Mother’s Day

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Me, my mom and my younger sister, 1985?

For many years now, Mother’s Day has been a difficult holiday for me. I lost my mom about a month-and-a-half before Mother’s Day 2000, and since then, the day has been a yearly reminder of the huge void in my life.

But over the past few years, I’ve slowly started to change my perception of this day.

In the decade since I met my husband, I’ve joined him in celebrating his mother, my now mother-in-law. From pretty much the moment I met her, she has treated me like a part of her family. And while she’s not a substitute for my own mom, she has become someone I depend on, confide in and love as I would my own mother. I am so grateful to have her in my life.

I’ve also been so very fortunate to have a circle of lifelong friends whose mothers I consider second-moms. I grew up in these women’s homes, and they’ve rallied around me when my mother passed, when I got married, when I had a baby and when I faced cancer. The love these women have shown me over the years makes my heart swell, and I am so thankful to have the kind of friends who gladly share their wonderful mothers with me.

I’m also truly blessed to have an older sister who’s shown me what it means to be a great mom. Dawn is 14 years older than me, and she’s raised two intelligent, kind, successful women, instilling them with a sense of confidence and a strong faith that sustains and guides them. When I think about the kind of mom I want to be, I often look to her example.

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Me and my sweet boy, photo by the amazing Jordan Brannock

And, of course, the biggest and best thing that has changed my feelings about this day is becoming a mother, myself. My son is my greatest gift, my greatest achievement, my greatest love. He fills my heart with a feeling of pure joy and love that I never thought possible. He inspires me to be a better person, and he makes everything I’ve endured over this past year worth it.

Is Mother’s Day still a hard day for me? Absolutely. I will never stop missing my mom, and the hole that her loss has left in my heart will never be filled. But I know that I am lucky to have some incredible mothers in my life, and I have the opportunity to be that for my son, and for those things I am forever grateful.

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Lucky

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It feels kind of odd to say this considering what I’m going through right now, but I am a very lucky person.

No, I’m not generally the one who wins the big giveaway, and I’ve been in a lottery pool for years and have yet to hit it big.

I guess lucky isn’t exactly the right word. Fortunate might be more correct.

When I got my cancer diagnosis, I felt just the opposite. I felt marked. Cursed. Unlucky.

But then a strange thing happened–the outpouring of love and support began to wash over me.

In the days, weeks and months since my diagnosis, I have experienced a level of love and support I never thought possible. From the unfailing love of my husband and family to the constant cheering of close friends to the unrelenting support of my coworkers to the texts, emails, cards and Facebook messages of former coworkers, high school classmates and friends-of-friends, the level of love, kindness and concern I’ve received has truly humbled me.

At first, I didn’t really know how to handle it. I got tired of people constantly asking how I was. I even had the audacity to complain about all the attention (I know, could I have been a bigger, more ungrateful brat?). But once I got over the initial flurry, my heart just swelled with the love I’ve felt from others. It has moved me to happy tears more than once, and it continually restores my faith in humanity.

Whether it’s a container of homemade soup from a dear friend, or a comment from a complete stranger on this very blog, these gestures mean so much to me. They help me get through the rough days, and they remind me that there are so many good people in this world, and I am so very lucky to know and be touched by so many of them.

Birth Day

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Our first family photo

Two years ago today, my baby boy was born.

Like most parents, I cannot believe how fast the time goes. It feels like just yesterday that I was pregnant. Looking at this photo, it’s hard to believe that little peanut is now a rambunctious two-year-old boy who sang “Happy Birthday” to himself this morning.

I remember the day he was born so vividly. I was three days overdue and was induced because they didn’t want me to go too long past my due date because of my age (35 is ancient in child-bearing years). The labor process via induction was long and painful. At first, very little happened. Then I got pitocin and the doctor broke my water, and things got real (and by real, I mean seriously painful). Contractions on pitocin are no joke. After laboring for a while on my own, I could no longer take the pain and got an epidural (a magical, wonderful thing).

Even after all that, he wasn’t progressing enough, and my blood pressure was rising, so the doctor made the call to do a c-section. I was disappointed because I wanted to do it on my own, and also afraid because a c-section is fairly major surgery.

But, it all went well. Even though I was terrified, the moment I heard Alex’s first cry made every bit of it worth it. I relived that moment this morning as I held his wiggling toddler body as he slept next to me in our bed, marveling at how much has changed in just two short years.

So, happy birthday to my sweet boy. I love you more than you will ever know.

 

Family Ties

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I’ve been thinking about family a lot lately.

A week ago I got the news that I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, also known as the “breast cancer gene.” This name is a bit deceiving, as this gene (along with the BRCA1 gene) is linked to a number of cancers, including ovarian, pancreatic and prostate. Everyone has these genes. And when they work correctly (i.e. do not have a mutation), they act as tumor suppressors, essentially keeping our own cells from going haywire and growing out of control, causing cancer.

Not realizing there was more to this “breast cancer gene” than breast cancer, I was honestly totally surprised to have tested positive for it because no one I knew of in my family had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I shouldn’t have been. Both my maternal grandmother and great-grandfather had pancreatic cancer (among other types). While I remember my grandmother finally succumbing to the effects of liver cancer, that was not where her disease initially began (especially since liver cancer is generally a secondary cancer, having spread from elsewhere in the body).

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Me, my mom and my sister in the ’80s.

My mom died 16 years ago in a car accident at the age of 53. I think she always sort of felt like she would end up getting cancer (both her parents died of it; my grandfather had melanoma and lung cancer). Since there is pretty much no history of cancer on my dad’s side of the family, it’s almost certain I inherited this mutation from her, and she from her own mother. Knowing what I know now, I’m pretty sure she would have developed cancer in some form by this point, had she lived. Sometimes I almost feel grateful that she was spared that and died instantly and painlessly.

Being that I lost my mom and both my maternal grandparents relatively early (I was 7 when my grandmother died, 12 when my grandfather died and 21 when my mom died), and I have so few relatives left on that side of the family (just an aunt, uncle and my sister), I’ve always felt like that part of my family is sort of an enigma. I have lots of questions and so few people to answer them. I wish I’d had the forethought to ask my mom things before she died, but I was so young and wrapped up in my own life that those sorts of things never really came up.

My sister is going to be tested for the gene mutation. One day, my son will, as well. I’ve notified my uncle, so if he wants to, he can get testing, too, as can my aunt. I hope and pray none of them have it. There’s a 50/50 chance that they did not inherit it (each gene has two parts, one from the mother and one from the father, so my grandmother could have passed along the good side from her mother, and my mother the good side from her father).

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to fighting cancer. I am grateful to have this knowledge on my side. But, it has changed the way I look at my family. I feel like we’re all marked, cursed in a way, passing this dreadful disease down through the generations. My only hope is that I’m the last one.