Looking backward and forward

After finding out my mom had cancer, I thought life as I knew it was over. Now, I can see how bad news can eventually become good.

Brianna Leyden
Brianna Leyden

My mom compares finding out that she had cancer to getting hit by a car when you’re walking down the street. After the initial collision, you think you’re fine until you figure out that a piece of your shirt is stuck in the grill of the car, and you’re being dragged down the street hitting bump after bump.

It’s a pretty gruesome analogy, but completely true.

Cancer. The word itself brings to mind images of death and loss, so when you hear that someone you love has it, it’s horrifying.

My mom went to the doctor in June this year for a routine checkup. A mammogram revealed a very small tumor. In fact, it was so small that, even though her doctor knew where it was, she couldn’t feel it. This microscopic tumor led to multiple surgeries and chemotherapy.

Looking back, I think I was abnormally stupid when I first found out she had cancer. My younger brother and I were in the backseat of the car, and my dad had pulled into our house and turned the car off. I was confused. Did we forget something inside? He turned around and told us, literally out of nowhere, that the doctor had found a tumor in Mom and that there was going to be a biopsy to see if it was cancerous. I was stunned and started to laugh haltingly.

“You’re kidding, right?”

Needless to say, it wasn’t a joke.

When one is hit by unexpected news, the reaction can take many forms. My first reaction was, of course, sadness. It again hit a couple days after the news. I cried myself to sleep two nights in a row just from listening to “A Little Bit Longer” by the Jonas Brothers. I know, cheesy, but it seemed like my eyes were welling up at anything those days.

Then there was anger. My mom is the health nut, the one who literally forces my entire family to eat enough vegetables and fruits, to put on sunscreen before heading out to the summer heat and to make sure we get enough exercise. Then she’s the one diagnosed with cancer. How was that fair?! But I’m being selfish. It’s never fair to have to see a loved one experience pain under the influence of chemicals that are supposed to be saving her life. I know that I’m not the only one in the world, let alone this school, to have to go through that, and I sympathize with anyone in my situation.

That’s another thing I noticed. People like to think that in the aftermath of grief, they’ll be selfless. But we’re humans, and we’re weak. We tend to focus first on how things affect us, and only later on do we figure out how to help others.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.”

Everyone faces pain, but part of what makes people better, stronger and more empathetic is how we deal with that pain. We learn to adapt, grow and, eventually, if we are truly strong enough, help others who are hurting as much as we once were. I know that although most of my friends had no idea where my head was at, or how I was dealing, the fact that they just tried to relieve my anxiety was enough. If you ever find yourself devastated and confused like I was, talk to someone immediately.

Thankfully, my mom is almost in full recovery, and has even been getting back to a normal life now; well, as normal as you can get while taking hormone shots for the next few years. My family’s been “recovering” as well, and we’re finally past the days where we’d snap at each other just because the tension was so high. I like to think that someday I’ll be able to regain the trust in God that I lost when I found out she had cancer, and maybe, I hope, I’ll be able to hear “Mom” without thinking of cancer.