Thursday, September 2, 2010


I have been wanting to write about this for a long time now, and thanks to Carol Duncan and Seraphim, what better time than on Feel Them Up Friday.

* * *

My mother died of breast cancer when she was in her thirties. I was seven, and it will be 20 years this December since she passed away. Despite aggressively attacking the cancer with a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, it was simply caught too late.

In the end, the treatment would only temporarily prolong her life. She decided to come home to her daughters from the hospital in Brisbane, and spend the time she had left with her family.

My favourite photo of Mum - we don't have many

I don't remember as much as I would like about my mum. I was so young, but also I didn't cope well at all with her loss and I don't remember much before I was about 12. I still can't cope with grief - I cry and cry when a goldfish dies. My sister remembers so much, and yet I only have a few memories.

I remember Mum teaching me how to ride a bike around our house in Kingaroy. My little sister was chasing me as I rode - I looked back at her and fell right off. I have vague memories of her walking me to preschool, collecting me from kindy, and looking at the horse next door with my little sister (I think his name was Owl).

Sadly, I also remember Mum lying on the couch, ill, asking us to please be quiet as we were being naughty in the living room. I remember having cake for her birthday 6 days before she died. I remember being woken in the middle of the night to take her to the hospital; the last trip that she would make. I remember her lying in her hospital bed, but I don't remember what we talked about. Apparently we went to visit her wearing the dresses that Nana had made for us to wear to the funeral - mine was white and J's was light pink, both broderie anglaise with little puffy shoulders. She really wanted to see us in them. I remember loving that dress.

I remember my uncles as pallbearers, carrying Mum in her coffin inside the church. It was black and shiny. I remember my cousin T holding my hand at the cemetery, and seeing my year 1 and 2 teachers there. They both gave me a beautiful hardcover notebook with a poem that they had written on the inside cover. It was for me to write to Mum, and I never really did. I regret that so much. I don't even know if I have that book now - I really hope I do. Mum used to come to the school to help people to read until she injured her hip (the cancer had spread and she was very weak) and could no longer come to the school. My year 2 class all signed a get well soon card for her. The card had a dark dried flower on the front, and I know we still have that at Dad's house.

I miss my mum all the time. I cry a lot, even still. I wonder what we would do together if she were around. I know we would be close. She was a pragmatic woman. She was funny. I know this because she wrote letters to my dad's mum before my grandparents had a phone, and Grandma gave those letters to Dad a few years ago. I've been reading them and some of the things that she says are things that I say even now, but I had no idea that she used to say them. It's uncanny. Those letters make me laugh and cry and wish I knew that woman. She made fun of my dad, which almost makes me more sad, because they were obviously so happy together. She would tell so many stories about Dad, my little sister, me. Like the time my dad (who was also a policeman) told a woman off for sunbathing topless at the beach and then a few days later went to have his hair cut only to be faced with the same lady as his hairdresser. I can just imagine my dad when that happened.

I think that Mum would have loved EA. She would have seen how wonderful EA is to me and that would have been enough. I'm like my dad in personality - likely to become anxious about little things. EA is like Mum - likely to tell me to stop being a goose when I become anxious about little things. We have that same balance and that makes us great.

Mum's first day as a policewoman

* * *

Before I go on, I want to emphasise that I believe the awareness in Australia about breast cancer and breast checks is fantastic.

While my sister and I have a higher risk of contracting breast cancer given our family history, and especially because my mum was so young, I refuse to let it run my life. I'm not going to have a preemptive mastectomy. I'm not going to live childless because I believe I will leave my children motherless and EA a widower. I don't even know if I will end up having the test to see if I carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. There is more to life than worrying about these things.

I will, however, keep up with my breast checks and make sure I have an ultrasound every year. Because even if I am diagnosed, if I catch it early, it can be successfully treated.

There is only one issue I have with breast screening in Queensland. When I was 18 I attended the Breast Cancer Family Clinic at Chermside. I spoke to a doctor and had an ultrasound and manual examination, the risks were explained to me and I was given a plan for remaining vigilant in the future. I was given a letter directing me to see the Family Clinic again when I was 25.

I turned 25 two years ago. For whatever reason - life happened and I was irresponsible - I didn't get to the clinic, though every time someone asked my age or I thought about the number 25 it would jog my memory: get to the clinic.

It wasn't until early this year, when I was nearing 27, that I finally made the call. I requested that somebody phone me regarding making an appointment for both myself and my little sister, who was then 24 and had never been. A week later I received a phone call telling me that no, I cannot have an appointment, because the rules have changed and they will no longer see women with a family history (even as close a relative as a mother, in her thirties) until they turn 30.

One part of me understands - breast cancer is all too common these days and so many women would have a family member who had been affected. I couldn't help but feel a little helpless though, or at least moreso than I would have been had that service still been there. Sure, breast cancer is far more common in older women, but there are plenty who are diagnosed in their twenties. If you follow the #FeelThemUpFriday hashtag on Twitter you will come across so many stories of those women affected by cancer at a young age.

In any case, that avenue is not an option for me until 2013, so I will seek a referral from my doctor to see a specialist at the Wesley Hospital, where my mother was treated. It's not cheap, but what price health?

