As we wrap up our month long tribute to breast cancer awareness, our final story comes from our very own Director of Operations, Jen Kelly, who shares her own personal caregiver story. Thank you to all of our guest bloggers who wrote guest posts for us this month. If you haven’t read them, please be sure and take a look.
Countless cancer patients across the country have been inspired by the song by Rachel Platten, Fight Song. This was my Mom, Linda’s, theme song throughout her inflammatory breast cancer battle for her life. I never truly identified the appreciation and a fight for life until I walked beside by Mom during her battle with cancer.
Every year we looked forward to our beach vacations. The week was filled with waves, laughs, relaxation, and togetherness. On a warm and beautiful day of our annual beach vacation in August 2014 we were playing in the warm ocean and enjoying relaxing time when I noticed a red rash on my Mom’s chest. We dismissed this as being something biting or irritating her in the ocean.
Upon returning home, my Mom visited her general practitioner and was treated with a topical cream for 2 weeks. By week 3 her breast had severely enlarged, the rash became much larger across her skin. Mom was sent to the dermatologist who took a skin biopsy. One morning when my Mom called, as we always talked every morning, she said I went to the doctor for a biopsy and I will get the results later this week. On Wednesday she called again and said, “Hello kiddo”, with a fallen hushed silence on the other end. I let her know that she didn’t need to say and that I would immediately leave to drive from my home in West Virginia to her home in North Carolina.
The whirlwind that begins when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer means you immediately need your running shoes. We started with back to back appointments with an oncologist, radiation, MRIs, additional mammograms, port insertions, surgical biopsies, and coordinating chemo treatments– all within a 3 day span of time. Life as you know it is not the same.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) – what is this type of cancer? What is the best case prognosis? The more I read the more I told myself and my Mom – Don’t listen to the odds!!! Every life and every fight is unique.
All my Mom wanted when she was first diagnosed and throughout her journey was to enjoy life in the ways that she always had such as her working on her beautiful landscaping, volunteering at the Meals on Wheels program, and continue working. The physicians all assured Mom she would be able to as long as she could and she did exactly that. She pushed herself from September through May to go to work even on days when she had to be driven home from almost passing out at her desk from pushing herself to be helpful in the world. She would ride along with her best friend for meal deliveries, and still continued to be positive about what she could give and make a difference in this world.
Throughout September through June my Mom received the highest possible cocktails of chemo including horrendous the red devil, numerous radiation treatments, and then finally surgery. The side effects such as neuropathy became almost debilitating. After the mastectomy in June my Mom thought she was in the clear and could begin the upswing journey of gaining her strength and independence again. All indications showed the cancer would be gone.
IBC is a terrible cancer as you are constantly battling your skin, open wounds, and dealing with the spreading through your tissue, lymph nodes, and the high probability of it becoming metastatic. Mom’s did in fact become metastatic right before our eyes with such ferocious intensity that it spread like wildfire. Did it ever go away? Was it always hidden there and we didn’t know it had spread? How could my Mom that fought so hard and was determined to beat cancer now have this terrible beast consuming her body.
Seeing my Mom who had always been a strong independent woman be consumed by cancer was the most difficult event of my life. She led the entire journey with such strength, determination to live life, and pushed herself daily to do whatever her body would allow her to do. Mom always had constant hope no matter what the circumstances. Even at her darkest days of drug side effects she still managed to laugh, joke, and always ask about others well being. All around her felt a joy from being around her and felt uplifted even when they thought she was the one battling cancer and needed uplifted.
In August 2015, we were driving on our way from North Carolina to West Virginia through the beautiful Appalachian mountains and reality sets in regarding her prognosis for me. Any treatment that will give days or months will be valuable or is that going to be way too much to endure. Do you choose treatment to prolong life or choose treatments to live longer? Mom always felt like she had so much fight left in her body and truly believed she would beat cancer.
Being a caregiver, I watched daily as I was slowly seeing Mom dwindle away, life leaving her body. I remember the day looking at her eyes and seeing the sparkle gone. The glimmer of hope was gone. She didn’t say that she knew she was dying and was still ready to go for chemo treatments. Regardless of what we thought or didn’t say out loud, a physician never said the prognosis was not good or to give up. We decided a physician doesn’t really know and they never want to give up hope either. Mom never gave up!
My Mom, Linda, passed away on October 25, 2015. She never said she was dying, never talked much about dying, and I don’t consider it denial. I consider it choosing life. The battle was never over for my Mom and she would say to anyone on their cancer journey that there is always hope, always life to live, and always a way to laugh in the world. Make every day special and always remember how precious life is as you never what tomorrow holds. Remember that each of us have our Fight Song!
I appreciate being offered the opportunity to write about our story in tribute to Mom and best friend.
Thank you Jen for sharing your inspiring story!
If you have a story to share with our readers about participating in a clinical trial, overcoming adversity or living with a chronic condition, please let us know. We’d love to have you guest blog for us. Guest blogging helps others outside of your disease area learn about your struggles and discover your passions. We will help promote your website and social media accounts, as well as your favorite advocacy group. Contact us to get started sharing your story now!