Cancer…it’s still personal

Posted by on Apr 28, 2011 in breast cancer, emotions, Inspiration | 20 comments

Two years ago, I wrote a post about breast cancer and the fact that it was personal. Very personal. I want to share a portion of that post today and also add a few thoughts. The reason? It’s personal. Again.

Location: Department Store dressing room stall. Circa: late 1960s, early 1970s.

The characters: Me and my mom.

Scene: She is covering herself as she removes her shirt. I notice the scars. Lots of scars….to the side of one breast. I meet her eyes and she meets mine. Then I learn what the term ‘ breast cancer’ means.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 30. Thirty. Even today, less than half of women under the age of 40 are likely to develop breast cancer and the majority of cases are diagnosed after the age of 50. So, imagine the shock. What’s more, imagine the time. 1960… when breast cancer awareness wasn’t at the fore and people didn’t discuss it, when breasts and surrounding muscle were literally hacked off rather than carefully removing the tumor with clean margins, when many men left their wives after they became disfigured.

My dad didn’t leave. And my brother learned about it through a ‘friend’ in school who was teasing him.

I’ve spoken to my mother about her cancer, about the fear of it returning, and about how she feels about not being able to wear sleeveless tops or strengthen/firm those muscles even though she has exercised regularly her entire life. How she felt when my brother came home from school and asked her about it. How she feels now when a friend is diagnosed with cancer. Her answer is always pretty much the same.

But cancer can return. And even though this time it’s not in her breast, it looks like she’s may go down that road…again. And my heart is breaking. Because the fear in the tone of her voice says more than any words can.

She is afraid.

I don’t blame her. I would be afraid too.

Only this time? She’s 80, not 30 and although she’s tough as nails and very, very active, cancer has an insidious nature, sometimes too insidious. And even though in my heart of hearts I believe that she will be fine, I still feel awful about it.

In the past two years, I’ve had two friends who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, not for the first but second time. Recently, another close friend developed a very rare form of cancer and despite its severity, emerged in one piece and better than ever. Others in my life are four-, five-time survivors. Hell, even my dad has had bladder cancer since the early 90s. People survive. People move on with their lives. And yet sometimes, we lose people that we love.

Although it may be too early for a Mother’s Day post, it’s never too late to let someone know how you feel about them.

So Mom?

Thank you. The relationship has been a difficult one for most of our lives, threatened by personality and character and actions and words. Often, this road has not been an easy one. But you brought me into this life and I want you to know that despite all, the forks we’ve taken to get to this place have converged and our road is paved with mutual love and respect. I. Love. You. That is all.

And the cancer, I am not certain of the outcome this time. But I am certain of one thing: a mother’s love, and my mother’s love, is one of the most important gifts.

This one’s close to the bone. It’s close to my heart. It’s personal.


  1. 4-28-2011

    Thank you for sharing that story. I don’t know of one person whose life, directly or indirectly, has not been touched by cancer.

  2. 4-28-2011

    Wow. Very inspiring words. 30 is so young to have cancer…

    • 4-28-2011

      Very young Ashley. And at a time when we didn’t know very much. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. 4-28-2011

    Dear Liz,

    This is a beautiful love letter to your mother and a poetic reminder to all of us who watch those we love negotiate the terrifying and debilitating road cancer offers in its myriad forms.

    Most of us are surrounded by cancer these days as our family members, friends and colleagues learn that they too are battling the disease. Your post is a gentle reminder of the fact that people do survive, do go on to celebrate days and events and long lives and do triumph over the disease–even as they experience the pain, anguish and terror…

    Thank you for sharing this and much love to you, your mother and your family. We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers and go forward with the assumption that your mom will not only survive this bout, she will triumph.

    • 4-28-2011

      What beautiful words Allen. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and my sharing this post was truly a way for me to start to embrace what has been a difficult relationship in so many ways.

  4. 4-28-2011

    Incredible mother. Incredible daughter. You know, I know exactly how you feel. It’s a feeling of hopelessness in many respects. My mom and I have had a rocky relationship for as long as I can remember. Damn cancer has brought us closer. Hugs to you, Liz. Give your mom 3 big hugs from me…please!!!

    • 4-28-2011

      Thanks Jennifer. You know exactly how I feel then. But at the end of the day? She gave me life. I’d like to provide her with the same support.

  5. 4-28-2011

    It’s close to my heart, too, Liz. Thank you for telling us more about your story. With love to you and your Mom.

    • 4-28-2011

      Thanks love. I know it is. Hugs to you.

  6. 4-28-2011

    I’m sorry that she’s facing cancer again, and that this is happening now. Hoping the best for you and for her.

    • 4-28-2011

      My little sister. Thank you. Your words and prayers resonate deeply.

  7. 4-28-2011

    Cancer, this insidious disease, seeps into our bodies and our fears, generation after generation. I’ve lost a father, a husband and too many friends to count to cancer, and now I’m the survivor… at least for now.

    My best to you and your mother,
    Brenda Coffee

    • 4-28-2011

      Thank you so much Brenda. I am sorry for your losses. Sending you the best.

  8. 4-28-2011

    This is a beautiful post, Liz. Thank you. I have sons, and take pains not to expose them, but I fear we’re all scarred.

    I hope your mom’s doing OK now, and you too.

    • 4-28-2011

      Thanks Elaine. We shall find out tomorrow what’s what hopefully. Meanwhile, thank you, as always, for reading.

  9. 4-29-2011

    Liz–beautiful post and I’m so sorry you and your mom are having to go through this again. I will be keeping her in my thoughts. And kudos to you for being able to embrace a less-than-perfect relationship and love your mom for who she is.

    • 4-29-2011

      Thanks so much Maggie. It’s a shame that it takes something like this to realize that we are all human. But I am grateful that I did.

  10. 4-30-2011

    Deep,heart felt and caused me to be reflective. Hugs to you Liz during this time. Thank you for sharing with us. I know this feeling all too well.

    • 8-17-2011

      Thank you Katherine.

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