When I was eight years old, my mom’s best friend (and my second mother in every way aside from biology) was diagnosed with breast cancer. At such a young age, there was a lot that went over my head, but there are so many details that have stuck with me decades later. This woman is an incredible example of strength and resilience, and is an inspiration to me. I hope by sharing some of her story, you will understand why I was and always will be on Team T, and you will see how a breast cancer diagnosis affects kids.
T is what we all lovingly call this amazing woman who fought and, spoiler alert, won, her battle against breast cancer. My mom, my two brothers, T, her two sons, and I were all on our way to the Dallas Symphony the day she got the phone call that the lump they had found during a routine checkup was indeed cancerous. It was an average day in North Dallas, as these two moms loaded up their school-aged kids to attend a symphony performance. Little did they know it would be a day that permanently altered their friendship and their lives.
How a Breast Cancer Diagnosis Affects Kids
T had two young sons, ages nine and four, when she got the news that she would be facing this battle. We were all so attached as families, and even at eight years old, I knew this was serious. T faced a lot of very difficult decisions very quickly. Many of the decisions were complicated by the fact that she was only 39 and had young kids who still needed constant care, attention, and love. Should she go through chemotherapy? Should she have a mastectomy? Should she have reconstructive surgery after the mastectomy? Should she have a hysterectomy?
Ultimately, she opted to go through seven horrific rounds of chemo which resulted in the complete loss of her hair, taste, and more. I can remember her hair coming out in large handfuls as we would sit on the floor in her living room. My aunt, a hairstylist, shaved the rest of it in our kitchen. I watched as what was left of her glorious curly brown hair fell to the floor. Never has there been a woman who could rock a silk scarf better than she! She embraced her new look with all the confidence of a runway model at Fashion Week in Milan. I can remember my mom digging through her closet for every scarf she owned so that T could have as large a selection to choose from as possible. To this day, I cannot look at a silk scarf without thinking of her.
T kept persevering through chemo and all the awful side effects. She continued to homeschool her children, organize play dates, and attend church functions. We did Race for the Cure that summer with a huge group of us all wearing our special baseball caps that showed who we were running for, Team T.
There is a lot I don’t remember about that time and her illness, but what I do remember as an eight year old, was that summer, her boys, my brothers, and I spent nearly every waking moment together playing at the local pool, down in our creek, and in the backyard. We were supervised by one of their older cousins who came down from Oklahoma to help that summer while T dealt with round after round of chemo.
I do remember the day she had her mastectomy. Her kids were at our house while my mom, who marked which breast was the one to be removed, went with T and her husband to the hospital for the procedure. Her oldest son and I were discussing the surgery and what was going to happen to her. I don’t remember much about the conversation other than him telling me how worried he was for her and that really stuck with me. It still does. He was nine and half years old, and he felt so deeply his beloved mother’s pain.
After her mastectomy, it got more real for me. I remember going to her house and seeing the blood bag attached to her and seeing it fill. It was horrifying for my eight-year-old self to watch. T ultimately decided to not have the reconstructive surgery because the recovery would be too much. She still had a four-year-old son who wanted to be held and carried, and reconstructive surgery would have made that too difficult.
As a now-grown woman with two small boys myself, I realize more so how much she went through all of those years ago. I cannot imagine having to make those life-changing decisions and still having to care for my boys.
I think often about the friendship T and my mother have. How much they went through together during that time and so many other trying times since. Often, I think about my best friend. What it would mean to our friendship if I should be the one having to mark which breast was to be removed permanently from her body to help eliminate more cancer? In their case, I believe, what didn’t kill them made them stronger, as individuals and as friends.
This past February, we celebrated her 18th “Happy You’re Not Dead Day.” This is what we call the day she was diagnosed, and every year, we celebrate what an overcomer she is. I’m still very much Team T and my childhood perspective on breast cancer is one I hope can help others on a similar journey.
Looking for more reading this Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Check out more reading from other Collin County Moms here.