By Kasey Burgan—
No one thinks that cancer will affect them.
I was one of those people. I had heard about the terrible disease called cancer. I had seen the television commercials for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and Cancer Treatment Centers of America, like most people who watch TV have. However, I never thought much of it. I didn’t think that anyone I knew could ever possibly be diagnosed with cancer.
Until April 18, 2015. That day, I went home for employee training at my summer job. Afterward, my parents picked me up and took our family out for lunch. During the meal I started to notice that my mom was acting distant, like something was wrong. I brushed it off for the time being, mentally noting to ask her later what was wrong.
When we got home that day, my mom disappeared. Then, I knew something wasn’t right. I asked my dad, and he said she would talk about it in a bit. Ten minutes after that, after I had let the dogs out and back in, my mom came downstairs and called my brothers and me over to the living room. That was when my life took a turn.
“I have cancer,” she said through tears.
In that moment, my heart stopped; I think I may have stopped breathing. My eyes filled with tears, and even my brothers started crying. She explained that she got a call from her doctor on April 7, who told her that she had stage one invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer, with a small tumor around two centimeters wide. She said her first chemotherapy session was to be on Thursday, April 23, but she didn’t want to go through the emotions of losing her hair.
“That’s what I’m most worried about, is how I’ll look without hair,” I remember her saying. So that day, she got her hair cut into a pixie style.
I don’t think I stopped crying that entire weekend. I don’t think I stopped crying the following week. A lot of times, I found myself asking, “Why her? Why the most perfect, selfless, loving person on the entire planet?”
Her first chemo came and went, and I think that was when it really hit me.
Something changed in me as I watched her go through her chemo sessions, which were scheduled every three weeks on Thursdays. As I watched her go through the pain of nausea and lightheadedness and hot flashes and aching and losing her taste buds, I knew that the only way I would survive the summer was by having a positive attitude. If I looked at this situation with the glass half full, with the sun shining brightly upon us, I knew I could get through it.
By my mom’s third chemo treatment, her oncologist couldn’t even find the tumor. Of course, we went out that night to go celebrate, but the fight was far from over. With three more chemo sessions, multiple surgeries and an additional medicine to be injected for six months after the surgeries on the horizon, my mom was ready for battle.
She went into her remaining chemo sessions like a champ. I watched in complete awe as she maintained her positive attitude, even on days when she felt the worst. Not once did she stop smiling. On her final day of chemo, my brothers and I joined our parents at Texas Oncology, where we took turns sitting in the infusion room with her as she was treated. I remember near the end of her last bag of medicine, she turned to me and said, “This is it.” I felt a wave of happiness wash over me as her machine beeped, and her nurse came over with a smile. I may have cried a bit. After watching her go through terrible pain over the summer, I was so relieved and joyful that the hardest part was over.
After each cancer patient at Texas Oncology finishes their last chemotherapy treatment, they get to read a poem and ring a bell as the nurses throw confetti over them. Before my mom got to do this, the nurse told her to wait a minute and she left, only to return with all of my mom’s friends covered in pink from head to toe, holding banners that said “Team Alexis” and “#FoughtLikeAGirlAndWon.” Of course, I bawled like a baby as she read her poem and rang the bell. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.
Since then, my mother has undergone one of two major preventative surgeries. She also has to have additional treatments similar to chemo (but without the side effects, thankfully) for six months. This medicine is a target drug that will target any other places in her body where cancer could develop. With luck, she should be crossing the pink finish line next year. She has kept a smile on her face the entire time; she truly is the strongest person I know—my hero.
Recently, she received a call from her doctor. I was home from school at the time of the call. Only she and my dad knew the reason we went out to breakfast to celebrate “something.” When my mom proposed a toast, she started crying. “I got a call from my doctor today,” she said. “I am officially cancer free!” I have never cried so many tears of joy in my entire life.
As I watch my mom go through this journey, I’ve learned a few things from her. First, people are always there to help you, even if you don’t realize it. Second, you can handle anything. You’d be surprised how much you can endure. And finally, live for the moment. Life is too short to be caught up in the past or with your problems. Tomorrow is another day, a fresh new start. Seize it, and live for the moment.
Kasey Burgan is a sophomore public relations and event management major from Forney.