Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
The memories formed during a bout with breast cancer can be both painful and challenging. This article shares openly about a daughter's feelings for her mother as she struggled to fight cancer.
As the fourth anniversary of my breast cancer surgery approaches, I sat down with my youngest daughter for a conversation. I wanted to hear her thoughts and feelings as she'd watched me in my fight against cancer.
My youngest daughter, Jamie, is 30 years old. She's a very kind and caring individual with a heart for people, but sometimes, when it comes to family, she becomes overprotective. Just like a mother bear protecting her cubs, she would do anything to help keep her loved ones safe. Though she has a protective nature, she is often introspective. She rarely shares her deepest thoughts, but keeps them tucked safely under her heart. That's one reason I wanted to hear from her as we get ready to celebrate another major milestone along my journey.
When we sat down to talk, I asked if she would share how she felt the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At first, she didn't want to open up. I could tell by watching her face that this was a touchy subject, but as I gave her the freedom to say whatever she chose to share, this is what she said: "The day I got the news that you had cancer, I felt the breath leave my body. One of my worst fears was staring me in the face — the possibility of losing you. My mind started to race, and I felt like I didn't know which way was up and which way was down. All I could do was stare.
“The thoughts that filled my mind were not comforting. Thoughts like what's going to happen now and what if you don't beat it scared me. I wondered how I could possibly cope with losing my mother. The scariest thought of all was wondering how I could live without you."
Jamie went on to explain, "You've always been my rock, Mom. Throughout the trials I've faced in my life, you've always been there to offer comfort and words of wisdom. You've taught me so much. I didn't know how I would be able to function without you. I didn't want to shift the focus to myself, but I was really concerned. Without you, I knew my life would never be the same."
I listened carefully as she talked. I wanted not only to hear the words coming from her heart, but I wanted to hear what she wasn't saying verbally. I watched her body language. As she talked, tears welled in her eyes. The emotional pain she was sharing went deep. I was tempted to stop her and change the subject, but she wanted to continue. It was as if the dam had been broken and the floodgates had been opened.
We talked about things she remembered from the past four years. I asked her if there was any one thing that really stood out in her mind. She thought for a few minutes and shared a memory that touched her deeply.
"Watching you go through everything related to cancer was heart wrenching. I wanted nothing more than to take some of the pain away in an effort to lessen yours. One day, shortly after your surgery, when I'd come down to visit, I remember seeing you. You were so broken. Your poor body had suffered such trauma. I felt helpless as I saw the pain etched across your face. I knew you were hurting and there was absolutely nothing I could do. Although it had been just a couple of days since you'd had your breasts removed, you seemed fairly strong. You've always been resilient, but I was amazed at how well you were doing. You asked me if I could help you drain your JP bulbs. I had no idea what you were talking about but as you opened your robe, I saw them. Two ugly plastic bulbs dangled from your chest. Long tubing ran from each one into an incision in your chest wall. The tubes were filled with bloody liquid. I felt squeamish as I stood before you."
The tears had stopped flowing by now and Jamie had shifted into a matter of fact kind of recollection. I reached to touch her hand as she continued.
"I was scared I was going to hurt you. You told me what to do but I was so afraid I would rip the tubes out of your chest as I helped strip the fluid from each one. I watched you standing in front of me. My sweet mother. You looked so pitiful. I'll never forget that image. It is burned into my memory. I had to force myself to be strong. I loved you so much and it killed me to know you were having to go through all that. And that was only a tiny part of your pain. I watched over and over again as you went through one trauma after another. When you went through radiation and got so severely burned, I could barely stand it. Seeing your skin seared like that was awful! I wondered how you endured each phase of your treatment, but you always managed to push through."
She was about to start bawling but I watched her push back the tears. She sat upright in her chair and reached forward to take my hand. "Mom, you've done it. You've come out victorious! You've fought hard and you've made it! It's hard to believe it's been four years since your surgery. You know, I've watched you over all of those years and what I've seen is a strong, resilient woman. I'm so proud of you!"
Jamie was smiling and so was I. Yes, there had been a lot of pain over the past four years but there had also been a lot of joy.
As our time together ended, Jamie said there was one more thing she wanted to share with me.
"Mom, you remember the movie, Alice in Wonderland?" I replied that I did. "Well, there's a quote in that movie that I love. The Mad Hatter says to Alice, 'When you can't look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark.' Don't you just love that? You know I'll always be with you in good times and in bad. You can always count on me to be by your side. Even if there's nothing I can do to make it better, I'll just be there with you."
What a great comfort to know my sweet girl has my back! Cancer didn't only affect me, it affected her deeply, too. As we round the corner toward celebrating, we can't forget some of our painful memories but together, they don't seem quite as burdensome. I'm blessed beyond measure and while I'm enjoying being in a state of NED, I know if cancer ever comes knocking again, I won't have to face it alone. And the bright side of it, I'll always have someone who's promised to sit with me in the dark.
Note: Not long after I sat down with my daughter for this talk, she has her own breast cancer scare. Early one morning, her breast began itching severely. For several days, she worried and wondered what might be causing the problem. After visiting a breast specialist, she was encouraged to have a diagnostic mammogram because of my breast cancer history. Thankfully, the mammogram only showed very dense breasts but the doctor wanted her to return in three months. Needless to say, as her mother, I was very concerned. My worst fear would be to know my daughter had breast cancer. I pray that day never comes, but if it does, she knows I'll be there for her, too.