About The Author: Unapologetically #TeamCheryl, Tiffany is the proud daughter of a courageous breast cancer warrior, Cheryl, who was diagnosed in February 2020. As a faculty member, Tiffany teaches at Gwynedd Mercy University in the doctoral program in educational leadership. In her free time, she enjoys CrossFit, weightlifting, yoga, and cycling to stay healthy. She also loves spending time with her family including her two favorite humans, her nephews, Cameron and Daulton.
(Pictured left to right: Tiffany, her mother Cheryl, and her sister-in-law).
Tuesday, February 18
Facing the Unimaginable
How do you feel the day before your mom is diagnosed with cancer? It feels like impending doom. What else could it be? Multiple masses all throughout her breast and lymph nodes. I can’t focus on anything. I can’t think straight. I did so much research last week, so much crying. I spent all weekend calling my mom and checking in. I went to breakfast with her on Saturday, then I sat next to her in church on Sunday. I spent the afternoon with her at my nephew’s birthday party. All that time—and it will still never be enough.
I’ve missed a bunch of responses I was supposed to give this weekend. In my head, I’ve said to every person who is expecting something from me “don’t you know that my world is about to change?” This a before and after day. This is a day from which my life will be different.
Right now, I have hope. An irrational almost magical hope. I have hope that the result could be something other than cancer. I usually appreciate the opportunity to know who the enemy is. What are we up against? What does she need to do? What do I need to do? But I can’t face it. My brain is foggy and my heart aches. I have this terrible sensation that she will be diagnosed in an advanced stage. I feel like you read so many cases where this happens to people who did all the things they thought they should do. Is this just ridiculously bad luck?
I lost a friend to breast cancer four years ago. Four months later, doctors found my first lump. At the time, all of my irrational fears and worries were focused on me, not on my mom. I can honestly say I never worried about her health. Ironically—I spent a lifetime worrying about my dad. I'd always say, "wouldn’t that be a kicker, all this worry about dad and something happens to mom?"
I know that parents get older. I know that parents get sick. Last week, I thought I was able to accept that. But this week after the news, my heart is broken in fear of loss. I’m overwhelmed by my sadness. I‘m paralyzed by my fear of the future. I'm not even putting one foot in front of the other right now. I’m curling up and dying inside. I told my mom I need this time to grieve so that by Wednesday, I’m ready to fight. I’m ready to be clear-headed. I’m over the crying. I’m not shocked.
Sunday, February 23
She was diagnosed with breast cancer this Wednesday. At first, I was relieved that the initial diagnosis wasn’t worse. But then I realized it’s cancer, it’s going to be worse. We have to wait to find out what to do. And her cancer is probably genetic so now I’m at major risk. I'm scared for her. I’m scared for myself. I can’t focus and I can’t concentrate. All I can do is clean. It’s mindless and it helps me feel in control.
As I was cleaning yesterday, I realized that disbelief is such a privilege for those who are not broken. I questioned so much about faith. When you're faced with unspeakable sadness, faith seems like the only thread holding you together. I cry about my mom. I cry about Leslie. People are checking in. Their kindness is overwhelming. People love my mom. Somehow that makes me feel safe. I do not feel strong. I feel weak. I feel frail. I feel like I’m sinking and I cannot believe how quickly my life has changed. When my worry is so huge, I cannot even start to think about little things that bugged me before. It's even hard to write.
Saturday, March 20
The Things That Don't Matter Anymore
Remember when the broken tile mattered? Remember when I had the privilege of caring about things that didn’t really matter? The little, annoying things in life like the crooked tile in our newly remodeled bathroom that brought me so much stress 2 months ago. I laugh now thinking about how simple life was before my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve accepted the broken, crooked parts of my life as a representation of who I am… the tile in our bathroom… the front door knob… all crooked. Feels so appropriate because the more I try to control these things, the more their brokenness and crookedness begins to show. It isn’t perfect. Nothing is perfect.
I can’t help but appreciate the time I’ve been given to spend with my mom, to take her to appointments, to be with her through treatments. I’ve read that cancer is only a chapter, it isn’t the whole story. I’m working on my broken faith—I’m trying to heal my disbelief. I am trying to seek hope. To view the world differently. It is funny how grateful I can be looking out from my crooked lens.
Good and Bad News
The cancer journey has so many ups and downs. I keep waiting for more bad news… I figuratively walk on eggshells waiting for more news. So far, the only devastating news is the growth of the tumor. My mom has been getting the best worst news as far as I can tell. The doctors are confident in their treatment. They have a plan. I am breathing again.
We received a call from the genetic counselor this week. My mom does not have a genetic mutation that is likely to cause cancer, which means I don't have it either. It was a huge relief. My parents called on FaceTime to tell me. When they said the words, "it's not BRCA," I screamed… tears flowed out. I heard my dad subtly laugh… Because he knew how much I was worried. It felt one of those videos that parents take of their kids when they tell them they are going to Disney world. Except for me, Disney World was learning that my genes weren't trying to kill me.
My mom starts chemo on Tuesday. I have hope that it will be manageable. That she will feel constant support from friends, family, and strangers. I hope that she can rest. She can heal. And she can recover. I hope that we can go through this storm, appreciating the beauty in the brokenness. Looking for unexpected joy along the way.
Friday, August 18
My mom has cancer. I tell myself this every day. It’s not like I forget, but I feel like I try to say to see if it stings any less—it doesn’t. My mom finished chemo on Monday. It’s been a long road, 20 weeks, 16 infusions, one CT scan, 2 MRIs, 2 ultrasounds, and countless weekly blood panels. She made it this far. As of two days ago, there is no evidence of disease. Her MRI was clear. Why can’t I be ecstatic? I am still terribly afraid. Cancer doesn’t have integrity. Like a corrupt politician, it doesn’t come straightforward with its prognosis. It lingers, it hides.
She'll have surgery in two weeks. We continue to hope that the pathology following surgery will show complete pathological response from chemo. Only 37% of women receive this news. Less than 4 out of 10. With this finding, there is a typical 90% 5-year survival rate. Without CPR, the TNBC survival rates I’ve read are only about 76%. I keep telling myself that rates are for groups not for individuals, and that each woman’s diagnosis, biology, recovery time, and survival rates are different. My war-torn faith received a boost this week. I do feel that a clear MRI is a sign of hope. Despite holding my breath for 6 months, I am doing okay but I am almost afraid to exhale. But as my Aunt Char wrote — sometimes, I need to just breathe.
If you are looking for more resources on how to support a loved one with cancer, check out our other blogs:
- 13 Ways To Help A Loved One With Cancer
- Gift Ideas For A Patient Undergoing Chemotherapy
- Online Support Groups For Cancer Patients And Caregivers
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