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The News That Changed Me

by Gina M.

I am 45 years old and after a double mastectomy, chemo andnumerous reconstructive surgeries, I am now proudly a 6-year breastcancer survivor.  I'm not going to write about my experience because inmy eyes, it is my daughter's experience that is most moving.  My 17 year-old daughter Katie wrote the following essay last April, which marked the month of both her 17th birthday and my 6-year anniversary of being cancer free...both of which occur on the same day.

It was a feeling that knocked the wind out of me, just as if my body hitthe ground hard and I was incapable of explaining what hit me. It’s afeeling that to this day I still cannot explain.

At the age of ten I was enrolled in Holy Family Cathedral School locatedin the city of Orange and was a part of Mrs. Secondwarfs fourth grade class. One day - a day that changed my life forever - I saw my worldcrashing down around me and I had no control. I was only ten years old.  How could God let this happen to me?

That day had started out how it always had. I woke up, got dressed, brushed my teeth, brushed through my long hair and headed downstairs togreet my mom and eat some breakfast. My mom had on the news as she didevery morning and she greeted me by saying her famous line, “Good Morning Lovebug”.

Although used to it, to this day I can still feel the warmth in my heartwhen she calls me Lovebug. My mom and I have been on our own since I was three. My parents divorced then and although I see my father every other weekend, my mother has pretty much been my sole provider of both shelter and knowledge. The two of us make the perfect team.

When my mom was done getting ready we got in her Hyundai and set off forschool. We discussed my spelling test and reviewed the words one lasttime after having practiced them together the night before. When we pulled into the drop off line, I quickly kissed my mom goodbye and ranoff in the direction of my class. Looking back on this moment, I wish Ihad cherished that kiss a little more. When I arrived at the door to myclass, I quickly rushed inside and saw Mrs. Secondwarf getting ready to announce the words for our spelling test. I felt more than ready. As shecalled out the words, one by one I knew each word! I was on fire and Ijust couldn’t believe how well I was doing. I thought to myself, Imight get one hundred percent, (which didn’t happen everyday for me). As she said the last word for the day my heart froze. Success.

I had studied it so many times and just I couldn’t for the life of meremember how many darn S’s there were. Mom used to use funny sayings to help me remember how to spell different words, and I can’t remember atime that her clever rhymes didn’t help me during a test. However this word just wouldn’t come to me!

When the teacher asked us to put our pencils down it finally hit me. Momtold me to double the C and double the S. That’s how you spell success! I jotted down the word as fast as I could and flipped my paper over justas she was about to collect it. I felt so proud of myself and couldn’t wait to tell my mom.

When Mrs. Secondwarf finished collecting the tests, we headed outside for P.E. and that was followed by math. Soon it was lunchtime and if anyone knew me they knew I would be at the basketball courts. Upon returning to the classroom we tiredly sat down all sweaty and dirtylike fourth graders are and began reading our books. This was my favorite way to wind down from a good game of basketball.

We finished the day with some religion which was a subject specially taught at our school.  Being a catholic school we had the privilege of learning a little more about God. If I had known what was going to happen that day, I would have taken His words in to consideration a little more That day’s lesson attempted to teach us that God never presents us witha situation that we can’t handle and that we need to trust in himalways by letting him guide us. I understood what the teacher was sayingbut I had no way of connecting it to my life. Little did I know that trusting Him would be the only hope I had left to hold on.

Before my teacher let us out for the day, she handed back the gradedspelling tests and I was so amazed. I got a hundred percent with asticker on top that said good job. I couldn’t wait to show my mombecause I loved making her proud.

As we headed out of the classroom some children were immediately greetedby their parents, others excitedly ran to the drive through pick up lineand the rest headed to the room where we had afterschool daycare. I was part of the afterschool daycare, so I headed off in that direction withsome of my friends. When we arrived at the daycare building I was surprised to see my mom waiting for me outside the room. I was so happy
to see her. She never came to pick me up early so this was a very special surprise for me. She greeted me by saying “How was school Lovebug?”

I replied with “Good, but why are you here?”

She explained to me that my grandparents (whom I called Grandy and Papa) would be meeting us for an early dinner at a restaurant in Orange called Moreno’s. I always called it the ivy restaurant because the whole placewas covered from top to bottom in ivy leaves. As we headed to the restaurant my mom seemed a little distracted. I ignored it thinking it was nothing and told her about my grade on my spelling test. Like I expected she was happy for me and told me how proud she was. It made me feel great inside.

We pulled up to the restaurant and I still noticed that my mom seemed as though she had something on her mind. This thought immediately ceased to bother me when I saw my grandparents standing by their car in the parking lot to Moreno’s. I hadn’t seen them in a few weeks so I was excitedto see them and catch up on all we had missed.

After many hugs and kisses were exchanged we strolled into the restaurant and were immediately seated. We decided it was the perfect day to sit outside so we returned to the fresh outdoors as we followed the hostess to our table. When she left to get our refreshments, the look on mymother’s face displayed an expression I have never seen before. It was the look that someone would get after being punched in the stomach. My
papa asked her if there was something bothering her and she was speechless. She just sat there looking at us and I knew inside that something was very wrong. My stomach sank and suddenly I had more saliva in my mouth than I could handle.

For what seemed like a lifetime she stared in my eyes and I was so confused. I wanted to know what was wrong but at the same time I feared what she had to tell me. My mom’s eyes began to water and I stood up to hug her. Upon sitting back down she gathered up her strength and said to me “I have breast cancer.”

My grandparents both began to cry and I just sat there. I had so much running through my mind in a single moment that I couldn’t process it. So many questions with very few answers raced through me and the one question I could get out was, “Mommy are you going to die?” Withstreams of tears down her face she looked me in the eyes and said I am going to do my best to beat this honey; I will give everything in me to beat this horrible disease. She didn’t tell me that she would live through this and she didn’t tell me that she would die. The uncertainty killed me. It reminded me every moment that I didn’t know what the future held for us. I couldn’t lose my mom! She was my everything! She was the only person in this world who understood me. At times she understood me better than I understood myself. How would I live without her?

These thoughts raced through my head a mile a minute. At ten years old I knew I had to grow up a lot faster than all of my friends. I struggled to make sense of why God would let something this horrible happen to my family. I kept trying to comprehend why something so bad would happen when we never did anything wrong.

The days following this event were very dark and I really viewed my life in a different way. This news changed the way I loved my family. I couldn’t remember a time that thought so hard about what I had to bethankful for in my life. I then remembered what I learned in school about trusting God and letting him guide us. I felt angry with him and at times felt like I couldn’t trust him but I soon found a place in my heart that allowed me to accept the fact that life isn’t always fair. It’s what doesn’t kill us that make us stronger and I took life for what itwas and tried to stay as positive as I could. I am not saying that this concept was easy but it certainly drove me to overcome this immense pain that I felt in my heart at the thought of losing my mom.

This month on my birthday my family and I will not only celebrate that I am turning seventeen but that my mom is now a six-year breast cancer survivor. Each year we realize how truly lucky we are to still have her.  My character was put to the test at such a young age and I overcame this obstacle with so much bravery and strength. A kind of strength I never knew that I had. I am beyond thankful to God that he answered my prayers and let my mother live to see me grow into a young woman. Now I can relate to the lesson I learned that day in fourth grade. Our Lord never puts us through something we cannot handle. In my heart I know I am strong and independent young woman, all due to the news that changed me.