Cancer is a monster. A ravenous, hungry monster that has and will continue to impact, change, and destroy millions of lives. I am not a cancer survivor; I’ve never had to deal with the pain of chemotherapy or radiation or the frightening realization that your time on Earth is nearing its end. I’ve never been bedridden with illness, I’ve never lost the ability to feed myself, change myself, or use the bathroom on my own. I’ve never had to gather all of my family members to say goodbye. I’ve never lost my mind or body to a disease.
To all who have fought this monster, I’m so sorry. To all who have had to watch someone they love fight this monster, I’m so sorry.
Two years ago, I lost my mom to cervical cancer. My mom was so much more than her cancer, so much more than those long, difficult years spent fighting. I could spend this time writing about the endless nights spent in the ER because chemotherapy was causing her body to shut down. I could tell you about how, at 27, I had to change my mom’s diapers. I could write about how I watched my mom go from 170 to 86 lbs over the course of a year. I could write about how I can’t look at Italian ice anymore because it was the only thing she could hold down for months. I could tell you about the nights I stayed up crying, the times I snapped at my friends who were only trying to help, how I failed at my job for years due to grief and depression.
I could tell you about the anger. How furious I was that I lost my mom before our best years together. That she wouldn’t be here to watch me grow, to see me get married or buy my first house, to meet the person I am today.
Those parts are so easy to remember – so easy to recall. They were so horrific, so traumatizing, forever burned into my memory, seeping their way through even on my best days. They’re parts of my life that won’t ever go away, and for a while, I thought they would be my only lasting memories of my mom.
Soon after she passed, I went grocery shopping. I caught a glimpse of her favorite pre-packaged dessert, ditched my full shopping cart in the bakery section, and sat in my car and cried for an hour. I thought that this was it – this is my life now. Alone, feeling sorry for myself. I thought that if I had siblings or a father to connect with over this unbelievable pain I was feeling, things would be better. (It would not have made it better)
But then one morning I was cooking breakfast, making homefries the same way she taught me. Flipping my egg the way she used to do. Toasting my bread to the exact crispiness that she did. It reminded me so much of Christmas mornings, waking up to fresh coffee and a pile of gifts under the tree (that she stayed up wrapping the night before because, like me, she procrastinated everything). We always went to my aunt’s house on Christmas, but we took our time. We loved those long, lazy mornings together. I still love my long, lazy mornings.
When I was in high school, I begged my mom for a cat. We went to the Boston Animal Rescue League and found Dobby, a small black kitten (named by a 15-year-old me, of course). I was so excited, but it quickly deteriorated as Dobby immediately attached himself to my mom. She built him an outdoor Catio, bought him a leash, and treated him to fresh tuna once a week. Dobby was 12 years old when my mom passed, and call me crazy but he knew. Dobby never cuddled me, never wanted anything to do with me, and now he’s my shadow. He reminds me so much of my mom and the love she gave to all. He reminds me of a different time, almost like he’s a sentiment of the life I once had.
During the pandemic, I beat Zelda: Link’s Awakening in under 20 hours. It was a feat I was so proud of. It was the first time I picked up the phone to call my mom, adrenaline burning through me. I almost started to cry in that moment, realizing she was gone, but instead recalled how cool my mom was that I was about to call her to tell her about beating a video game; she loved video games and was the one who introduced me to Zelda (the raddest of the rad). Then, as quickly as the adrenaline subsided, a flash of my mom, sitting on the edge of her bed with a GameCube controller in her hand flickered through my memory. I didn’t feel like I wanted to cry anymore.
These stories are just small examples of the waves of grief. It doesn’t have an on and off switch. You never know what’s going to trigger you into a fit of tears, but please do know that those happy memories will come flooding back to you eventually. You’re always told “It’s the little things that matter the most.” And it’s true. Those little moments with my mom, that’s what I remember. Those are what stick. Binge-watching Dance Moms together and laughing hysterically, ordering from our favorite take-out place, shopping together and crying to her about a boy. Her favorite recipes, her sense of humor, her interests, kindness, and acceptance. It’s all within me today.
Grief is a monster in and of itself. I will always miss my mom. I will always have those painful memories. They’re not something I can get rid of, or even want to get rid of. My mom will always be my best friend and my biggest source of inspiration. I’m so proud of myself and who I am today. I know my mom would be too.