By Estelle Racusin
As a breast cancer survivor, I see Mother's Day as a time of reflection and thankfulness.
When I married my husband, I told him I would love to have four children. Always the cautious one, my husband said, "Let's be happy if we're able to have two." He was 50 years old and I was 34, and he was right. We didn't know what life had in store for us. Today, I'm a mom to our 16-year-old son, Ben. Life didn't turn out the way I planned, but I couldn't be more grateful for the family I have now.
My breast cancer diagnosis and treatment
The summer before Ben's fourth birthday I began feeling lethargic, but I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong.
One fall morning I woke up and my left breast was painful and I felt a lump. On October 11, 2001, MD Anderson called and confirmed what we already suspected: a breast cancer diagnosis. I still have the piece of paper from that day where I had written "invasive lobular carcinoma."
The next few months were a whirlwind, moments I catch myself reflecting back on when I have a bad day. A few weeks after my breast cancer diagnosis, we discovered our new home was filled with mold, and we had to move into a hotel. Our lives were totally uprooted. We were being tested. I prayed daily to please let me live so that my son would grow up knowing who I was, how much I loved him and how much I fought for him.
My breast cancer treatment included nine rounds of chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy and 30 radiation treatments, after which I proudly rang the bell at MD Anderson.
I continued to make appointments at MD Anderson, but now it was to see therapists. I was depressed. But time and treatment helped me heal.
Setting an example for my son during breast cancer treatment
Throughout my breast cancer treatment, I told myself I had to live to show Ben that in life we are all dealt different scenarios, but the strong survive. I wanted him to know that it's how we deal with adversity that defines us.
When I took Ben to swim class or baseball practice, I tried to smile at the other moms, but they weren't too sure what to say many times. Outside of the cocoon of MD Anderson, people look at you differently. This was my chance to show Ben to be brave.
Despite my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, we took time to celebrate. One of my favorite memories was my husband's birthday. All of us wore birthday hats. The cone shape didn't do my bald head any favors. I looked like an alien, which made us all laugh. We tried to create as many memories as possible to show we got through this, even with a sense of humor at times.
Life after breast cancer treatment
Today, I proudly walk the halls of MD Anderson as a volunteer. It makes me happy when a patient and his or her family have hope after seeing me 12 years after my diagnosis. I tell everyone there is life after cancer.
Ben has definitely been affected by my cancer journey, but I think it's in a positive way. He is more compassionate. He has even started joining me on weekend Ground Angels Missions, where we volunteer to provide free transportation to and from MD Anderson for out-of-town patients. Ben puts together bags with water, granola bars and fruit for the patients, helps them get in and out of wheelchairs, loads their bags in our car and unloads them at the airport. He even fills out the paperwork, making sure the release forms are properly signed and dated. I'm really proud of how he views the outcome of our own personal journey and wants to give back.
Celebrating Mother's Day after cancer
This year, Mother's Day is bittersweet for me. Ben has turned 16 and is driving. As he gets older, I sometimes feel sad and lonely; realizing he'll be off to college soon and there will be no other children at home.
But I realize my prayers have been answered. Being Ben's mother is the greatest gift of all.
Photo by Julie Soefer