JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
It was just another school night. I'd been locked in my room finishing my homework and needed a break. As I walked down the hallway, I heard retching noises coming from my parents' bedroom. Being a curious 13-year-old girl, I opened the door. I was not prepared for what I witnessed: my mother hunched over the bed, throwing up. The concerned look on my father's face as he comforted her made my heart rate quicken and my chest tighten. I was gasping for air.
I asked my parents what was wrong as tears fell down my face. My father told me my mom had been battling breast cancer for quite some time.
Hurt by my parents' secret, I asked my mom why she didn't tell me. She gathered the strength to face her daughter and told me that she did not want me to worry and that someday I would understand why. As my parent's secret unfolded that night, I looked out the window, watching the falling leaves transition to a dark winter. It was the longest night in my life. I was convinced my mom was going to die.
After that night, I was at my mother's side as much as possible--I was her strength. At school, I stared at the clock, waiting for the bell to end the day. Once released, I sprinted through crowds to get home to my mother's side.
As she suffered through chemotherapy, my mother began to lose her luscious, thick hair. But she refused to let the breast cancer dictate her life and tried to live the way she wanted to. She refused to wear a wig. My mom even found a part-time job to help my father make ends meet.
During a surprise visit to her job one day, I held tears of anger back after hearing some rude comments about her appearance. I wanted to yell at them for being so judgmental. They did not know her story, her struggle. My mother had lived through cancer and chemotherapy and embraced the change. She was not ashamed of how she looked. She epitomized survivor!
After cancer tested our family's foundation, we all went back to our daily routines. Though her cancer initially went into remission, it later returned. This time, my mother did not want to go through another series of chemotherapy. After considering the emotional roller coaster our family faced, she decided to go undergo a mastectomy.
The scar from her surgery now exists as a reminder of how she overcame the cancer and that she continues to live life on her terms. If I ever face the challenge of breast cancer, I can always look to my mother's perseverance and strength as a way to not let the disease win. Her example taught me to fight -- from preventative exams, to living with dignity, to making tough decisions. She is my mother and I am very proud of her!
Having seen my mother's personal trials, I perform a monthly breast exam. My doctor has advised me to continue the monthly exams because of my family history, but I know they are a good idea in any case.
A year from now, I will have my first mammogram and I'm glad to know that my mother will be there beside me--as I was for her.