Editor's Note: This article was originally published in October, 2011.
A few years ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I remember the phone call. She found out on my birthday, January 11, but waited until the next day to tell me as to not ruin my 21st birthday. I woke up that morning to a phone call that would change my life.
"They found a lump. It looks like I have breast cancer," she said.
I froze, and then kicked into "what do we do now" mode. I remember my mom detailing what the next steps were, but I don't remember actually hearing them. She seemed so calm, so I tried to do the same. But when we ended our call, it all came out. The prospect of losing my mother was suddenly too real for me to comprehend.
And after an entire day of selfishly laying on the couch in my college apartment in a zombie-state, alternating between crying and sleeping, I realized that it was not just my life that had changed. All I wanted to do was jet up the Turnpike to hold my mother's hand.
When I finally did get home, the amount of support that poured from every corner of my family's life was unbelievable. Our refrigerator was stocked, our phone was ringing off the hook, and my family had kicked into battle mode. My father, sister and I were determined to help my mother beat cancer. But not as determined as we soon realized she was.
My mother went through over a year of tests, surgery and chemotherapy. She visited the hospital weekly, lost her hair and bought a wig, and went on disability from work. And during the entire episode, not one complaint came from her mouth. My mother became the definition of strength and determination. And we rallied around her in awe.
Today, we count my mother as a survivor. I think back and thank her friend that made her go for her annual mammogram, which allowed doctors to catch her cancer at stage zero. I thank her nurses and doctors for never making my mother feel like just another patient. I thank our family and friends, who literally helped us with anything my mother needed, whether it was home cooked meals after long days at the hospital.
But most of all, I thank my mother. With all of the medicine and all of the tests, I will always believe it was her strength and courage that made her a survivor.
I sat with my mother on several occasions during her chemotherapy sessions. The nurses loved her, her doctor loved her, and her positive outlook was contagious. But as I looked around the treatment room, I realized how many people were there alone. It made me wonder how many people did not have a support system like the one we had built.
Cancer is the scariest thing my family has ever tackled, but we were lucky enough to do it as a family. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I encourage people to reach out to those you meet who have been affected by any cancer, and create a net. It can be a net of strangers or family, but no one should ever be alone in the battle.
Organizations like Stomp the Monster and Goals for Life raise money to support those in need. If you need help, reach out. If you can help, reach out.
If more people had support to give them strength, I truly believe there would be more cancer survivors in the world.