Breast Cancer and a Celebration of Life
My family celebrates the beautiful fall season by going apple picking in the Berkshires every year. It's usually Columbus Day weekend and each day is filled with tradition ... visiting our old country house, hiking on one of our favorite trails, visiting with old friends, picking apples and pumpkins, and enjoying a special dinner at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge Massachusetts. We have a great time, just the nine of us (well, now 10!).
Two years ago was a very special year. We (my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew, my husband and son, and me, pregnant with our second son) surprised our parents by honoring their 45th wedding anniversary with a renewal-of-vows ceremony in a beautiful old "Norman Rockwell" church. My nine-year-old niece was the maid of honor, and my seven-year-old nephew and our three-year-old son were the best men. My brother and I read beautiful poems and psalms from the Bible, and our parents recited their vows with the help of a wonderful priest. It was such a surprise to our parents ... a beautiful celebration of their love ... a truly wonderful memory.
Last summer, as we excitedly planned our traditional trip, we were shocked to learn that our mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammogram. She had been diagnosed with Stage 0 ductal carcinoma years ago, and the doctors had determined that the best course of action would be a lumpectomy, radiation and preventive drugs, even for Stage 0. That was 10 years ago, and over the past 10 years she had been cancer free ... until now. This was a recurrence in the same breast, and the news was alarming. Because of her past experience, treatment and new diagnosis, she needed a full mastectomy, chemo and additional treatments for a year. The doctors scheduled her surgery a week before we were to go away on our annual Berkshires trip, and our parents were insistent that my brother, his family, I and mine continued with the trip while Mom recovered at home with Dad. As an only daughter who is very close with her mom, I just wasn't comfortable with that plan. Neither was my brother. I decided that I would be with my parents during my mother's surgery and afterward, taking care of her needs as much as I could. But my parents insisted after the surgery that we go. My brother and I agreed we would, but that was only to pacify them. We had no plans to go without them.
My mom's surgery went well, and after two days in the hospital she returned home. We were to leave two days later and finally told our parents that we weren't going. Out of nowhere our parents said, "You're all going, and so are we!" WHAT? How could that be? Our mother just had major surgery, tons of stitches, and had a drain in for a week ... how could she possibly go? But she did. Our parents drove up to the apple orchard where we always go, and we celebrated our family. It was a spectacular day: The sun was shining, the sky was so blue, and the air was brisk. A perfect autumn day. We set up a picnic area and had a wonderful lunch, played football, took fun photos of the kids, and picked bags and bags of apples. An amazing day.
My brother and his family and mine all went back to the condo as my parents drove home that night. It was truly remarkable that my mother made the trip, but that's just my mom. She is determined to continue tradition and will do whatever it takes to ensure her family is together ... laughing, smiling, hugging, making wonderful memories and celebrating life. As we plan this year's trip, my mother's treatment is near the end. She went through six months of chemo after her surgery and continues Herceptin treatments through the end of the year. She is a superstar with an incredible attitude and an extraordinary man (my dad) by her side every step of the way. It's been a tough ride, but the doctors say my mom is going to live until 100! So we will go apple picking this year together as a family, and we will celebrate life this October just like we did last year. Together.
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