One is never fully aware of cancer until it affects someone they know personally. We all know someone who has been affected by it. However, it just doesn’t hit home until that one person you knew one way begins to slow down, goes bald from chemo, fingers get dark from neuropathy, has scars from surgery, and gradually become a shell of the person you once knew before the end in many cases.
July 2011: I am living in Buffalo taking care of my family as my wife Timile is undergoing chemotherapy treatments. She was diagnosed as stage four February 23, 2011; nine days after our daughter Cydney was born. It had been a rough time; but we were making it and Timile was actually beginning to do better. Her cancer which metastasized all over her body had been localized to just being the tumor in her lower esophagus. Things were starting to look up.
One evening I got a phone call. It was my father. I don’t remember his exact words because they don’t matter. He told me that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and she didn’t want to tell me. In spite of what she had just heard she was still trying to be my mother by not giving me anymore bad news at a really hard time.
Within five months I became a father, the love of my life is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and so is my mother. That’s a lot for anyone to handle. At twenty-five years old I was barely a man myself and was virtually forced to become someone thirty years older than I really was. There was to time to process things of grieve. I had to keep it moving.
I remember being in the car driving somewhere with Timile and Cydney when my father called. I told Timile right away and I could see her feeling really bad and as much as possible trying to be there for me. She suggested that almost right away we should drive down to New York to see her.
Sometime in August I recall being on the phone with my mother. She was just venting to me about how she felt. She didn’t want to do surgery. The idea of possibly having a mastectomy was devastating. In theory, I understood because to her it meant losing part of what makes her a woman. We talked for a while; well she talked and I listened. By the end of the conversation I said to her something like “Look, I understand. Be thankful that surgery is an option. What I wouldn’t trade for surgery to be an option.” She was silent. It was one of those moments when I had really felt life was about to be different. Keeping it real with my mother based on my own experience was one of those moments that made me realize I was a grown-ass man.
Moving back to New York shortly before Timile died was hard. It was difficult to relive what I just went through immediately after Timile succumbed all while fighting to get my daughter back. The silver lining was that all that I had been through made things a little easier for her. If she needed to talk to someone I understood and could tell her about the process. When something new came up I was able to relate as much as humanly possible.
As I had said before, my mother was still trying to be my mom by looking out for my mental well-being. I may have driven her to surgeries; but she knew I couldn’t really visit her in the hospital. I just couldn’t do it.
My mother didn’t want me to take her to chemo, either. That was probably the most emotionally experience for me. It was May 3, 2013 and I had just met a girl about two weeks earlier. We were going out on our second date within three days and something inside of me felt like she was someone special. My mother knew that this was a big deal and offered to watch Cydney after she had chemo. She was adamant about me not taking her. Her plans had fallen through and I had to do it. Watching her get hooked up, her metaport being flushed, and sitting in that chair that I had done every two weeks for six months two years prior was hard.
While I was in the present moment with my mother I had flashbacks of sitting with Timile. I laughed and joked with her through it. The moment had felt like life was coming full-circle. Here I was sitting with my mother undergoing a process that reminded me of how I lost my partner…in order to begin the process of my own healing and moving on. It was as if God was giving me a mental and emotional cup-check before I got back in the game. By all means it was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually taxing. But through the whole experience I mostly thought about how excited I was to see the girl in a few hours thinking she must be some kinda special for me to go through this…
It is October 7, 2014 and my mother is cancer free and is celebrating another birthday. It’s her first birthday without her mother and I’m sure that is on her mind. But I know one of the reasons that her mother stayed around as long as she did was that she wasn’t leaving earth until her oldest daughter was out of the woods. That’s what mothers do.
Because my mother is going through her own personal struggles she can’t and isn’t always available; but I know in her own way she is doing the same for me. I may not be a mother but as a parent this experience may have been one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned from her. The other day my mother told me out of nowhere that God doesn’t give people what they can’t handle and that this road that He made for me was because I could handle it. My daughter by all means is a firecracker and handling her under such circumstances means God must think pretty highly of me.
Happy Birthday, Mom.