Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Green bean casserole

The eldest of Brooke’s younger cousins, S, celebrated her high school graduation on Saturday. Brooke and I sat down with beer and food and chatted with one of her aunts. We did the usual graduation open house thing: caught up with the family, looked through old photos, gorged on chips. After a few hours, we got up to leave and ended up talking with the graduate’s mom. Turns out that she was diagnosed with breast cancer very, very recently. She already had her lumpectomy, and she’s starting radiation in another week or so. Two of the aunts were wearing pink ribbon bracelets, and I had wondered who the catalyst was. Aunt Lou.

Aunt Lou spent a lot of time going on about how it could be worse. It’s just radiation. It’s just a lumpectomy. They’re not pumping her full of chemotherapy drugs and making her puke and lose her hair. The margins were clear. Her lymph nodes were unaffected. It could be worse. She’s doing great. It could be worse. She’ll go on tamoxifen and have genetic testing if the insurance will cover it. Her mom died when she was ten. Her mom’s mom died young, too. Aunt Lou is only 44, but it could be worse.

Aunt Lou's sister then turned to me then and told me how sorry she was to hear about my mom. Mom: evidence that it could be worse. I’ve learned not to talk about Mom when addressing someone facing breast cancer, her own or another’s. No one who is in remission wants to hear that Mom was once in remission. No one who is waiting for MRI or CT scan results wants to hear that Mom had significant bone metastases upon diagnosis. They don’t want to hear about her chemo side effects or her radiation burns. The burns so awful that they didn’t outweigh the benefits.

And now, I avoid talking about her at all. I told Aunt Lou that I’ve heard that nipple cream works really well on sore skin. I didn’t tell her Mom used it. Part of me wants to help out in some way, but she seems to be doing just fine. It doesn’t seem like she’s even tired and needs a hand around the house, not to mention that her sister lives a short distance away, and her brother is around the corner.

I hope I never have anything to offer Aunt Lou’s family. I hope they’ll never need or want an extra set of hands or ears when Aunt Lou is really sick. I hope she stays healthy and gets old like her father and outlives everyone’s expectations. I hope S never needs to read this to know she’s not alone.


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