I think the day that they find a cure for breast cancer (and that day will come) will be bittersweet for me. Despite the happiness and relief that I will feel that people won't have to go through this anymore, I will be silently asking: what about Mum? Why not 20/30/50 years ago? My mum needed this cure too. She needed to be here - I needed her to be here.

Just to quickly address the suggestions that Feel Them Up Friday is sexualising breast checks - so what? If it is, if it isn't, it doesn't matter. If this week encourages just one woman to check herself, or absolutely, have her partner check her, then it has been a success. If a man has a bit of fun doing something that could keep her alive, then he should go for his life. The cheeky name and pink avatars add a little bit of fun to what is an extremely serious topic, but surely that can't be a bad thing.

How will I be making Feel Me Up Friday fun? Along with Jodie, Naomi and Liz I will be enjoying some of these:


WrenRennard said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your mother. I honestly do not know how it would feel.
Breast cancer awareness is great in Aus, I'm really proud of everything we do here. Both of my grandmothers had breast cancer, I'm 24 and make sure I get checked as often as possible.


Kelly said...

Honey what a beautiful post... I wasn't going to bother with the pink Avatar etc tomorrow... But After reading your post.. I'll definitely be going pink tomorrow for #feelmeupfriday... *hugs* to you and your family!!

Nomie said...

What a beautiful post. I will certainly be eating must stick tomorrow with you.

You know it's not too late to write to your Mum, even if you can't find the journals.

Cancer has in some way had an affect on everyone I know. I say the more we talk about it, even if it only makes one person have a check up... it's worth it.


Anonymous said...

Your mum looks really beautiful in those photos. Your post was so lovely and I could feel the sadness and love in your words. I agree with Nomie - you should definitely still write to your mum. << hugs >>

Kallie said...

I now have an even better reason to eat musk sticks tomorrow... Every one I eat will be for you and your Mum. Each one will remind me of your Mum's wisdom in knowing when to cut her losses, her strength in what she taught you during your seven years together, her love for you and yours for her.

You say you don't cope with grief but you do... you cry, you don't hide from it and let it eat away at you from the inside. You've spoken so honestly and wonderfully about your Mum and that IS coping with grief. Not allowing the potential for cancer to rule your life is also coping... You are stronger than you think you are, you are more beautiful than you know :)

My word verification is 'pinkl' How awesome is that?

Anonymous said...

You are a wonderful writer and evoked the sense of loss you felt and must still feel. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
I was really shocked about the change in rules in terms of check ups and am glad you went ahead anyway. Enjoy the delicious slice tomorrow xx

So Now What? said...

Oh My. I've read a lot of posts and this one truly made me cry. My love, you were so little and your recollections broke my heart.

Maybe it's because I can put myself there. Imagining if my kids were put in that position.

You are a beautifull soul. Thanks for this post. xxx Bern

Suzie said...

I knew there was a point for going pink and I'm glad I came and read about it. While there isn't much breast cancer in my family there is bowel cancer and so I know what you're going through with the loss of your mother. I have managed to block out most of my childhood and so have very few memories of my Dad who died when I was in my early twenties. Yes, I have more memories of him than you do of you Mum but I can still relate. Please make sure you have those checkups.

Cotton Socks said...

Thank you for sharing your story.
Loved reading this post.
It's amazing that we all think "it wont happen to me", but these days, nearly all of us know someone who has been affected by breast cancer.
i think i agree with you about the Feel them Up Friday.
It's creating awareness and because its kind of catchy, women might remember to actually do it!
It's not like guys are going to go around feeling up random womens breasts!

Love the photo of your mums first day as a police woman! She was a fox!

turtle said...

I hear ya.

My mum died in 1989 from breast cancer in very similar circumstances, even down to breaking her hip. I was 6 at the time in grade 2 with 2 younger sisters. Being so young, I didn't understand everything at the time, but looking back now I don't know how she found the strength to fight cancer while raising 3 small children on her own.

Anyways, I can relate to most of this so I'm a fellow supporter.

missea said...

Thank you all so, so much for your comments. It is just so sad that so many of us have been affected, but so wonderful that days like today - and every day - we can be supportive of one another and the cause itself.

Jane said...

You just made me cry. Such a beautiful post. xx

Ami said...

Beautiful beautiful post. I just can't imagine a little girl losing her mum so young. It breaks my heart. Thank you so much for sharing such a heartful post. xxx

Bee said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I can't imagine what it must feel like to have your Mum pass away and it really saddens me that it's happening so often now. I hope by doing this post it helps at least once person.

Thanks xx

Anonymous said...

Stunning post - I was gobsmacked!

Tracy (ruddygood) said...

Heartbreakingly beautiful post, gorgeous writing. Your mum would be so very proud of you, both for the courage to parcel up your love and loss and wistfulness and share it with us strangers-yet-friends, and for the eloquence with which you did it.

Losing a parent must never be easy, but how heartbreaking to feel the elusiveness of your memories. I lost my Dad to cancer 11 years ago last week, but at least I have over half a lifetime of memories to keep. Thank you so much for sharing yours. Sending hugs x

The Kara K Project said...

Hi there Missea. I thought I was following you already.. strange. because I certainly would not miss an amazing post such as this.

I actually couldn't read it all... I'm sorry. I stopped at that you still cry now and wonder what you would be doing - that breaks my heart :(

If she were here today, she would be proud of you and the person you have become... that's a given. And probably stir you up a bit as well :P

Thank you for sharing x


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