I am 37, about to be 38, three years older than I ever expected to be. I never thought or expected to ever see past 35. In fact, on my 35th birthday, I was surprised by a phone call I received from my step-mother reminding me of how important that birthday was. It wasn’t just my 35th birthday, IT WAS MY 35 BIRTHDAY. The day I never expected to see.
My mother died when I was around five. She died of breast cancer. Something that I was very familiar with. She fought with breast cancer probably since before I was born. She had many fights with breast cancer. She put up a good fight, but not good enough.
I remember my mother very well. Her favorite color was green, her favorite candy bar was a Snickers, her best friend’s name was Tranz, she was a mathematics major, loved to play Scrabble, work the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and would curse at the drop of a dime!
I could still remember the layout of her bedroom, what side of the closet she used, what jewelry she had in her jewelry box. Education was extremely important to her. In fact, she worked with me so much that I was able to skip first grade and move right into second.
I also remember the first time I saw her without a bra. As an adult, THAT day still plagues me. Not because she only had one breast, not because the scar on the left side of her chest (that used to be a breast) was horrible, but because I never asked her why she was disfigured. I automatically knew. I had lived my entire life, at that time, watching my mother struggle with breast cancer.
The day my mother finally lost the battle, I didn’t cry, I didn’t feel anything at the time. My step-father told me my mother had passed away. I said, “Okay, can I have my lunch money?” I went back down to my room and got dressed in jeans and a rainbow shirt, went next door to my neighbor’s house, and waited to go to school.
I was not surprised. She had given up. She fought the battle so long that she couldn’t fight anymore, and by the time she died, cancer had taken over her entire body. She had died weeks before and was brought back, so to hear that she was gone forever was expected.
Cancer, especially breast cancer, is a thorn in my family’s side. To date I am the only woman (with the exception of my two girls) in the immediate bloodline of my mother still alive.
By the age of 35, My grandmother, mother, and all three aunts had either died of breast cancer or were fighting breast cancer. ALL of those women are now gone. Breast cancer is so strong in my family, I was advised at the age of 12 to have my breasts removed once I stopped developing. So, I was not shocked to learn at age 26, that I have the BRCA1 breast cancer gene. But by then, I had already expected, in fact was waiting for the day when I am told that I have breast cancer. I had already decided that when that day comes, that that was not going to be a fight I was going to have! No chemo, no radiation! I don’t want to do it.
I am now 37, almost 38. That day has yet to come. I am more shocked at that than anything else. I don’t know why I have yet to get breast cancer. I don’t do self breast exams (other than the exams my husband gives me), although I should. I have had only one mammogram, and to be honest, have probably abused my body more that I should have.
I don’t understand why It hasn’t happened to me yet, and I think It probably worries my family more than me. But what I do know is that my mother is with me every day. And she is the angel that watches over me and has made it possible for me to live as long as I have.
I was born on December 7, 1973. But I don’t consider December 7th to be my birthday. I considered it to be hers.
R.I.P. Emilie Jean Burroughs