What You Need To Know:
Today is the final day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But for some, breast cancer awareness is every day of the year.
Why We Need To Know:
Thirty-five years ago today, my mother underwent a mastectomy. And for almost eight years afterward, I lived with the constant fear of the cancer making a return. Thinking about it now, it’s hard to believe that much time has passed. It is so ingrained in my memory that it seems like yesterday.
My mom came home one really beautiful September day to share her diagnosis.
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Her doctor expressed that it was the most challenging news she ever had to share with a favorite patient.
My mother said she smiled and told her: “Not as difficult as telling my daughter.”
From then on, there were a series of doctors’ offices for second, third, and even more opinions. I remember writing letters to God begging for a misdiagnosis, an incorrect pathology report, a mix-up, anything! I
I remember our house full of family and friends gathered on that Friday morning to caravan to what was then Michael Reese Hospital in my hometown of Chicago. Just as we were leaving the house, the surgeon called to tell my mother he’d been in surgery all night and needed to postpone her surgery.
“No,” the doctor said, “A delay.”
That allowed us to continue the caravan to Gladys Knight’s soul food restaurant only to meet up again the following Tuesday. This time, there was no last-minute call. I remember that dreary Tuesday morning in the hospital, walking alongside the gurney holding my mother’s hand. She was my best friend, my life. I walked, by her side, to the elevator trying my best to keep it together as the doors closed, taking my mother to surgery.
I returned to a waiting room full of familiar faces and loving arms but I was so scared. I walked past friends and family all the way outside where I burst into tears, asking: “Why, why her?”
As I crossed over a bridge, I promise you, I heard a voice. I’m pretty sure it was God saying, “She’s going to be alright.”
And she was. The treatment did not require her to undergo chemotherapy or radiation. My Mom took the drug Tamoxifen for five years, which I believe kept the cancer at bay. (This is Dr. Sybil speaking, no one else.)
Unfortunately, the cancer did return, about eight years later. When it did, it spread with a quickness. But during those years, my Mom lived. She retired from the Chicago Public School System. She volunteered. She traveled. And she saw her favorite, only, child begin a career, that as she used to say, “Where else could you be paid for what once got you in trouble?”
I miss her every day, not just during the month of October. I promise to do more in the fight against this disease. I’m not doing enough. But I do have an opportunity to talk about this and share my mom’s story and mine as well. I can share information and I can lend an ear.
Let’s not give up the fight. Let’s do this for your Mom, your Dad, Granny or Grandpa, Auntie or “Unc.”
I vow to keep talking and to do so for all the beloved Bettie Anne Scruggs Wilkeses – and their favorite children.