Posted by: Lawrence D. Elliott | October 13, 2008

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Just Another Example of Strength

It was October 2, 2008, at 1:53 pm when I received the news. My mother, the strongest person I have ever known, had her final diagnosis. It was breast cancer. To be precise, it was Infiltrating (or Invasive) Ductal Carcinoma. It´s funny how certain words hold so much power they can send chills down your body. I could feel my eyes get watery. I was scared. I mean, I was really scared!

It was not my first taste of fear from the words breast cancer.

Back in 1992, just a short two years into my marriage, my wife and I had a fright when she found a lump in her right breast. I stood ever so still in a corner of the room as a biopsy sample was taken from her. The most chilling comment was when the doctor said, “Hmm.” My imagination went wild as I tried to guess what “Hmm” meant. We had to go through months waiting and a surgery before we would receive the fortunate news. It was not breast cancer. It was just a cyst. She was spared.

Over the years, we have had countless friends and family members afflicted with this disease. Some won their battles. Others sadly lost them. But all of them showed me an example of courage that even the most hardened war veteran would envy.

And now my mother would be added to that list.

I got myself together. I had to call my mother. I wanted to know how she was. I needed to hear her voice. I fought back the tears and dialed her cell number. When she answered, a strong voice greeted me. “I´m okay,” she said. “Everything´s going to be okay.”

It was a very odd conversation, indeed. I mean, my mother was suffering from breast cancer and she was comforting me! She asked if she could call back later in the evening. She was unable to talk. You see, she was at work and involved in a heavy project. She wouldn´t even let breast cancer keep her from doing her work with the quality she demanded.

It was not the first time my mother had shown such courage and determination in the face of adversity. In 2007, I had the honor of publishing a story for my mother titled “Thank God for the Sandwiches” in the book Letters to My Mother: Tributes to the Women Who Give Us Life—and Love. In that story, I illustrated how my mother responded to finding herself homeless in a strange city with two young children in tow.

“When we found ourselves without a warm bed, a roof over our heads, or even the knowledge of where our next meal would come from, you didn´t give up. You rolled up your sleeves and went out to find a way.”

And it was no surprise that in 2006 when it was initially thought that she had lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system that she showed the same unwavering strength that has become her trademark. She would also not waiver. My wife, my two sisters—Cheryl and DiAnna—and I accompanied my mother to her consultation with her wonderful oncologist in San Diego, Dr. Bemiller. My mother made two demands and you´d better believe we had to follow them to the letter. First, she told us she would be allowed to ask all the questions she wanted without interruption. My mother always wanted to know the situation she had to face no matter how grim it may seem. Then, she made one more requirement.

“No crying. No tears. If you have to cry, leave the room, get yourself together, and come back. We´ll deal with what the Lord gives us.”

Thanks to that wonderful oncologist and the City of Hope, we dodged a bullet. It was learned that she had Castleman Disease, a rare illness which has the characteristics of lymphoma.

The last year has been a troubling time in my life. First, my wife has been afflicted with a string of illnesses: lympoedema, pneumonia, a pulmonary embolism, and finally going into respiratory failure. I would have lost her on that last one if God hadn´t have tapped me on my shoulder—or smacked me on the back of my head—and told me to check in on her. As my wife lay in a hospital bed—and while waiting the results of her own biopsy—my mother made the 100-mile drive to check on Lisa. She sat at Lisa´s side as if she didn´t have a care in the world. Her main focus was on her “daughter,” as she always called her.

As I called her on the evening of her diagnosis to get more detailed information, she told me she had her appointment scheduled with the surgeon. I told her I would go with her since Cheryl—the nurse in our family—was now living in Atlanta with her family. My mother´s answer was typical.

“I´d love that. But remember, no crying. No tears. We´ll deal with whatever the Lord gives us.”

If I´d have gotten any other answer it wouldn´t have been normal. With my mother I don´t hope she´ll be strong, I expect it. The toughness of her life had built in a habit of strength. And we all know, habits are just hard to break.

My sister Cheryl will be walking in Atlanta´s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer on October 25, 2008. She has walked in other events before. Obviously, this will be more special than any other she has participated in. She´ll be walking for our mother—or her best friend, as she calls her.

If you would like to pledge to the American Cancer Society for this event (or any event nationally), click here.

To read my sister Cheryl’s touching email to family and friends, click here

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Responses

  1. Once again your words put on paper elicit feelings in me of such great pride- pride of being the much loved wife of such a special man- and such a terrific writer!

  2. […] to top it off, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She would need […]


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