Cancer Affects Us All

When I was 15, I lost my first aunt to breast cancer.  She was diagnosed on October 2, 1992 and fought so hard.  She received a stem cell transplant back in the days when it was a relatively new treatment option and eventually went into remission.  But it came back with a vengeance and spread to her spinal column and brain and after this second battle with cancer, she passed away exactly two years to the date of her original diagnosis on October 2, 1994.

I was only 13 when she was first diagnosed.  Looking back I see how immature I was, how I didn't fully grasp the severity of the situation.  My aunt was also my godmother and the closest adult to me other than my parents.  She had never married, but she treated all of her nieces and nephews as her own and spoiled us rotten.  She was the person I turned to when I needed an adult other than my parents to vent to.  Honestly most of that teenage venting was about my parents.  So when she was diagnosed I knew she was sick, but I didn't realize that it could possibly be a death sentence.  My mother is the youngest of her siblings, seven girls, and I remember her crying uncontrollably for days, lashing out at me for not showing enough emotion that first day.  I was in 8th grade at the time and I had been planning to go to the local high school football game and when I didn't change my plans she was mad.  I was stupid.  I was young.  I didn't realize then how much she needed me.

I remember there were weeks when my mom wouldn't be home because she was either at my aunt's house or the hospital taking care of her.  And I lashed out.  That she didn't care enough about me to be home; two of my other aunts were there to take care of her, why couldn't she come home?  God, how awful I acted back then.  It still didn't hit me that this was the end, that my aunt might actually die and that she needed my mother more than I did.  I look back now and regret that outburst, for the burden it put on my mother, on my aunt.  Now as an grown woman with two kids, I can see how heartbreaking it must've been for both of them to hear me upset about something that was so small compared to the battle they were fighting.

In July 2009, four months after my first daughter was born, my second aunt passed away from cancer.  This time it was ovarian cancer.  She too had never married, but she loved us all and took care of us all.  She was the caretaker.  She took care of all the kids, she cooked us wonderful meals.  Nobody could cook like she did.  I spoke at her wake, and I was so thankful that she was able to meet my sweet baby girl before she left this world.

In September 2012, my third aunt passed away from lung cancer.  She never smoked a day in her life, so it was a shock to us when the diagnosis came, just days after my youngest daughter's first birthday.  She had just retired from years of working.  Her and my uncle were supposed to take the time to travel and enjoy life.  She volunteered to be my on-call babysitter for the kids.  After my first aunt's passing she had become the matriarch of the family.  To say her sickness was a blow to the family is an understatement. She had been coughing and having some shoulder pain, but her doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong.  Then the coughing got worse, blood was coughed up and they x-rayed her chest.  There were countless tumors throughout her lungs.  The cancer and tumors so aggressive, they took her from us just months after her diagnosis.

And my mother.  She was there with all of them as they took their last breaths on this Earth.  She has lost three of her big sisters to this horrible disease and had a front row seat as they battled with all their might.  As terrible and heart-wrenching the pain I feel for their losses, I know it cannot even compare to hers.

Anyway, I do have a point.

When I lost my first aunt to breast cancer, one of my childhood best friends Jen, also lost her aunt to the same disease that same year. And at age 25, just three months after her wedding, Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer. Triple Negative breast cancer, so aggressive and so "special" it was almost unheard of in someone so young.  After chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation, she beat cancer. Now, 12 years and three kids later, she's found a new calling to help those that are struggling with their own cancer battles; to help them know they are not alone. She created By Your Side as a reminder to all that "together we are made stronger."

Please check out her new site and read her amazing story!  I wear my BYS bracelet for my three aunts who passed away from cancer, for three of my best friends' mamas who are survivors, and for my friend Jen... I stand by your side and am so proud of you!

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