I love the month of October. There are so many of my favorite saints to celebrate–St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Faustina, St. John Paul II…etc. But the one that I think about and talk to the most, especially when asking for help, is my mom. Although it has been nine years since breast cancer claimed her life, I can remember the incredible attitude and faith in which she fought the good fight like it was yesterday. Breast cancer took her life, yet she did not let it rob her of joy, faith, and pure love for others–Mom did not let breast cancer win!
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I love seeing pink, from the grocery store to the football field, but if I learned anything from my mom, it takes more than sporting a pretty color to battle an ugly disease. Learning from the best, here are five ways to not let breast cancer win.
1. Be Honest.
Cancer is not like a common cold, where one could perhaps carry on a type of normalcy in the day-to-day while addressing it. Honestly, breast cancer is a serious disease with serious forms of treatment. A gambit of emotions will roll over you and your loved ones in dealing with it, and avoiding the feelings will not cure or help anyone. Now, that’s not a license to say or do anything or dwell on what could become negativity that could suck you into depression. Rather, it’s acknowledging whatever feelings arise — fear, anxiety, loss of functionality, etc.—talking about it, praying through it, and progressing forward in due time.
There were times when Mom was feeling okay with things, and there were times when she was not — and we were able to talk about it either way. But if someone with cancer needs to talk, remember to try not to fix everything. Listening to someone be honest is what is really important. And trust me, they will talk about some topics that you would rather not discuss – like being afraid of dying. Let them. They obviously need to. And guess what, you probably need to as well.
2. Surround Yourself with Love.
We all need each other to help us carry on, but it’s even more critical when you are battling for your life. Cards, emails, social media, phone calls, visits, text messages–there are so many ways to connect with people. Having the love and support of the people that mean the most to you during this time makes the journey easier–you can share the load.
Note to the loved ones: I encourage you to continue to reach out over the course of treatment. A card, a call, a visit can really lift the spirits of someone who may feel completely awful that day–-it can do more than you know. My mom kept all her cards on her bedroom door during her first bout with cancer, and they were a cheerful reminder (especially on a hard day) of just some of the people whose love and prayers were behind her.
3. Have a Sense of Humor.
Going through chemo, radiation, surgery, or whatever kind of treatment it is will probably not put you in a joking mood. Find reasons to laugh anyway. Losing all ability to laugh or even joke about the situation will contribute to the tendency to want to cry and sink into self-pity. Laughing and smiling can actually lift your mood. My mom had a great sense of humor, and that made a huge difference.
I remember one time a side effect from the chemo made her voice sound super strange for about a month. They finally figured out that in losing all her hair – yes, even in her nose – a post-nasal drip ended up making her sound kind of like that little Poltergeist lady, Tangina. We were talking on the phone, and I was trying not to laugh to avoid hurting her feelings, but I couldn’t help it. My laughter made her laugh, and we just laughed for a few minutes straight on the phone. I told her I was sorry as my laughter dissipated, but she said that it was good – she hadn’t laughed that hard in a while, and it was what she needed.
4. A Good Attitude is Crucial.
You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.”Brian Lacy, TV Host
How true that is. At the beginning of my mom’s second bout with cancer, most of us kids and grandkids went to be with her. She planned a “surprise” for us not long after we all arrived, telling us to meet by the side of the house in our swimsuits at 1:00 pm. There were bottles of whipped cream for everyone to squirt on each other, dozens of eggs for an egg toss, and coolers full of water balloons to pelt–it was time to get dirty and have some fun! For whatever reason, she had always wanted to smash a pie in my Dad’s face–so that’s where the whipped cream became especially fun for her. Afterward, we swam in their pool, and she shared that she wanted to show us that we could laugh and have fun, even during hard times.
5. Keep the Faith.
Never, never, NEVER let go of hope! If there is nothing to believe in or hope for, to me, the battle would seem futile. The miracle we all pray for is healing, but for whatever reason, physical healing may not be part of God’s plan. Not having faith or a bigger purpose would have made this journey 100% more difficult for my mother. Mom was a woman of faith throughout everything that life brought her, so cancer was nothing different. Her journey definitely brought some very hard times, but I did not see her waiver despite it all.
I never heard her curse God for allowing her to get cancer twice, never saw her walk away from the Church (when she couldn’t leave the house, she would watch Mass on EWTN and have a Eucharistic Minister bring her Communion), never witnessed her stop living her faith, never saw her turn away from the Bible or stop praying, and never watched her let go of a bigger purpose that her suffering could serve. She eventually came to be at peace with whatever would happen and kept the faith to the very end. And in my heart, I know that the angels carried her home to a Father who said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, and live in my love.”
I saw the impact these five things had on my mother and those around her and can say most undoubtedly that breast cancer did not win. She inspired people, they loved her, and they wanted to be near her. The doctors told her that she could come back to the office anytime to talk to patients during their chemo because her way made people feel at ease. As she taught me all of this, I thank her and dedicate this post, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in memory of Eve Sanchez.
Now, go and do your part to support, love, and help others in whatever way you are called in the fight against breast cancer!