I was eight years old when I heard the word “cancer” for the first time. I was in the waiting room reading a book while my mother was talking with her doctor. I heard him telling her that she had cancer. She didn’t expect that news; otherwise she would not have taken me to the appointment.
Afterwards, I asked her a thousand times if everything was okay. Every time she repeated “Yes, it’ll be fine. This is not something for a child to worry about.” I didn’t ask about the meaning of cancer itself, but it was the first time I saw my mother so serious and quiet.
She was good at pretending that everything was fine. She did some traveling to other countries, looking for a second opinion, but everybody told her the same. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and by the time she decided to take action, it was already too late. She was only 33 years old.
My mom as was a wonderful person. Strong and brave, determined and independent. I used to look at her and feel so proud of her beauty and her intelligence. I always wanted to be like her when I grew up. That was my mom: my hero, my role model.
But although she was so perfect and smart to me, she was a simple human being. And as every other human being she made a mistake, a terrible mistake that ended her life on Earth. She tried to avoid the diagnosis and when she finally decided to face the reality and take care of her disease, it was too late.
She had emergency surgery to remove the more than 30 tumors that were found after she went for months without treatment. The night before the surgery, she gave me a kiss and reminded me to be strong for my little brother. She also told that she trusted me. I felt proud.
When she came back home, something was different. Her chest was all wrapped up. She acted shy and was always covering herself. I was curious to see why, and one day I looked and I understood why she was so sad. Her left breast was mutilated. She didn´t want us to know, but there’s nothing you can hide from a child.
My mom was a beautiful woman with big green eyes and gorgeous body. She divorced from my father when I was only 3 years old. She never had another romantic relationship after that, not that I knew about, at least. But after losing her breast, she was never the same and closed off all her possibilities for loving again.
Five years later, when I was 13 years old, we went together to meet the plastic surgeon who would rebuild her breast and part of her chest. She was excited, and together we heard while the doctor explained her how the process would work. Even though she never used to cry, I saw tears of excitement in her eyes. We walked back home while we talked about those things that only a mother and a daughter can talk about.
I gave her a hug and a kiss before she entered into the operating room. After a couple of hours she came back. The doctor told me that everything went well, but while I was rubbing her head I felt a protrusion. The cancer came back right after the plastic surgery.
Her hope for a new beginning was her death sentence and the beginning of the end. Cancer came back stronger than ever and took over her bones and her organs. During her last years she devoted herself to get me ready for life on my own.
In December, 1993 she helped me to prepare my first résumé. I applied for a job as a front desk attendant in the hotel near to my house. I started working and building my future at the age of 15. Since she always knew that cancer might cut her life short, so she trained me for the future. I learned English, French, leadership, music, advanced reading and everything else available. She fed my heart with strength and calm for the day she would pass away.
Four months later the day came and my mom left for ever. It has been 18 years since then, and every year I miss her more. I missed her the days my kids were born and I still miss her every time I realize there’s only one mom in the world and mine is gone.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and my best way of making people aware is to share my personal story, reminding women about the importance of prevention and early detection. I know how hard it is to grow up without the love of a mother, and I also that no child deserves to bear that loss. Let’s take care of ourselves. Our children are counting on us.