When I was in the ninth grade, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It wasn't uncommon then. It isn't uncommon now. But you really don't feel the wrath of cancer until it infects you or someone you love dearly.
When she was diagnosed, it was the unknown that we feared the most. The 50-50 surgery, the 50-50 therapy. It tore my father apart. He isn't as strong as my mom, never has been and never will be. He thinks with his heart, acts with his heart and is wholly controlled by it, too. I am 100% like him.
I imagined how life would pan out if she never made it out of surgery. Or if the therapy failed. I imagined my father burying himself deep into a dark depression he'd emerged from just years before. I imagined my younger brother, only 11 years old and very much impressionable at the time by those around him. He would later grow to follow in my mother's footsteps when it comes to rationale over emotion (though his irrational optimism is next level). But at that time, he was still a kid and I didn't know.
So I felt this weight on me that I wasn't ready to carry. That somehow it was me who had to stay strong and think with my head and not my heart. It was on me to keep it together.
Before we even knew what the answers were, I was ready to let go of the emotional baggage I carried with me into the hospital every day. That meant saying goodbye to people I felt were taking from my life and adding little to nothing. Not because they were these evil creatures, though at that age I'm sure I had to convince myself of it, but because I needed to be surrounded by only those who truly and deeply cared for me. If I'm going to be honest, that left me with only my blood.
I became a lot tougher on myself when my mom was diagnosed, but it started off in a good way. I learned how to prioritize my life and myself in favor of the bigger picture. I learned to be strong and confident and it's the only way I wanted the world to see me. I was critical of who I let into my life because I felt my life was getting more and more precious each day. I had fewer minutes left with the ones I loved most and I wasn't willing to waste a moment on anyone else.
But the side effect of trying so hard to appear strong and confident all the time is that you never really are. My shell grew harder and harder until only I could hear my own echoes.
Twelve years later, by the grace of God and medicine, my mom's still around, lively as ever.
But if she hadn't been, I feel I would've kept my heart closed for years to come. I would've never learned to fall in love again at the cost of being heartbroken and weak, or worse, of losing a piece of my pride. If she wasn't around, I don't know that I'd ever learn to see my accomplishments as truly self-satisfying.
In the past 12 years, my mom has given me the space to love myself again. The good, the bad and the downright ugly. She's taught me that the beauty in life isn't that it's short and there's too much to do before it all ends, but that it's short and we can't miss out on enjoying the little things because the little things really do end up becoming the big things.
I want to believe I would've been completely fine. But I just don't.
Love you, mom.
The #100daychallenge writing series is my way of holding my right brain accountable for all the brain fog in hopes that I'll learn to creatively organize my thoughts and learn something(s) new about myself in the process. The challenge includes prompts from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto's 642 Things to Write About. You can also follow my #100daychallenge here.