My Mama's Journey
People say that there are events in life that change you, even if you can’t remember them. One of my first posts on Straight to the Butze discussed the three events that have largely shaped who I am today. And, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want to go further in depth about my mom’s history with health. At the time I wrote this early post, my mom was in an incredibly different place than where she is now. Just like all of us, her perception of bodies and health are always evolving, and hers in particular have evolved exponentially in the past year and half. I am still in awe of what I deem her “superpower”- her resilience and love for others- but I have also grown to admire her in ways I never would have thought at the time of this first post.
A little history: when I was six months old, my mom was diagnosed with Stage 3B Inflammatory Breast Cancer. The doctor, who went on to describe the various horrors and changes to her body she could subsequently expect, gave her 18 months to live.
Just about two years ago, we celebrated my mom’s “Twentieth Birthday,” the amount of years she has lived since being diagnosed with cancer. This October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she has been cancer-free for 21 years and 9 months. It does go without saying how incredibly thankful I am every single day for her and her recovery, but I feel the importance of acknowledging this gratitude- her health and our fortunate circumstances are not ones I ever want to take for granted.
But even though cancer free, the impact of the disease continued. In the first 20 years of my life, I can’t remember a time when my mom acknowledged her beauty- the beauty inside and out that everyone I know admires and feeds upon. She would stand dressed up, in front of her golden mirror, wishing her arms were thinner, comparing herself to before the disease. She would express her discontent with her legs that are covered in scars from multiple reconstructive breast surgeries- legs I’ve seen bare in plenty of photos from before her diagnosis that, to me, are another sign of strength. Her perceptions of her body had changed, and I wished more than anything my mom could look in that mirror and see the beauty that all of us saw when looking at and speaking with her.
For years, my father and I overlooked my mother’s comments. Looking back, I can’t believe I ever thought these words were okay. The concept of body positivity and self love were still foreign to me, as I grew up with girls and women that consistently critiqued themselves and others. It took my own health journey to understand the impact of such comments on one’s own mind.
Eventually, the impact grew. My mom’s frustration seeped into other areas of her life and she grew less and less willing to go out and meet people. She preferred to stay at home, where she would wish for more. My dad and I didn’t know how to help or what we could possibly say that would make her feel anything but upset in her skin.
One day, a few years back while my mom and I were sitting in the parking lot after a lunch at my favorite café, I spoke up. I remember being terrified that I was going to get yelled at, but my mom deserved so much more than what she had been putting on herself for years and years.
My mom and I did raise our voices, we did cry, and we did sit in silence for a long time. But I would not trade the way this conversation went for anything; I don’t think I had ever felt closer to my mother than I did in this moment and I think we have continued to grow closer ever since. My mother has always been a role model for me, but I never saw her stronger than I did during this time, when she opened up to me about the impact cancer had on her self confidence, on the perception of herself she didn’t know how to change but truly wanted to. What I went into with no expectations, I left filled with pride and excitement for my mother’s newfound motivation to join the local all women’s gym, volunteer more, and spend more time with her friends doing things she had always wanted to try.
My mom’s journey, like my own and everyone else’s, has not been linear. Since this conversation a few years ago, she has not continuously improved in her mindset or become the image of constant body positivity and self confidence. But she has gone through new ups and downs and come out stronger- more self assured and more understanding and embracing of these triumphs and battles.
She started off by going to the gym 1 to 2 times a week. I even went with her a few times, hoping to make her more comfortable and ease her nerves. Now, she goes up to 4 times a week, sometimes even more when she feels incredibly excited.
But she also takes time off, enjoys herself and the opportunity to spend time with friends and loved ones. The gym has given her community- she has countless women there that she admires and thrives with. Her trainer is one of her closest friends and I have watched her grow further into her own skin: this goofy woman who is happy, positive, but also unafraid to feel all her emotions.
When she looks in the mirror, I know she doesn’t see perfection. How many of us do? But she sees progress and feels progress. She gets thrown off by the random weighs at a doctor’s appointment, feeling upset if its more than expected, but otherwise doesn’t depend upon the scale for her worth. Instead of saying “I wish I still looked like my twenty-year-old self,” she says “I’m going to get stronger and work harder.”
But what spoke more to me about my mom’s progress than anything else was the text she sent me a few weeks ago, exclaiming how she feels “like I accomplished something. Doing it for ME and nobody else.”
I’ve always known my mom was a fighter, a survivor. And I have admired her tremendously my entire life for this. I look up to her and am proud to call her one of my greatest role models. But when reading this text, I began to cry a little. I think there is a time in life when every fighter deserves a break, a time to relax into themselves and enjoy the life they lead without the pressure to fight. And I think my mom is here- I think she is at a place of peace and success and I cannot wait to see what is next for her and how she will inspire me next.