All the Way
spent a strange two weeks with my mother in September 2006. She
was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a right mastectomy
within a few weeks of her diagnosis. Since my mom and dad are
divorced and my brothers both have jobs and rugrats that require
their daily attention, I drove from Nashville to Lawton, Oklahoma,
and planned to stay as long as Mom needed me.
don't get me wrongI'm not the golden child, the darling
favorite, always there to lend a helping hand, the dutiful daughter,
giving and loving. Au contraire! Frankly, I've been a huge pain
to my folks. They should both be worried into early graves. It's
amazing they still talk to me. And taking care of Mom was not
some altruistic act to get me a larger hunk of her amassed fortune,
which is comprised mostly of her collection of odd doilies and
placemats that have sprouted on top of every piece of her furniture
over the last couple of years.
just realized that my parents are aging and their care will eventually
rest on the shoulders of their three children. I believe I can
safely speak for my brothers when I say we would do anything for
them. Wed take them both into our homes at a moments
notice (probably not together, since theyve been divorced
for nearly twenty years
although that would be an interesting
family dynamic, wouldnt it? Having Mom and Dad living together
again in their final days on earth? Yeah, good luck on that happening!).
for my brothers and me, the days of finding a place for the walker
and oxygen tank and wiping wrinkly butts are a long way off. Despite
the fact that Mom is an unbelievable 64 and my dad just hit 70,
both parents are very healthy.
then there was this thing about Moms breast cancer. There
is no history of breast cancer or any other kind of cancer in
our family. I suspected (and her doctors actually agreed) that
Moms cancer was likely caused by something more environmental
(like her sedentary lifestyle and bad eating habits) combined
with a twenty-year stint on post-hysterectomy Premarin. Her doctors
and I both agreed that she wouldnt likely get cancer again
she started taking care of herself.
when I arrived at Moms house I bought her a good juicer
and went through her kitchen on a stealthy reconnaissance mission
to rid the place of everything that was high in sodium, sugar,
fat, preservatives, and excessive carbohydrates.
was not happy.
hated the fresh vegetable and fruit juice, she missed her nachos
and quick, canned soups, and every time I tried to talk to her
about good eating habits and exercise, she gave me this
dont know what to call it
that told me she wasnt listening to me. She flipped through
channels on her remote control and deliberately avoided eye contact,
saying uh huh and oh like a bored teenager.
Suddenly I remembered all the times I didnt call home when
she was waiting up for me at midnight. And I thought when the
heck did this happen? Our roles are now reversed!
one point I snatched away the remote control and snapped, Listen
to me! This is not how I want to spend my time with you! I dont
want to have to drive all the way over here every time you have
a piece of yourself cut off!
got her attention.
we love you, but you have to take care of yourself. This cancer
business is serious, and it didnt have to happen. You can
live to be a very old woman, but you wont if you dont
stop abusing your body.
welled in her eyes and I think she was very serious when she said,
Okay, I promise.
surgery went very well. The entire right breast was removed, and
the doctor said he didnt have to take any lymph nodes and
all the cancer was gone. He said she wouldnt need chemotherapy
or radiation. This was all amazing news. But the recovery was
difficult for her
and for me. It was hard to see my mother
in that conditionher gaping wound stapled shut like a giant,
closed eye. Cancer is an evil destroyer of everything beautiful.
I hated it for what it did to my mothers body. The depth
of its destructive powers leveled me.
what shocked me the most were the attitudes of other people. My
aunt, Moms own sister, was distraught over Moms mastectomy.
She acted like the death knell was loudly tolling and she was
the only one who could see the tall figure in black, holding a
scythe over Mom's shoulder and pointing a long boney finger toward
the River Styx. She said Mom was only pretending to be okay about
her cancer and that it was a sure sign of a mental problem. (I
love my aunt, but I was ready to give her the smackdown.)
people, Moms friends, came to visit and sat on her couch
like they were at a wake. They gingerly avoided talking about
the cancer or the absent breast, instead choosing to talk about
the seasonably hot weather and the Channel 7 news lady who had
another face lift. I just wanted to shout MY MOTHER HAD HER BOOB
CUT OFF! SHE DIDNT HAVE HER SENSE OF HUMOR SLICED AWAY!
STOP TALKING TO HER LIKE SHE'S HAD A PERSONALITY TRANSPLANT!
was the same crazy, zany, nutty, funny, smiling, laughing, joking
goofball woman on the day of her surgery as she was the day before
and the day after her surgery. She told people, I had a
boob cut off eighteen years ago, a boob cut off last week, and
I still have one left! (She was, of course, referring to
her divorce eighteen years ago from my father. Im not offended
by that and you shouldnt be either because my dad is kind
of a boob. If you knew him youd agree.) Most people didnt
get the joke, and when she explained it to them, they were horrified.
