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Saffron's story

Winning the battle against breast cancer with courage

Saffron and her mumCancer. The word swallows the surrounding sentence up like a monster, shocking and scary, awkward to be mentioned and sad to be talked about. People dance around the word when it’s mentioned, scared to confront it, staying as far away from the subject as possible, like it is some kind of jaw snapping monster, eager to consume more victims. But it’s a fact, one in three people are affected by cancer and every day thousands of people around the world are being diagnosed.

I was told about my mother being diagnosed with breast cancer almost two years ago, on a bright day after school. A ‘family meeting’ dad had called it. I remember rolling my eyes impatiently. This ‘meeting’ was most likely to consist of argument about the endless hours my brother spends on his Xbox or my recent slacking from chores. However, this was not the case at all. Mum had received news that day, when visiting Elgin hospital with my dad to get results of her mammogram, that she had a cancerous lump on the lower side of her left breast. She was going to have to undergo surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a year’s course of Herceptin treatment. Being as naïve as I was two years ago, this seemed like a huge jumble of complicated words that didn’t have any distinct meaning. I was confused and it showed on my face, as mum cleared it all up in one shocking statement.

“I have Cancer.”

The room was as cold as the clinical words that echoed around the house, bouncing off the walls, seeping into our home further and contaminating our lives, swallowing us up. Shock moved into my body like a stranger as I stared at my mum, open mouthed. Off I went to my room, expecting tears to run, but nothing came. As soon as I shut my door and sat on the edge of my bed, the house silent except for the dull sound of the television downstairs, disbelief finally left my body and white hot boiling anger set in. Why does my mum have it? She’s a healthy caring woman who wouldn’t hurt a fly and always puts people before her. I should have it, not her. I tore my pillows off of my bed and threw them across the room as the frustration built up inside of me. That’s when the tears came.

The first couple of weeks became a routine for me. I would wake up grumpy and go to school even more miserable. I would rush home, upstairs to mum’s bedroom to be met by her weakened eyes but beaming smile. She was frail and quiet. A feeling of pure grief rushed over me as I automatically assumed the worst every time I came upstairs. I was going to lose my mum. As she swallowed pill by pill, and spent day by day laying in bed, wincing in agony I was more convinced that it wasn’t going to get any better. My mum is a strong and brave woman, repelled by drama and sympathy. She didn’t want anyone’s “I’m so sorry” or “Get well soon”. She believes there are two kinds of people in this world that become affected by cancer – ones that lie down and take it and ones that stand up and fight. My mum is not the type to lie down and take the pain and agony without putting up a huge fight first. She was convinced that she would beat it. She smiled in the face of it: laughed, cherishing life more as she realised and still does that everything happens for a reason.

One distinct moment that I remember and admire my mum greatly for was when her hair started to fall out. She would run her fingers through her hair and laugh at the coloured tufts falling out, letting it fall through her fingers. One afternoon I ran downstairs to see what all the noise was about after hearing giggling and a mechanical noise coming from my kitchen. I opened the door to see my mum, already half bald, surrounded by strands of her own hair, smiling broadly. A tear ran down my cheek as I walked over and helped my dad shave the rest of her hair off. These were different tears, tears full of joy as I saw my mum as beautiful as I had ever seen her before. Hair or no hair, my mum was as strong as ever and she hugged me tightly, bright eyed, filled with new hope and determination.

I suddenly thought to myself, “What are you doing crying? You’re so selfish! You should be staying strong for her, not bawling your eyes out every chance you get at witnessing any weakness that she shows”. I should be supporting her through these challenges, not sinking into defeat and waiting for her to comfort me. I looked at her just then, bold and tough as ever and said to myself, I was no longer going to wallow in sadness. I was going to join my mum in the battle of defeating the dreaded word.

Saffron's Story - Race for LifeI went with my mum to her last ever treatment session of Herceptin treatment. She looked as overjoyed as ever walking into the hospital that way, only grimacing ever so slightly at the stench of the medical treatment rooms which hauls the earlier memories of her cancer back. But this was the end now and as she strode into the treatment room and I sat down beside her. She didn’t even flinch as the final needle broke into her withered and worn vein. The room was silent, filled with about seven people, their heads down, reading magazines, just wanting this to be over, and keeping themselves to themselves.

My mum was different and she always will be. She spoke to the woman next to her, asking her how she was getting on with her treatment and effortlessly making the woman and the nurses laugh. It was as if my mum lit up the room as everything became easier and comforting. We walked out of the hospital, arms around each other’s shoulders, grinning. It was finally over.

Defeating cancer has made an enormous impact on my mum’s life and on mine as well. As a family she has taught us many things that I will keep in the back of my mind throughout my adult life and even today. One of these things is not to judge people. My mum demonstrated this by baring her smooth bald head to the public, not caring what people think about her. I watched as people stand there and make judgements but don’t have the pleasure of knowing what an inspiring mother she is to me.

The cancer has brought us closer and my mum is my best friend. I have never respected anyone so much in my life, and I will always remember this period in my life fondly, remembering only the uplifting moments and disregarding the cruel pain that was placed upon my mother’s shoulders. I am no longer scared of the word we skulk and tiptoe around. I look down on it, incredibly proud of my mum overcoming this huge obstacle in her life. And that leaves the score one to mum, nil to cancer.

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Updated: 18 March 2014