It seemed like it would make her die, just speaking it. So I didn’t tell anyone, not even my best friends. At school I would slip into a fantastical dreamland, nobody there knew that I should be troubled, pensive. I put on my best front and paraded around the school halls with some sort of smile plastered on my face. At lunchtime I’d stare at my food thinking that my friends should know. I thought of a million different ways to tell them. Each time that I came close to telling them, I would think about their potential reactions. There would be the normal lunchtime banter going on, complaints about the ranch dressing, and I would blurt out, Hey guys, my mom has breast cancer. The whole cafeteria would turn silent and the plastic forks would drop from their hands, making a sad little clinking noise. Then I would stare at my food mentally kicking myself for having opened my mouth. I chose to say nothing.
I remember very clearly the day that I went to go sit with her while she got her chemotherapy. I only did this once because it was too hard for me. I walked down an overly-lit sterile hallway trailing behind my dad. When we reached her room I wished that I could just keep walking, pretend I hadn’t seen her. I went in and sat down. Her shirt was partially unbuttoned so that the IV could be inserted into the porto-cath surgically implanted under her collarbone. She was hooked up to three different kinds of poisons, and one normal IV. There were some knitting things spread across her lap and the ever present bag of lemon drops was faithfully at her side.
Her head was laid back in the chair, she was tired. She and my dad tried to involve me in some nice chit-chat, I met and shook hands with the doctors and nurses, It’s nice to meet you Dr. McCoy. Yeah right. They complimented her on what a beautiful daughter she had. I blushed, smiled politely then excused myself to the bathroom. I wiped away my forming tears and gave myself a mental pep talk to be cheery. As long as I didn’t look at her tired eyes I was OK. Half an hour later, she was done and we got to go home. I stayed alone in my room that night.
Out of courtesy to my mom and fear that my friends would find out, I didn’t have them over to the house for a long time. I didn’t want them to notice anything, like the bottles of medicine all lined up at my mom’s place at the table. Each pill a tiny soldier waging war on my mother’s body. There were always huge quantities of lemons in the refrigerator. A friend would come over, Hey Karen, why so many lemons? It’s the middle of winter! I couldn’t risk having to explain to them that the taste of lemons made my mom less nauseous. The ceiling of the bathroom had hair on it. She tried so hard to camouflage her hair loss by blow drying her hair for over half an hour every morning. She would turn her head upside down, use some hairspray, then blow dry, then more hairspray and more blow drying. I don’t think she realized her effect on the ceiling.
Eight months after she had discovered the tumor, she was done with treatment. Eventually her hair began to grow back in. She and I played with new ways to fix her short hair and since it grew in curly, we referred to that phenomenon as, Post-chemo curls. We were both disappointed a few months ago when it dawned upon the two of us that the curls were finally falling out. So she got a perm.
I became best friends with my mother during the course of the cancer. I really grew up during those eight long months of fixing the family dinners, trying to be strong for her and trying to take over certain aspects of her role as mom when she couldn’t. I think that while hard to endure, her cancer has been good for the family. It pulled us all together when we needed to be a strong unit.
Today I think that all of us treasure more the moments that we have together. Instead of putting my feet down and complaining, I look forward to every Saturday that my mom and I go do errands together. After school some days I drive half an hour to go visit her in her office so she’s not lonely, and sometimes I bring a bag of lemon drops, our favorite candy.