Daughter, supporter, companion
ABOUT ANNI, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- I grew up in Maryland with my single mom and my older brother, Chris. My mom did everything she could to ensure my brother and I had a good life.
- 20 years after her first diagnosis and 13 years after her second diagnosis, my mom was telling me about her third breast cancer diagnosis.
- My mom is my biggest hero: a strong woman, a fighter, and a motivator.
- We enjoy hanging out, shopping, and traveling together when she feels up to it. It’s very important for us to share these new experiences and create new memories.
Breast Cancer Through A Child’s Eyes
I grew up in Maryland with my single mom and my older brother, Chris. My mom did everything she could to ensure my brother and I had a good life, and I had an extremely happy and pleasant childhood.
Honestly, I’d be lying if I said things changed when my mom was first diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. I was only five years old and it is incredibly difficult to explain breast cancer to a five-year-old. Naturally, I did not understand how serious it was. All the adults got across was “Mommy is sick, but we’re doing everything we can to make her better.” Well, that sounded fine to me! If no one showed any major concerns, why should I?
My mom’s cancer was removed via a lumpectomy and for the next six years, we never thought about it. We just continued living our lives. But things changed when I was 10. I was diagnosed with scoliosis and as it grew increasingly worse, it was suggested that I get surgery.
During this time, none of us knew my mom’s breast cancer was forming again in her left breast. Her oncologist found the recurrence in February 2001 and my mom sat my brother and me down to tell us the news. Being so wrapped up in my own impending surgery, I really didn’t give it much thought at the time. My mom had beaten breast cancer before, she was a survivor, and she didn’t make it sound like a big deal, so why should I be worried? Looking back, I wish I had been more considerate. I realize that she was probably scared, but hid it from us so we wouldn’t be scared as well. She ended up getting a bilateral mastectomy that May, one month before my back surgery.
My surgery was the week after school ended and I would be out of commission all summer to recuperate. Recovering with my mom that summer was actually somewhat fun. We stayed in the house relaxing and supporting each other. It was great to have her company.
In the years following my mom’s bouts with breast cancer, I did a lot of growing up. I eventually moved to New York City at the age of 19. I was close enough to Maryland that it was easy to coordinate bus trips to see family.
A few years ago, my mom told me she’d noticed a sharp pain in her mouth. My mom went to two dentists over the course of two months and neither could find the cause of the pain. When her shoulder started hurting as well, she went to a slew of other doctors who still could not find anything wrong. Eventually, her neurologist suggested she go to a medical center. It took another four months to get an appointment there, but when she saw the doctor, he reassured her that “we will find an answer.” He even contacted our health insurance to convince them that she needed a CAT scan, which she finally got, almost a year after feeling that first pain. Within days, the doctor called to say her oncologist would be in touch. At this point, my mom realized her cancer was back.
That Christmas, she sat me and my brother down to tell us she had breast cancer again, but this time it had moved into her bones. Mom made sure to tell us it wasn't bone cancer, it was legitimately breast cancer. I assumed that wasn’t possible due to her mastectomy, but it was.
So, after two diagnoses, my mom was telling me about her third breast cancer diagnosis. This time felt immediately much heavier. I had a much better understanding of the disease and I was scared that this was something that could very likely kill my mother.
Choosing To Be A Caregiver
All I could think about was how much regret I would have if I wasn’t there to enjoy my mom’s company while she still felt healthy. My mentor in New York told me how much he regretted waiting to move back to be with his parents, and that his father had ended up passing before he could see him again. I knew then I had to move back to Maryland.
Of course, my mom would never have asked me to do this. She’s always putting everyone else before herself. Even when she told us about her diagnosis, she was more concerned about us not being worried. She made sure we knew the plan of action that both she and her doctor fully supported.
Hopeful About IBRANCE
My mom took IBRANCE and letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor. Her doctor talked to her about possible side effects to look out for. They did regular lab tests to monitor her condition, and she worked with her doctors when she experienced side effects, including tiredness and low white blood cell counts. The doctors were happy with her results. But just remember that this is my mom’s experience. Other people might have different experiences, including other common side effects like infections or nausea. My mom is no longer taking IBRANCE with letrozole and is now receiving a different treatment.
Although my mom has cancer, she still drives, cares for herself, and stays very busy. I am so incredibly happy that my mom is so active, though she also gets equally as tired.
It’s important to know your limits with your body, which my mom has gotten very good at. If we’re out and she needs to sit down or stop walking, we stop. I think she’s doing a great job with this balance.
We enjoy hanging out, shopping, and traveling together when she feels up to it. It’s very important for us to share new experiences and create new memories.
Deep down, there is always a fear that lives inside me. When it becomes overwhelming sometimes, I talk to my friends and family, who are great supporters. You really have to take it one day at a time. If you live every day in fear, you’re not really living and enjoying the time you have. I remind myself how lucky we are that my mom has a great healthcare team working with her who are invested in her and value her health. It gives me hope.
My mom is my biggest hero: a strong woman, a fighter, and a motivator. I’m so proud of her for keeping her strong beliefs and positive spirit for all this time. She has shown me that you can't give up on life no matter the situation. Because when you’re dealing with cancer, hope is all we can ask for.