Parents Worry About Their Kids with Breast Cancer
I’m in an airplane, 30,000 feet up in the sky, somewhere over North Carolina. Hazy summer air sits like a damp blanket over the indistinct landscape below. I imagine farmers, roofers, kids playing, all simmering in the relentless humid heat I’ve just left behind at my mom’s house in Florida.
Summer in the South brings two thoughts to mind: thank God for AC, and I can’t wait to get home and breathe some cool air.
Flying always feels like taking a big giant step between distinctly different parts of my life. I fly occasionally for business, leaving Vermont in a late-winter blizzard and arriving in Chicago on a bright, Lake Michigan-blue spring day.
Or I lift off in an absolutely perfect northern New England June dawn, all lilacs and pink-tinged clouds and a lingering chilly snap in the air, a reminder of why I don’t put my fleece away till Father’s Day. And step off a mere four hours later in Florida, into record-breaking 97°F temperatures and humidity so high it feels like I’ve put my head over a whistling teakettle and left it there.
The change of weather is a marker, reminding me (as the mere passage of time can’t) that I’m a thousand miles from home. And, visiting Mom, I’m a daughter again… though increasingly now, I’m also a mother. It’s the sandwich time of life: mother on one side, son on the other, me in the middle, reaching both ways.
We had a discussion, Mom and I, about worrying. My son, the perfect 21-year-old combination of naïve innocence (about his own future) and skepticism (about mine), has reminded me often that worrying is a complete and utter waste of time.
“Mom,” he’ll sigh patiently, with that slight roll of the eyes revealing his mental superiority. “When you worry about things you can’t control, what does it accomplish? All you do is make yourself unhappy. Don’t worry about something unless it happens. And then if it does, DO something. When you come right down to it, there’s really no reason to worry, ever.”
I repeat this to Mom, and she and I look at each other and say, in tandem, “Wait till he has kids.”
When I ask Mom what she worries about, she says she has everything pretty much under control, anxiety-wise, except me and my brother. She’s been worrying about us for over 50 years, so I guess it’s a hard habit to break.
We’re both happily married, me and my brother, Mike; we’re gainfully employed, and healthy, in a day-to-day sense.
But each of us has a life-threatening health challenge: he, high blood pressure and a devastating car accident that’s left his health compromised in a number of ways. And me, breast cancer.
Simply put, Mom doesn’t want us to die before she does. She’s already been through the death of a child, as well as her husband of 50+ years. Her goal, now, is to die before her remaining children do. To avoid the worst pain a mother can feel.
I call my brother, reminding him to exercise, to cut back on the calories. “Don’t you dare kick off before Mom does,” I tell him, only half-jokingly.
Me? I tell Mom I’m fine. The mammogram was negative. The six-month checkup showed nothing but blue skies. I’m 5 years out.
And besides, with the treatments they have these days… well, don’t worry, Mom. Just don’t worry.
A cancer recurrence can’t be controlled. It’s a roll of the dice; random. Which of us will live for 40 years beyond cancer, just barely remembering those harrowing days? Which of us will hit the 5-year mark and believe she’s home-free, only to feel that tell-tale lump 6 months later?
We can only stay positive, and hope. That we’ll outlive our parents. That we’ll live to see our own children grown.
And that, if cancer returns, we’ll beat it again.