They looked at me as if to ask, Is she still on pain medication?
The poor dear. When will the effects wear off?
a week after I left my mom and returned to Nashville, she sent
me these words in an email:
guess if I was wringing my hands and crying about it theyd
think I was okay
I was upset when I first got the news that
the biopsy came back showing cancer, but after I got home that
day and was able to think and pray about it, I accepted my powerlessness
over the situation and just asked for courage to face whatever
it was. And I was given that. When I told my sister that I had
to have the biopsy, she started right in with the tears and the
what if game. I told her, It is what it is and
it's out of my control, so I'm not going to worry myself sick
about something I can't do anything about. I know that no
matter what happens to me or around me, I'm going to be okay because
God loves me and will take care of me. I still feel that way,
and I just don't understand why those who have voiced their opinions
think I'm supposed to be devastated by this.
friend I've known for twenty-three years came by yesterday and
said she couldn't believe how well I was handling losing a breast.
I told her, I didn't lose it. It didn't just happen to fall
off and then I couldn't find it. I know what happened to it. The
surgeon removed it because I told him to remove it in order to
get rid of the cancerous tissue. I don't think of it as losing
something but rather think of it as gaining more time to spend
with my kids and grandkids.
next year when I go for my mammogram again, I should get it for
half price since they'll only be smashing one next time.
I mentioned why I love my mom so much? She has the best attitude
of anyone Ive ever known.
I hauled Mom down to an old lady gym in her town to
check it out and see if it would help her get into shape, she
put up a bit of a fight. But I didn't have to drag her through
the doorway; she followed gamely, even joking around with the
girls that worked there. Its a gym for women only, with
range of motion machines specifically suited for older women and
women with health limitations. After asking all the right questions
and going through the paperwork, I paid for Moms membership.
like a little guilt to get your mom in shape. If she failed to
use the membership, I planned to tell her, I cant
come see you at Christmas because I wasted all that money on your
gym membership you didnt use. Boy! Something about
that just makes me feel so good inside. (See? I told you Im
not a very nice daughter.)
to my great surprise, Mom is still using that gym membership.
And she even went to the boobtique to get her new
prosthesis. In fact, she sent me another email that made me laugh
so hard I started crying. It goes something like this:
got my prosthesis yesterday. I'm so glad the insurance is paying
for most of it. It was $267 and the bra with the place to insert
the prosthesis to hold it in place is $43. Now that's a mighty
expensive boob! It is flesh colored and feels like a real one,
even has a hint of a nipple. If I ever get really smashed, I guess
I could have a feel contest and see how many people
can guess which one is real.
it is going to take some getting used to. It weighs more than
the one I have left, but it looks like the same size. I wore it
yesterday when I went to my session at the gym and I found out
that was a mistake. I wore it in a sports bra (and not one of
the bras with the slot to insert it in). The lady at the boobtique
said it could be worn in a regular bra. WRONG! She and the other
lady there were super nice and so helpful, but someone with two
itty bitty titties really should not be advising someone with
one big real one and one big fake one that it will work in a regular
bra. There was nothing in the regular bra to hold it in place
and all the movement of the machine made it work up and almost
out of the bra. Under my shirt it looked like I had a boob on
my collar bone. I kept pushing it back down so it wouldn't come
out completely. It might have been fun to see the young girl's
face if it had fallen out and hit the floor. I could have told
her she had set the speed too fast and it caused my implant to
went to my first session at the gym on Saturday, and I was so
sore I could hardly walk on Sunday, so stayed home and groaned
all day. I went back on Monday and again today, though, and the
soreness is gone and I do feel better.
one of those machines where you lie on your back with your knees
bent and your feet in some stirrups (I had flashbacks of when
all you kids were born. I expected someone to stand at my feet
and holler PUSH!). Anyway, the machine pushes your
butt up as your legs come apart. It can go slow or fast. A friend
was with me at the first session and I told her I wish I'd had
that machine at home when I was married to your dad. It would
have made having sex with a drunk so much easier.
see how it goes wearing the prosthesis all day long when I start
back to work on Monday. It should be okay since I only work my
fingers on the keyboard all day and that shouldn't make it work
do I love this woman? Let me count the ways!
been one year since Moms battle with breast cancer. She
went back for her one-year checkup and is cancer free!
mom is my hero. She is everything Im not but hope to be;
everything I want to become. I think I could die tomorrow and
be happy with the idea that I was never as great as she is, but
that she was my mother.
would be enough.
DePriest and her husband, Dan, are literary agents in Franklin,
Tennessee. Her publishing background is in corporate publishing
as a managing editor. They also own Scribe Book Company, which
provides publishing services to ministries and nonprofit organizations.