As an adult, the memories that remain from my mother's battle with breast cancer are best described as hidden in a closet deep inside my mind. Like an unwanted dress pushed into the far end of the clothes rack, there is a desire to just get rid of it but I know I have to keep it around as a reminder of things past.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in her thirties meant my mother would repeatedly be reminded by doctors to be vigilant for good reason. There was always concern about the future. No matter how many decades removed, like all children of survivors, I will never shake concern for the well-being of my mother – hoping that she will never have to face that horrible demon – cancer – again.
My mother faced her battle against breast cancer in the mid-Seventies. It was difficult finding a surgeon willing to take on the task of giving her an opportunity to fight for her life. As my family has shared, the drugs were harsh, some unproven, and the surgery itself was crude in comparison to today's techniques.
I was still young, but what child can forget their mother being gaunt and physically ill? Instead of going home after school, I would accompany her to the hospital for treatment. It was a scary time and continued reminder. There is a deep sadness that only now I can fully appreciate. At the time, however, it was a battle that I really didn't understand.
Thankfully, despite all of the challenges, my mother made it through this physically and mentally grueling battlefield. Over thirty years later, she remains cancer free and grateful to the physicians who worked with her. Even though the scar tissue is extensive, nurses who take her annual mammogram apologize for what she endured, her reply is always the same, "I'm still here." She has made peace with the measures that were necessary at the time.
It gave her several more decades to dance with my father before he passed a few years ago. It has also given me the opportunity to develop a close relationship with her as an adult because she is "still here," a survivor.
Today, there are many more treatment options available to breast cancer patients. A better understanding of the physical and emotional needs of women who take on the fight to save their lives. To keep their families whole. There is also a greater ability for women to empower themselves with knowledge, to investigate treatment options that might be right for them.
Mexican-American women like my mother are strong. They are fighters. Sadly, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer that they may face. Worsened, in some, by a BRCA gene mutation that may make them at even higher risk of getting cancer and a more difficult time winning the fight against it.
Science, however, is making strides to potentially help women overcome these challenges. There is testing for the BRCA gene mutation which can help caregivers make better decisions on treatment. And, there is the possibility of new drugs that may work to address this BRCA gene mutation in clinical trials like the EMBRACA Clinical Trial.
Today, there are many more treatment possibilities than those given to my mother in the Seventies. There are more options to discuss with family members and supporters. Arm yourself with knowledge. There is hope.