On Sunday, October 15, 1995 Chuck and I headed for the Tall Stacks event along the Cincinnati riverfront. Chuck was in a Cajun band at the time called "Lagniappe" and they were scheduled to play on the Covington side of the river. The weather was perfect. The steamboats and period costumes transformed the riverfront to a different time as all that the city skyline represented seemed to move further and further into the background. The music and dancing celebrated the memory of a slower pace of life. I can still remember the relaxed and quiet atmosphere that made us want every Sunday afternoon to be such a peaceful escape.
I stopped by the store on the way home from Tall Stacks for a few things and picked up cans of Healthy Choice soup for my mom. Yes, ironically, Healthy Choice was the brand and nothing from that moment on had anything to do with healthy choices. She had been getting weaker and had a chronic cough. She told us that the doctor had been treating her for pneumonia. I thought hot soup would certainly help with fighting an infection. I went in her house with no idea what I was walking into. I gave her the soup and then she told me what she should have told me months ago. She was certain that she had breast cancer. I asked her how she knew and she said she had a lump that had changed. Changed? I would find out later that the lump had ulcerated clear through her skin. I asked, really begged her to take her to the hospital. My mother did things her way and so I had to wait three days to take her to a doctor's appointment that she had made. Three days. Three of the longest days of my life when all I could think of was my mother and deal with the anger because I could not get the help she needed any sooner. When I finally got her to the doctor she was in the room with him not more than five minutes when he came out and told me to get her to the hospital. In a way, I was relieved just to be able to get her to a place where she had less control which is exactly why she didn't want to go to the hospital.
She survived three months because the cancer had metastasized from head to toe. Chemo slowed the killer down but couldn't stop it. She actually died from a heart attack because the chemo had damaged her heart. The only reason early detection works is because you don't need as much chemo and radiation to kill the cancer. Less chemo means less damage to the good cells. It's that simple.
My mother lived her life with the simple goal of making people laugh and found moments to make that happen even through her treatment. I admired her strength and courage in light of such a ruthless enemy. I will always be so proud of the way she lived out her last three months of life. She had a inner energy that few people have and yet she was still no match for cancer. She did it her way. She let us in on her secret battle when she was ready but her timing was off and the battle had already been lost.
Every year I am painfully aware that it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I hate the word, "Awareness", because it is such a pitiful word and so far from the word or words that would give us hope. Pink is much too mild a color for all the grieving cancer has wrought. I'm sorry. I know full well that I'm wrong for feeling this way but all the pink ribbons, marathons, and Oprahesque talk show experts are about as effective as a pink toaster. The only hope I have is that I know my mother's spirit could not be conquered by cancer. She lives on in the hearts of many people and in another dimension that cancer cannot reach.