is why…not because what you are going through isn’t tough and horrible, but because there really are things happening in your friends or family’s lives that really are worse. It’s all about perspective.

This week I spent some time with a friend that is dealing with some tough stuff with her son. The school system is failing him and it’s heartbreaking to hear her tell the story because there’s not a lot that she could do, at the time, to help her son. When you’re a parent, the last thing you want is to see your child hurting and you can’t do anything to fix it. After listening to everything that they are dealing with and the lifestyle changes that they are making in order to cure a problem that should never have been there to begin with, I realized that I would rather deal with my Irish Idiot any day than to see any of my three kiddos experience pain that I can’t fix.

That’s perspective.

Now, let me contradict myself, after telling you to remind yourself that there are people going through worse things than what you are dealing with.

I love my best friend. She’s wise beyond her years. I met her, as a volunteer, at a camp in Maine, Camp Sunshine,(https://www.campsunshine.org/) whose sole mission is to provide an opportunity for children that are experiencing life-threatening illnesses, and their families, with the opportunity to rest and enjoy relaxation and recreation…and just be a kid and have fun without having to explain why they don’t have any hair, or why they are in a wheelchair, or why they can’t shake hands or give hugs to anyone. It’s an incredible experience for the families and even more so for the volunteers.

When you volunteer, you are bound to walk away understanding the value of life, family and a smile. You also are reminded how incredibly great your life is, even when you go home to the rough stuff. Knowing that all three of my kids are happy and healthy, is so much more than what these families can say. And for that I thank my lucky stars.

When I was going through my divorce, my best friend called me one day to tell me that one of the children that she had become close to at camp had just died because of their cancer. When my phone initially rang and I saw her name pop up, I was thankful because I thought I was going to get to unload on her all about what my ex-husband had done that day. Instead, I did my best to console her.

I made the statement that what I was going through did not even compare to the loss of a child…and then she said the most comforting thing that anyone has ever said to me. She told me that it’s ok to feel the way that I felt about my situation…that everyone is handed different things in life and it’s ok to be upset even if you think that it’s small in comparison to the tragedies happening in families, each moment, all across the world. She told me not to be ashamed to be upset for what I’m going through, even though I wanted to diminish my emotional mess after hearing what this family was dealing with.

So in one breath, I’m telling you to feel your pain and in the second, I’m telling you to not throw a pity party and then sit in your pain forever.

I had to feel the pain that my marriage is causing me, deal with it, accept it, and then choose to keep going with life. It’s hard to say that because it sounds like I’m saying it is simple, but trust me, it’s not. I have to force myself to take each step, every single day.

My point, is simply don’t get stuck in step 1: feeling the pain. And I have to remind myself of this every darn time that my husband is in the house and sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I’m not, but each day gets a little better. I do celebrate with a little fist pump when he leaves if I’ve either been successful at not letting him get to me or if he does push my buttons, I celebrate if I’m able to collect myself quickly.

Get out of the house every once in a while. Break your routine so that you have to focus on something new. Have coffee with a friend that you haven’t seen in a while and don’t bring up anything about your issues until you’ve really listened to what their life story is at the moment. It really will help you gain some perspective on your situation.

For more information about Camp Sunshine if you are interested in volunteering, donating to, or attending as a ‘family’, visit: https://www.campsunshine.org/. It’s an incredible experience and life changing in so many ways.