Growing up watching my mom battle breast cancer, I worried every day what might happen to her. She looked so delicate and frail. She wore a little knit hat on her head to hide the hair loss and barely ate.
BARCELONA, Spain — At the age of 11, I watched my mother get sick from breast cancer for the first time. The years passed, and I watched her battle cancer over and over again. In 2020, when she passed away, it destroyed me completely. Having lost two other family members to breast cancer, doctor’s suggested I do a gene test. To that point, I always assumed my mother’s cancer was just bad luck. I later learned she carried a gene that made cancer more probable for her. I started to be more attentive to my body, feeling for lumps every day. I lived in constant fear until, at the age of 28, I finally underwent a preventative procedure to remove both of my breasts.
Growing up watching my mom battle breast cancer, I worried every day what might happen to her. She looked so delicate and frail. She wore a little knit hat on her head to hide the hair loss and barely ate. As a child, I did not fully understand the situation and nobody told me anything. One day, when I accompanied her to the hospital, we sat together on a bench in the garden. She closed her eyes to enjoy the sun on her face. As I stared at her in awe, she looked like a superhero to me.
Time passed and she slowly recovered from her first battle with breast cancer. In time, I began to understand what happened to her and suddenly saw her as an immortal being. When the cancer resurfaced again and again, I held onto hope she could beat it. Cancer, it seemed, remained ever present in my home as a child, like an uninvited guest.
I saw it in my mom’s body and in her mood. Even during periods of remission, the cancer felt like a shadow that could return at any time. When her cancer came back in 2020 it crushed me and I decided to get myself checked out to be safe. Doctors conducted blood tests, and the three-month waiting period felt like agony. Time seemed to stretch on indefinitely. I felt like I was waiting for a death sentence.
Sitting in the doctor’s office, holding my sister’s hand, I listened to them share the positive test results. They talked to me about the gene I carried, and what steps I could take to prevent cancer. It felt like a tiny but powerful time bomb ticked inside me that could wipe me out completely.
With this newfound information, I asked myself, “What would my mother or my aunts do in this situation?” Unlike them, I had time to decide my next steps, and I knew I no longer wanted to live in fear. That day, I went home and told my mother. We cried together and the tears felt cathartic, ridding me of all of my anxieties.
The next morning, I woke up feeling ready to face my decision. I knew right then that it would be best to have a preventive mastectomy. Despite my terrible fear of surgery, it had to be done. For weeks, I dreaded the operation. The idea of going under anesthesia and no longer having control of the situation scared me to the core.
I never cared about what I would look like afterwards, I only worried about the surgery itself. At no point did the aesthetics come into play. I grew up seeing my mother without breasts. It seemed normal to me. The day of the surgery, I went in knowing that everything was going to be completely different, yet I still felt immense anguish.
As the staff administered anesthesia, I kept my eyes fixed on a distant point as tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew this day marked a significant moment in my life journey. Six hours later, I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was my mother, standing next to me in her little hat, watching me with all the love in the world. With her by my side, I knew everything was going to be fine.
After the surgery, I faced some challenges. It felt like a portion of my body literally no longer belonged to me. At first, it felt strange to see myself in the mirror. The scars and the shape of my body felt new and foreign.
I knew how lucky I was compared to many women and I needed to accept my new form. The doctors recommend breast implants and I moved forward with it. Today, when I go for check-ups, I still feel that familiar fear of cancer arising inside of me. While my chances of getting breast cancer have declined significantly, it will never be zero. The shadow of cancer still haunts me to a degree.
I know at some point, I will likely have to undergo surgery on my ovaries as well. I anticipation of that, I froze my eggs. I don’t know if I will ever want to be a mother, but I do want the decision to be mine and not the disease’s.
Looking back on the story of my life, my mother will always be my hero. To me, she is immortal. Thanks to her, I can face any challenge placed in front of me. Her strength, kindness, and love remain inside of me forever as a testament to the wonderful person she was.
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