Cancer is a disease that kills, even if you don’t die from it. The smell of cancer filled our home every time my mother came home from chemotherapy treatment. More than ten years later, it is still part of our lives.
When I first learned my mother has breast cancer, I was fourteen years old. My parents told me and my three siblings that she is sick, but that everything would be okay. I knew that when someone says those words, everything is not okay… and from that moment on, our lives were quite different. Four siblings: each of us raised in the same house by the same two parents, yet each of our relationships with them and each other is quite different, as were our responses over ten years back. One sibling became very quiet and wanted to deal with it alone, without talking or communicating with the others. One sibling misbehaved and acted out, especially during tough times and surgeries. One sibling would express anger. My strategy was to talk about it (and write about it) as often I felt necessary, which never seemed often enough looking back, but felt too often at the time, given my immediate environment. Psychologically, this situation is terribly interesting, and I thought so even as a very young adult, just beginning to attempt an understanding of the world and of myself and my own values.
A woman should not judge a man based on how he treats her during the wooing phase, as he clearly wants to charm and impress her, so she should pay close attention to how he treats others that he is not trying to impress. Just as in romantic relationships, friendships should not be understood under the context of continual good times. It is easy to maintain a friendship when everything is blue skies, but how can you really get to know a person unless you have been exposed to plentiful experiences of a wide variety? Only during stressful times, physically painful times, disastrous times, tragedies, and other unfortunate situations can we learn about ourselves and those around us. When my mother’s friends spoke to me, I learned more about them during two minutes of conversation than I did in ten years of superficial friendship or companionship. One woman arbitrarily assigned my mother with two years left to live. No, she is not and was not a doctor. No, she is no longer a friend of mine or of my family. Another woman said, “Don’t worry, Michelle, your mother will dance at your wedding one day”. Although she also had no idea what the future would hold, she shared warmth and positivity with us when we needed it most, two very important aspects of the friendship we still lovingly share. When people ask me what they should say to a friend or loved one during difficult times, I often reply that it matters more how you speak, and that you reach out at all to begin with. Sometimes just saying “I don’t know what to say, but I am thinking of you” is more meaningful than any cliche or words that do not come from the heart.
My mother went through chemotherapy, radiation therapy, more surgeries than I can remember, and many years of continuous medications. Today, she swims almost every day, is in a book club, plays mahjong, knits, travels, and functions normally, at least physically (the psychological effects of such a disease never go away). She is actively involved in her children’s lives, and I am thankful to have seen her dancing in this country, and in multiple others. That being said, it is always evident and obvious that she has cancer: she tires extremely easily and simply does not have the energy that she otherwise would have. This effects literally everything she does, and everything we plan together.
Cancer is a scary thing, and it changed all of our lives. My mother is the strongest woman I have ever met. She is also the toughest and has only the highest expectations of all of us. She is a rock – one that has served in the Israeli Defense Air Forces, raised four healthy children, and survived the pains and unfair miseries that come as a result of being diagnosed with cancer.