I am laying in my bed listening to my mother cry in the next room over.
“Someone close to us has died, or someone has cancer”, I thought to myself. Why else would my mother being crying so hard and for this long? My mom is a high school teacher. Maybe something happened at school? Is a student hurt? Or one of her friends? I am in 6th grade and do not understand much about the vast world nor do I grasp the severity of things like cancer or death.
I am standing in line, waiting to shoot my free throws in middle school basketball practice.
Willing myself to not let my eye wander, and to focus on the rim so I can make as many as I can. My willingness falls short. My eyes wander to the side of the gym, where I see my parents staring at me in the doorway of the arena. Why aren’t they at work? It’s the middle of the afternoon, why are they watching some lousy middle school practice?
After practice we are standing outside the jail-like middle school.
They lower down to my eye level and explain that mom has cancer.
No, she doesn’t look like she has cancer. Yes, even though she has cancer she still has her hair. Yes, she will eventually become bald. No, people won’t know, she will wear a wig. Yes, it will go away after she has the cancer cut out and after the doctors give her medicine.
Months go by and I am still 11, but I don’t feel like I am 11.
I am watching my younger brothers while mom takes a nap after her medicine. Dad must stay where he works, but he can come home on the weekends. I clean and cook, and I know that in my head I have grown to 16 in a matter of months.
6 rounds of chemo and a whole year and a half later, I feel victorious.
I am 12 and a half and my mom just beat breast cancer. The pink ribbons now have “survivor” embroidered on them and her hair is growing back. My mother and I coo over how fast the hair is coming in and how its fresh growth makes it unbelievably soft.
Now I am a senior in high school.
I am peer tutoring, helping off to the side while the actual teacher takes over the class. I get a text explaining that my mother has left her class room sobbing after a phone call. My autopilot switches on as I walk through the halls of the school and enter the office, sensing which way my mother came. As I open the door to the school office I see three faces looking at me with “that” look. A finger is pointing at the door leading to the parking lot. At the edge of the parking lot is my mother, my aunt, and my mothers’ best friend.
My mom is hanging onto me, and I see tears running down her face.
There is a fog around my vision, and I can’t seem to switch off the autopilot. “They found something on the CAT scan.” “Your dad is on his way.” “Be strong.”
It is now a week later and i hear my mother say, “I have stage four metastatic breast cancer. It is in my lungs, spine, and collar bone.”