Column: A daughter deals with a mothers cancer news

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 17, 2007

By Sarah Kirchner, Guest Column

Growing up you never think anything is going to happen to your parents. All the talk about the different kinds of cancer, yes it made me nervous, but I never thought it would touch me personally. I don&8217;t think anyone ever does.

It was like a blow that came out of nowhere.

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I had recently &8212; within the past few years, well, since college, actually &8212; begun worrying about my mother&8217;s health. She doesn&8217;t exercise, she doesn&8217;t eat right, she has smoked since she was 16 years old, and I was convinced she was going to get diabetes or have a heart attack. What I wasn&8217;t expecting was breast cancer.

When Mom turned 50 in July she told me this is a weird year for her. When she was 24 &8212; my age now &8212; and her mother turned 50, her mother had an aneurysm and died, alone, sitting on a step, holding recently folded clothes.

That story makes this year weird for me, too. I can&8217;t imagine my life without my mother, so I have been walking on my tiptoes, waiting for bad news, ever since she turned 50. Then it came.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of August. She told me and my younger sister over a now rare family dinner.

I sat there, stunned. My sister didn&8217;t seem to react, but she doesn&8217;t usually. To this day, I still wonder how she&8217;s taking it.

But I just kind of sat there, my mom and dad looking at me. Later Dad said my mom was worried about how my sister and I were going to take the news.

At that point I decided there was nothing to worry about yet. There was no bad news, just unnerving news. There was no death sentence. Everything, at this point, was fine.

Talking to my dad about the issue later that night, I wanted to see what he felt because he is my realist. He doesn&8217;t really talk about things, either. He and my sister are two of a kind. But so I went to him, seeking reassurance. He is of the medical profession, has been a registered nurse for almost 25 years. He confirmed my notion that, at this point, everything was fine, there was nothing to freak out about yet. My mom isn&8217;t dying.

But there was something in his tone, something in the look on his face that showed he was just as scared and nervous as the rest of the family, that he, too, was worried and wondering what he would do without my mom. I don&8217;t think anyone wanted to think about that. It was that look that made me nervous, not the way my mom told us or the idea of my mom having cancer. It was that look my father gave me, without knowing he was showing emotion, one of the few times I could actually see it.

So my mom&8217;s doctor found a lump, and she was going to the Mayo Clinic the next day to get a mammogram and find out exactly what was going on.

Many tests were done and my mother and father met with many doctors. They biopsied the lump and took X-rays to see if it was in fact cancer.

About a week after the nerve-wracking dinner conversation, my mom called and said it was in fact cancer. The lump was malignant and there was some suspicious looking tissue leading from the lump to the nipple.

If it hadn&8217;t been for a regular exam, my mom&8217;s lump may have grown larger and the situation could have been much worse.

My mom was supposed to have surgery on a Thursday. The Wednesday before, she had more meetings with more doctors and more surgeons that only proved to frustrate her and my dad and confuse them more.

There was talk about doing only a lumpectomy and proceeding with chemotherapy or only doing chemo to try to shrink the lump.

In the end my mother decided to go with a mastectomy, scheduled for the following week, to get it all out so that she wouldn&8217;t have to worry about making that decision after other efforts failed.

We &8212; Dad, Mom and I &8212; were in the hospital at 7 a.m. that Monday morning. The surgery went fine and she wasn&8217;t in too much pain. Dad and I &8212; and my sister, who came later &8212; stayed with Mom until 7 p.m. that night. We laughed and talked and shared jokes.

She came home the next day &8212; staying in the hospital for less than 36 hours &8212; and has been off work since. She said she&8217;s been doing OK and is surprised with the amount of people who have told her their story or sent food over or just showed up at her house to say hi.

She isn&8217;t sick, or isn&8217;t showing signs of being sick. I think that is fortunate for all of us. That would make this situation harder.

Still, I don&8217;t like hearing about how upset she gets sometimes, or the fact that she has been emotional about having cancer. I don&8217;t like to hear because it isn&8217;t something I can fix. But I listen, because that&8217;s what good daughters do and that&8217;s what she needs. I want her to feel better, and if she needs to talk about it, then I will listen.

I could have killed her, though, when she told me she felt the lump a year ago, but it didn&8217;t occur to her that it could have been cancer. In this day and age when cancer is on every talk show and in every women&8217;s magazine, how could it not occur to her that a breast lump might be cancer?

Who knows how this will affect our family. This for sure isn&8217;t the last we will see of breast cancer. Mom goes in for chemo therapy on Friday and will soon be heading toward radiation. She says she&8217;ll be bald by Thanksgiving, so we are going to learn fun ways to tie scarves. Her hair is blonde and in a pixie cut already, so there shouldn&8217;t be much difference, right?

One of my worst fears is seeing Mom sick or ailing. I&8217;ve never seen her like that before. My parents are still 118 in my mind. Even now that I am in my 20s, I have yet to see them come down from the pedestal I put them on when I was a kid.

Her chemo therapy, I believe, will be hard for me. But what doesn&8217;t kill you only makes you stronger, right? Through all of this, I believe my family &8212; and particularly myself &8212; will emerge stronger.

I think one thing we learned through this, even though it is far from over, is that breast cancer is not a death sentence. Women can live without breasts. It may be difficult to deal with, but it is possible.

Sarah Kirchner is a reporter for the Albert Lea Tribune. Her parents live in Mantorville. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.