I heard the news of the Boston Marathon bombings just a few minutes after I had undergone a biopsy. An annual OB exam had revealed an enlarged uterus. The scan that followed a few hours later showed a polyp, and a biopsy was performed the same day.
In for a checkup and out with a biopsy. While that might seem fast to some, the speed was called for due to the medical history of my mother and her family.
The link between cancer and my mother begins before I was born. Her father died of cancer while she was pregnant with me; he was so sick that he was never told I was on the way.
My mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer while I was in fifth grade. My memory of this time includes my parents' telling me of her cancer, her surgery, followed by her traveling from Carrollton to Atlanta for radiation treatments, my staying with friends after school (I have no idea where my sister stayed) and my mother being exhausted when she returned home.
But overall, what sticks with me from that time is the fear of my mother's death. That specter hung over my head every day, never leaving me alone.
It returned a few years later when she underwent surgery to have a tumor removed. Luckily, this time it was not cancer.
Soon after, she lost both of her brothers to cancer. Both were middle age and left school-age children. My fear was their reality.
After I had graduated from college and was working at my second real job, my mother again underwent surgery, this time to remove polyps from her colon.
In 2005, I was with her when she learned that she had colon cancer. She soldiered through the chemotherapy. Infusions took place between carpools for my then preschool- and elementary-age children. When the chemotherapy had worn down her energy and spirit, she ended up in a nursing home. But less than a year later, she was back in her house, living on her own.
Last week, as I grieved for Boston, I worried about the outcome of the test. Not so much for myself, but for my children, who are now 13 and 11, close to the ages of my sister and me at the time our mother was first diagnosed.
My thoughts kept returning to that time where my biggest concern was how long my mother would be around. My children are both in middle school, and it is hard enough navigate without real-world complications.
I remembered my mother telling me that her only goal was to live to see my sister Kathy and me graduate from high school, and I caught myself wondering last week how she made sure she reached her goal. Was it her determination, strong will, laser-like focus on survival?
Then I remembered what she told me just a few weeks ago, when I recounted my daughter Maggie praying for our puppy Bunny to be well and her request coming true. "I've often found that prayer works."
So last week, I prayed, not only for myself but for my children and my husband.
What did I learn during my week of prayer and contemplation? That I worry too much about things that don't matter; that I get frustrated too often about the little annoyances of life: delays, misunderstandings and miscommunications. That I take for granted the joy of simply being alive, not accomplishing anything or doing anything, but just being.
When I received a call from my doctor at 6:30 p.m. Friday, I ran across the room to grab it before it went to voice mail. The biopsy was negative.
Relief and thankfulness swept through me. Relief that I did not have to tell my husband or our children that I had cancer, relief that I could spare them from the kind of haze over their heads that followed me through fifth grade.
My prayer now is that I remember the lessons learned from last week: that life is precious; that there is much to be thankful for; that very few things are worth getting stressed about. To remember that much of what is needed for my day-to-day life to be better is simply a change in perspective, from that of frustration for what I have not yet accomplished to that of being thankful for simply being alive with the people I love.
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