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SDN gals, Tori and Terra, along with their sister, Jennifer, each share their own unique perspective of their mother’s battle with breast cancer.

Terra, Tori, and Jennifer

Terra’s Story

In 2006, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was a freshman in college at Indiana University at the time, so it was a time of big changes in my life — a time when I needed my mom around the most. So you can imagine how scared I was when she informed us that she had just been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer.

It took awhile for reality to set in. My mom didn’t look like she had cancer; she seemed so healthy and vibrant. She wasn’t acting any differently and, as usual, hadn’t complained about any symptoms. So in my mind, I thought that it would be a fairly easy road of healing. I was, of course, very wrong.

Mom and me on my wedding day

The doctors began the year-long battle of treatments by going in and surgically removing as much of the tumor as they could. Unfortunately, some of her lymph nodes had also been affected and needed to be removed, leaving her with life-long Lymphedema. Afterward, they began the chemo and radiation treatments, which is when reality really began to set in. We watched our always-so-pretty mom age and wither away right before our eyes. Each time I came home, it was a shock to see her and how much she had changed.

I remember the day she called me crying after she had woken up to find a pile of hair on her pillow. I can only imagine how emotionally trying it is for a woman to lose her hair. To her, her long curly hair was a part of her identity. Not only was she going through all of this and feeling horribly sick, now she was going to feel ugly, too. So I dropped everything I was doing and went home. There, I helped her cut it into a short and trendy hairdo, which made the thinning less visible for a while longer. Eventually, she lost it all, and we turned to scarves, wigs, and hats. The shops that we went to were immensely helpful in teaching us new ways to tie scarves and style her wig. When you look better you feel better, so I really believe that this was an important step in her healing process.

The whole family together on that day

After a long, hard battle of chemo, radiation, and several more surgeries, my mom was told that her cancer was shrinking. After two years, she was officially placed in remission. We are so thankful and blessed to have our mom back. There are so many milestones in life that a girl needs her mom for. Pictured above is my mom and I post-cancer on my wedding day — a day that I will forever be grateful to have had my whole family a part of.

With me being over an hour away at college without a vehicle, traveling back and forth was difficult. I owe a lot to my sisters for stepping up and taking care of her. I missed a lot of doctors appointments, chemo symptoms, and sleepless nights that they all endured. I truly wish that I could have been there more often. With that being said, my perspective is limited and to really get the whole story, you have to hear my sisters’ point of view as well.

Jennifer’s Story

When we found out our mom had breast cancer, it was one of the most surreal moments I had ever experienced, and I think I can say it was the same for my sisters. Here was this seemingly indestructible woman, who never suffered from anything more serious than a hangnail. (Seriously – I can’t ever remember her being sick with so much as a cold growing up!) So to sit in the park on a beautiful sunny day and hear the word cancer spill forth from her lips — the lips of the woman who was always solid, predictable, and healthy — was beyond shocking. It just didn’t match with what we knew as normal.

The transition from shock to acceptance was quick. We launched into “fight mode,” and as my mom began her treatment, I began gathering information and advice. I am one of those crazy Googlers — you know the ones I’m talking about. The ones who find comfort in knowledge (even the scary knowledge). The ones who will go just a little crazy and sit hunched over the computer for hours and hours like some kind of mad scientist, not eating, not sleeping, until they can regurgitate every single statistic and definition on the subject they’re studying. (Please tell me I am not the only one who does this!)

Mom and me, happy on Terra’s wedding day post-cancer

But, one thing cancer taught me (and I think all of us) is that we are not in control, as much as we might like to be. We don’t know what our loved one is feeling or going through; we can’t cure them with a little love and some chicken soup. All we can do is learn to be supportive (without being overbearing), be sure to be good listeners, strengthen our relationships, and most importantly, make memories! Believe it or not, one of the greatest, most epic side-splitting laughs I have ever experienced was in the waiting room of my mom’s oncologist! Cancer or not, it is one of the best memories I’ll ever have of her.

That seems like a lifetime ago now. I’m pleased to report that our mom is now healthy and happy. It was a long, hard road — and I know there were times when she just wanted to give up. I never felt like I knew what I was doing — I was never sure that I was saying the right things or acting the right way. We didn’t have all the answers. We didn’t always know the right things to say to each other. We just took it day by day and somehow, we all made it through. And that’s all that matters in the end.

Tori’s Story

My mom and I were very close at the time of her diagnosis. Out of all three of us girls, I was the only one still living at home at that time.

The cancer was discovered at a very fragile time. We had just sold our childhood home to move and start fresh when we got the devastating news. I remember going to the hospital with my mom to have a biopsy done and thinking to myself, “Real people don’t really get cancer, right?”

Mom and me, celebrating Christmas post-cancer

After receiving the test results a few weeks later, she broke the news to us three girls, as we tried to hold ourselves together for her and for each other. I was still very young at the time, and I did not fully understand the concept of how this could happen to my momma. The woman who barely had so much as a cold my entire childhood was now going to be weak, vulnerable, and dependent. I was very unaware of how fragile her life was about to become.

I always had hope when she was battling this terrible sickness. I truly believed that she would overcome what life had given her because we all needed her to so badly. I also believed that her experiences here in this life were nowhere near done. But what truly helped with my coping was knowing that she needed us to be strong for her. She was so weak and needed the love and support of her three daughters more than she ever had before.

Mom and me, post-cancer at the Tim McGraw concert

The Little Red Door Cancer Agency was a very wonderful help. Also, she had amazing radiologists and chemo nurses who could always keep her thinking positive. I can remember her referring to one of her nurses as an angel.

My best advice to someone who may be going through a similar situation is to stay as positive as you possibly can. Positivistity is treatment all on its own, and your family member will be forever grateful that you made them smile and stayed strong throughout their journey.

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