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Woman posing with her mother.
Woman posing with her mother.
Photo courtesy of Siobhan Robinson
Life

How My Mother’s Battle With Breast Cancer Strengthened Our Relationship

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 10 years old — and I still remember the day so clearly.

Sitting down in the Palo Alto Breast Cancer Center’s waiting room, I played on my DSI while waiting for her to return after entering the doctor’s corridors. However, hours passed and my mother had yet to return. Instead, physicians would drop by now and again to see how I was doing and tell me that my mother only needed a few more tests. I felt a pit in my stomach every time. While the physicians reassured me that my mom would be coming back soon, it didn’t feel like they were telling me everything. I’d previously accompanied my mother to scheduled mammograms, but this one felt unnaturally different. 

Finally, my mother’s primary oncologist entered the waiting room and asked if there was a guardian present to discuss my mother’s results. When I said no, she told me that they noticed something unusual in her x-rays and obtained a sample of her breast tissue to confirm that what they discovered was certainly Stage 1 breast cancer. After that diagnosis, it became a month-long process for my mother to move out of our family home and into a one-bedroom apartment near the Palo Alto Radiation Center. 

While I used to share a lot with my mom, I was not particularly expressive of my emotions to her — and when I eventually realized the seriousness of her illness, I felt like I had to work even harder to try to conceal my personal emotions toward it. 

My mother and I have always had a close connection. Since I was a child, my dad used to say that we were always joined at the hip. My mom was my first friend, and while I grew up close with both of my parents, I’ve always talked a little more with my mother (owing to her understanding on a girl level). While I used to share a lot with my mom, I was not particularly expressive of my emotions to her — and when I eventually realized the seriousness of her illness, I felt like I had to work even harder to try to conceal my personal emotions toward it. 

I’d never had my family separated before, so knowing that my mother was alone while undergoing such a serious treatment brought me a lot of fear. Because my mother’s tumor was so small, she just needed four weeks of radiation rather than a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. However, her radiation treatments coincided within a few weeks of the holiday season, so my mother had to miss out on Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, while she was recovering. 

When my mother called to tell me she would have to miss Christmas, I went to my room and cried for hours. I was sad that my mother wouldn’t be home for Christmas, but even more upset to learn that she would be alone with no one to enjoy the holidays with. Most of all, I was especially hurt because I couldn’t help or console her because of our physical distance. 

My aunt, fortunately, traveled from Southern California to see her in Northern California. My aunt would keep an eye on my mother throughout the night, accompany her to her radiation treatments, and just be there for her when she needed someone — whether it was to share a meal or to calm her darkest worries about treatment. 

In retrospect, I think the reason I tell my mom everything now, whether I have to or not, is because of how much I used to talk to her about when she was living away from us.

Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving on the actual day, my Dad and I spent the day before together since he was going to drop me off at my mom’s apartment so I could spend my Thanksgiving break with her and my aunt. I was overjoyed to be able to celebrate with her and spend the majority of the time watching Nickelodeon shows with her. While I’m sure she wasn’t as pleased as I was to watch Drake & Josh, I do believe she valued the opportunity to spend time with me regardless of the unconventional environment. 

Every time I got to hug her and feel her warmth, I realized that even if we were separated by space and time, our love for one another could endure. I wasn’t always as vocal with her about my day’s events, especially my feelings or emotions. In retrospect, I think the reason I tell my mom everything now, whether I have to or not, is because of how much I used to talk to her about when she was living away from us. 

My mother has been cancer-free and in remission since 2013, following a month-long, successful operation. Since then, I’ve cherished my time with my mother, and I believe this circumstance, while painful at the time, brought us closer together. Even though I live in a university campus apartment far away from my parents, I never spend a day without calling her. My mother is my best friend, and I confide in her about every secret, life event, and fear. And, every October, I remember her bravery and strength, and how lucky I am to have her in my life.

Siobhan Robinson is a member of the Her Campus national writing program. She works on the Entertainment and Culture team, covering the most recent pop culture events, trends, and entertainment releases. Previously, she worked as an Entertainment and Culture intern during the Spring 2023 semester, where she was supervised in writing breaking news verticals, live coverage of events such as the Grammys and Met Gala, and interviewing emerging Gen Z talent for Her Campus's "Next Questions" segment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude in Spring 2024 with a B.A. in Communication Studies from San Jose State University and received communication honors for completing a graduate-level course during her undergraduate studies. While in college, she was an active member of the SJSU chapter of Her Campus, serving on the executive board as Editor-In-Chief. In this role, she supervised a team of writers, senior editors, and copy editors, and assessed their articles for the site. Previously, she served as a senior editor, supervising a team of 4-5 writers, and also worked as a campus correspondent for the entire chapter. Additionally, she contributed to the school's publication magazine, Access, and became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. In her free time, Siobhan enjoys scrapbooking, hanging out with friends, going to concerts, and, of course, writing for fun! A die-hard fangirl, she loves sharing everything she knows about her favorite boy bands, even if you don't ask. If you need her, you'll likely find her binge-watching the latest K-drama or catching up on pop-culture social commentaries on YouTube.