An Open Letter to My Mother with Breast Cancer

We don’t… talk about it. I mean, that doesn’t happen to us. Not just us as a family but just.. us. We don’t really see Hispanic women with breast cancer on TV. It’s usually a Caucasian woman with the bluest eyes, shining with the glimmer of hope while their shaven head is covered with a pretty silk scarf. Occasionally there will be an African American woman, but it’s just a small glance of her. We’re as underrepresented in the battle against breast cancer as we are in Hollywood.

(pre-chemo, pre-results, pre-everything)

One early summer morning you said, “Hija, I got hit in the chest at work and now there’s a lump, should I go to the doctor?” I didn’t know time could stop in a matter of seconds. That it was possible for my lungs to collapse and still be standing there in the living room, with you waiting on my answer. I looked back and said “Duh mami, that’s why companies have health insurance.” You looked at me, confused while the news channel played in the background. I told you to grab your stuff and that I was taking you to work.

You had multiple doctor appointments. Waking up earlier than usual so that you could still make it to both of your jobs on time. I tried taking you to as many as I could, asking for people to switch shifts with me. One of my coworkers caught me with my eyes all watery as I walked through the store and obviously I just said “Oh, I’m just so tired and that I yawned and it made my eyes water," because that happens… right?  Doctors were being vague as to what you could have, asking for biopsies and mammograms, but never really saying it either. It could just be some abnormal blood clot, right? It could just be a really huge bruise and natural remedies would be able to heal you, right? Vicks and “te con limon”* and honey heals everything, right?

An extremely long month passed and when I came back home from work the results were back. There were letters and applications and pictures I was unable to understand. Grey’s Anatomy never prepared me for this. Why hasn’t Shonda Rhimes made an episode on breast cancer anyway? What are these watery things running down the sides of my eyes? No. No no no. This doesn’t happen to us.  

Dad came in and I’m sure he saw I had taken the documents. I tried to coyly place them back on the ironing board. I could see the heaviness of the news in his eyes. I told him I was going out again- he understood.

I didn’t know where to go so I sat in my car and cried. No one could see me, it was almost 11 p.m. So I cried. Some friends were out of town; others were asleep or just out somewhere. I couldn’t tell my best friend because this was like telling her about her own mother.  I never felt so alone. I just wanted you home, but you were off working and that was honestly the best thing for you to do. A few minutes later even though it felt like hours, someone replied. I picked him up. We drove around. I mentioned what happened with you once, and kept changing the topic. If I talked about it to someone, it meant this was real. This couldn’t be real. This doesn’t happen to us.

I know that when I came back home we talked about it. Briefly, but we did. I don’t remember most of it. Something about doctor's appointments, more tests more waiting.

The next day I contacted a previous teacher who I knew went through breast cancer the year before. She had contacts, she had insight, she was one of the strongest women I knew. She helped me, sent me contacts and held my hand over the phone. I had support. You had support. I wanted to hold off on going to college but I knew you’d kill me before the disease would ever have a chance to kill you.

You started chemo around the same time classes started. You’ve been such a soldier. Dad said that you did great at the first chemo session. But afterwards your hair started falling out, so you said “screw it” and shaved it all off. I guess that’s why I’m growing my hair out now- for you.

(Just look at that smile) 

I’m so proud of you. Every single day I am proud to be your daughter. I am proud of everything you are accomplishing and the people whose lives you’ve touched. I am proud that you have such a generous and friendly soul that everyone rallied to help you. Every time I come back home I see how much Dad loves you more and more. I hope you know that you are loved. I hope you know that my love for you will never stop - through thick and thin, my love is unconditional.  

(You two are #Goals.) 

Though we have no family history of cancer, though we don’t see people with our skin color on TV going through this- it happened to us. It happened to my teacher, it happened to Taylor Swift’s mom, it could’ve happened to Angelina Jolie. It happened to you. But you’ll get through this. I never really knew what bravery was until I saw it in you and I hope to be as brave as you are one day.

Love always,

Your Coneja**


*tea with lemon

** Bunny

P.S. It's been a year and you're done with chemo and radiation. I know your bones hurt. I know you're working hard to help me get through college. Trust me, I know. But we'll get through this together, one step at a time. I just want to thank you for continuing being strong and sassy, just the way you've always raised me. So thank you for fighting each and every day, I don't know what I would do without you.