Dear Cancer, It’s Me: Kaley’s Story
Dear Cancer, It’s me…
You left an emptiness inside of me — a void that will never be filled. No one in your life will ever love you the way your mother does. There is no love as pure, unconditional and strong as a mother’s love. And I will never be loved that way again because you took her from me almost thirty years ago.
My journey with you began when I was eight years old. My mom, who was a registered nurse, was helping one of her coworkers by testing out a new imaging machine that had just arrived at the hospital where she worked. Much to her complete shock, there you were, maliciously waiting for her in her left breast. And so her six year journey with you began. Back in those days, it seemed that having a mastectomy and removing the body part where you were living was a promise of freedom. At least that’s what I was told or that’s what the adults said to convince themselves and me. But alas, you were not gone, you had spread. My mom’s next few years were full of chemo and radiation, painful bone marrow transplants and hair loss, so much pain and suffering. You took her from me on September 28, 1986.
My fear of being alone and unprovided for, of true abandonment was realized. I became a motherless child. My very existence was everyone’s worse nightmare. For the people around me to accept the greatness of my loss would mean acknowledging the same potential for themselves, thus isolating me from the world and teaching me to keep all my feelings concealed. Silence and suppression transformed me into an emotional statue. If I couldn’t control the external chaos, I could at least balance it with self-restraint. I was praised by relatives, for how well I was coping. Their praise of course, only served as further incentive for me to maintain a perfectly chiseled façade. My mother had always been the one who gave me a soft place to cry. I needed someone to tell me it was alright to feel anger and despair, but I only received kudos for my synthetically mature, responsible behavior. Early loss is a maturing experience. It marked the end of my childhood leaving me to piece together a female self-image of my own. I had to learn how to be a mother to myself, I had to be the person who said don’t worry, you’re doing fine, you’re doing the best you can.
There is still a huge hole in my life where a mother should be. I still wish I had a mother to call when something good happens, when something bad happens, or when nothing at all has happened, just to talk about the day. I truly believe that the death of my mother has made me the way I am today. I’m still stubbornly self-reliant and still find my highest levels of comfort in an orderly, predictable existence. I am a survivor, mentally strong and fiercely determined. I also keep most of my pain, anger and feelings inside. I refuse to be vulnerable to anyone. The only people I let see that more emotional or softer side are my children and that is still challenging. Being a mother myself has been one of the most obvious areas in which the loss has affected me. The desire to remain the child in relationships has been a struggle to overcome. How does a mother act anyway? How do I give a wealth of love when I feel empty in the place where a mother’s love grows?
Cancer, I turned 43 in December. This was a milestone year to pass for me, as this was the same age my mother was when she died. It feels like a glorious achievement and I want to celebrate and honor her memory by living each day of my life in full joy. I had not been doing that. For years I knew that I had not processed my grief properly. What I have come to realize, is that mourning involves great risk, we have to relinquish control to our emotions and let them run their course. Maintaining that control, gave me an illusion of normalcy. My fear was that if I let myself feel the immense pain that I would fall apart and not be able to function. I know that my mom’s spirit led me here to Cancer Support Community to be of help and service to those on their journey with you. And through this process, I have witnessed the grace and strength of so many lives that you have tried to rip apart. Here I have learned to mourn without the fear of abandonment and collapse; I have learned that I can face my grief head-on, feel the loss and don’t fight the grief. Cancer, I will continue to stand up to you every day and hold the hand of so many that you affect. You will not win, you will only continue to make us stronger and more resilient, we are an army, band together against you and you are the one who will be left isolated and alone.