October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and if you couldn’t tell my blog is dressed for the occasion. This is an important month for not just me, but our whole family. Over two years ago our mother was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. The diagnosis would not only change our mother, but our family forever.
I will always remember the day that we found out about her diagnosis. We had known for a couple of weeks that there was something there after a routine mammogram. We knew something was there, but we didn’t know exactly what it was or whether or not it was cancerous.
On March 2, 2012 we found out. It was cancerous. I remember the phone call I got from my parents while at work. While I was in shock and trying to process exactly what was going on, I will always remember the calm in my parents’ voice. My Mom ended the call by simply saying, “we all have to go at sometime, if this is my time so be it, my life is firmly in the Lord’s hands.”
The faith of my mother and knowing that if this is how she left this mortal existence she was fine with that. But, early on she also told us all that she would fight no matter what. This gave not just me, but the whole family much comfort.
I had no idea how much my running would be involved in my mother’s journey. I was still a fairly new runner, but her diagnosis gave me even more reason to run. It gave me a different perspective into my running. When I would get discouraged and want to give up, I knew I couldn’t because my Mom couldn’t just give up when it got too hard.
She was my inspiration to keep going.
During her treatments I was also training for my first marathon. There were plenty of times I double guessed myself on whether or not I should postpone the training to be around my family during her treatments. But, I knew that was just an excuse on my part.
I knew I had to run it … for her.
So I worked towards my goal of running a marathon. I dedicated my runs to my mother. I even started raising money for the cancer hospital, Huntsman Cancer Institute, where my Mom was having her treatments done.
I even got a little bit of press because of it, because I did a fundraiser leading up to the Salt Lake City Half Marathon. If I raised $1,000 before the race I would run the race in denim. Like, all denim. Denim pants, vest and other accessories.
Needless to say, I actually reached that goal in about a week. And, ended up raising over $2,000 for the hospital. It was an experience I had a lot of fun with … and … consequently I also ended up running a lot of my races that year in denim shorts (I found them oddly comfortable and “supportive”).
But, as inched closer to that marathon the harder it got, but I knew. I KNEW. I couldn’t give up. Especially seeing my mother courageously fighting cancer. Not just with gritted teeth, but with a smile and cheerful attitude.
I didn’t know it then, but it was that cheerful attitude and smile in the midst of adversity that would change my life. Seeing that reassurance that all was going to be okay in the end gave me the go ahead to enjoy life even more. Cancer would never win with the right attitude in tow.
This attitude of my mothers’ infected the rest of the family. Fear and uncertainty gave way to smiles and appreciation for life. Not only that, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many boob jokes thrown around than during my Mom’s fight. Knowing my mother you would know this would have never flown a mere six months prior.
But, there is something transforming when you truly grasp and realize your mortality. Life really is a gift. You can’t take it for granted. You can’t let grudges, hatred or fear inject life with it’s ugly poison. There really isn’t time for all that. You’ve got to focus on others and those that you love and the relationships that bind us.
That’s the beauty of life.
I didn’t think my family could have gotten any closer, but we did as we rallied around my mother. My sisters and Aunt took her to her appointments and spent night upon night in the hospital after surgeries. The rest of us “tried” to manage the house as best as possible with her away. It was a new and awkward experience for all of us.
And, among this time my sister also got married. What was potentially a very stressful situation, it turned into a great celebration and moment for our family. Just having our mother there and in relative good health was a blessing. My sister even incorporated pink into her wedding colors.
For my mother the journey still has it’s ups and downs. She is officially in remission, but still dealing with post-mastectomy reconstructive surgeries and the like. In total since her diagnosis she has had 11 surgeries. Most are small, but a few of them required multi-day hospital stays. Once again the family rallied, the girls stayed with her, while the guys tried in vain to keep the house in somewhat acceptable condition.
In retrospect, I look back to the past two years and give thanks to my Father in Heaven. I feel EXTREMELY lucky that this disease didn’t take my mother. At the same time I know that this disease claims many mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers. And, I pray for those who suffer.
Really, if it wasn’t for the faith of my mother and the use of running as therapy, I would probably have taken a much different view of this disease. Cancer sucks. It really does. But, it’s also a great teacher and in a way … a blessing.