Friday, February 21, 2014

Part II: My Mom’s Battle with Breast Cancer

(Continued from February 19th post)

As we absorbed the information about my mom's breast cancer diagnosis, we talked about her status as owner of Bridals by Lori and star of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta and Say Yes to the Dress Bridesmaids. She had this public platform during this season of her life for a reason. After discussing it with the family and her producer, my Mom agreed to allow her production company to follow her entire breast cancer journey. She would share her struggles with the nation in order to empower other women going through breast cancer and raise awareness of the impact of the disease.

A few weeks later, her lumpectomy went fairly well. We were overjoyed that her cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. I sat with my mom as she woke up from surgery, and adjusted her bed. When did I become the caregiver? I wondered. This was new and uncomfortable.
My mom with her North South Productions team.
Days later the doctor called to tell us that the margins were not clear. My mom needed a radical double mastectomy in order to have the best chance of breast cancer not returning. She was happy to have an answer and a plan. I wanted her to get a mastectomy from the beginning, but this was her process, her body and her decisions. The surgery was scheduled for July 3rd.

Her medical team opted to perform the radical double mastectomy and the beginning of her reconstruction in one eight-hour surgery. This was one of the longest days of my life as my Dad, Nana, Papa, brother and I sat in a cramped waiting room awaiting positive news. 

My brother, Cory, sleeping in the waiting room of Northside Hospital during my mom's mastectomy. 

No one could have prepared me for the severity of a radical double mastectomy. She looked horrible after the surgery and had eight drains filled with blood coming out of her torso. The nurses showed me her surgery sites and reassured me that everything would be okay. I nodded my head outwardly, but I wanted to run and hide inwardly. What did they do to my mom?

That night, I allowed my other family members to go home and rest- I would stay with my mom before having to return to my husband and baby girl.  I decorated her hospital room for 4th of July, re-arranged the furniture, texted family and comforted her as she would wake up. That next morning, the nurses encouraged her to stand up. She collapsed in my arms while brushing her teeth. I can’t explain how helpless I felt.

My Dad took vigilant care of her every need as she recovered, and I saw demonstrated, once again, the deep love and respect my parents have for one another. After months of physical therapy, prayers and support, my mom finally started to look like herself again.

My Mom had her final reconstruction surgery last December. It went well and, despite a few minor tweaks, her surgeries are over. Today, she takes a drug daily that makes her feel sick sometimes. She is working through it though, with gratitude for how far she has come. Both of my parents are now HEALTHY and CANCER FREE!

I am beyond proud of her for sharing her journey with the world. She has helped millions of women dealing with cancer through her grace, humor, honesty and candor. She regularly delivers breast cancer talks and was even invited by our nation's Vice President to attend a breast cancer fundraiser at his home in DC!

My mom's special, "Say Yes to the Cure: Lori's Fight" touched millions of women around the world.

The Caregiver’s Perspective

So, how do I feel about breast cancer? This journey? I hate cancer. I hate breast cancer. I hate what it does to your body, your mind and your family. I cannot even explain the fear and stress I felt balancing a new baby, career and caring for my mother. I constantly felt guilty and like I was failing at something- I missed time with my daughter and missed being there as much as I wanted for my mom. I felt torn in a million different directions like so many caregivers do.

I also felt surprisingly lonely. During times like these, friends and distant family either step up to the plate to help and support- or they run away. Some run away because they don’t know what to do or say. We saw this firsthand.

Even though friends were scared to call me, I called them anyway. I let myself cry, I left myself be angry, and I realized what was really important in life.

I learned not to read all of the opinions and articles on the Internet. Trust your doctors and allow your medical team to be your primary source of information. If you don’t trust your doctor, change doctors. My mom changed reconstructive surgeons and felt much better about her second decision; go with your gut.

I also learned to not be afraid to accept and/or seek help. Take care of your emotional state as well as your physical state- and this goes for caregivers and family as much as the patient.  Don’t be ashamed to talk to a counselor or call a friend. Let yourself have bad days full of emotion- and also allow yourself to have good days when you laugh and smile without feeling guilty.

There are two things that matter in life- faith and family. My mom’s journey reinforced this for me in a very powerful way.  Breast cancer is a team effort.

Above all, don’t let breast cancer win. Don’t let breast cancer steal your joy and hope for a better tomorrow. Claim survivorship and live it.
My mom and I before speaking as the Co-Chairs of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. 

4 comments:

  1. What a lovely story. I recently lost my Mother but not to breast cancer. You talking about being the caregiver is just the same though. Love your beautiful and funny Mom. Her shows are just what the doctor ordered for me during this rough time in my life. Prayers to you and your family and thanks again for the touching story. God is a good guy

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  2. Mollie, you are truly a beautiful writer! What courage and grace you have in telling such a deeply personal story. Your words go straight through to my heart since I am equally as close to my mom and have a son in the same age range as your daughter. God bless you and your family.

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  3. You are such a beautiful person. As is your mother. My breast cancer journey is so similar, yet I am the patient and my parents/hubby/best friends the caregivers. Thank you for being so encouraging to me. Ill never forget the cookies you sent me- it made my day ;) Hopefully you will come to visit your Bham friends soon and I will get to meet you!! God bless you

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  4. I saw Lori's story on TV and now I've read it. I'm having a mastectomy next week after the lumpectomy did not clear the margin. I was also devastated not wanting to go through it again. They cannot give me reconstruction because of my weight and need to wait. Your story has inspired me and I don't feel so alone. Thank you Mollie and Lori.

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