My First Mastectomy (part II)

On the day of my mastectomy, my mom and I arrived at the hospital at 7am at the University of Washington hospital, and I wasn’t taken back for surgery until probably after noon. Let me just say that the anxiety was building all morning. To keep me calm, my mom gave me a box given to her from her friends which included handwritten notes from women at my parents’ church back home. Some of these women I know, and some I don’t. But I really appreciated that my mom’s friends, who I consider to be my friends as well, would do such a kind thing for me. This helped pass the time and I felt so blessed that so many people took the time to write notes to me. One note in particular stood out, quoting Friedrich Nietzsche, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Cancer has changed HOW I live my life, but my WHY will always be love. Love for my family. Love for my friends. Love for my Savior. And to share that love with others. That is my why.

While I was in surgery, my mom sat in the waiting room, and whipped out this TREASURE with pen and paper:

FALL LEAVES FROM A HOSPITAL WINDOW

Crimson and gold with browning edges,
Weathered, scared,
Some clinging to a touch of green left over from the
Spring and summer of their lives.
Some brilliant in their last display before falling to the earth,
Some torn and disfigured by ill winds from which they refused to succumb.
Bare branches tell of those who fell long before their time
I am like these leaves – perhaps a crimson one.
Although I love gold, it was never my color.
I am so grateful I have been allowed to stay on the tree this long,
To enjoy the spring and summer.
You can tell which one I am,
With my crumpled, jagged edges and brown scars,
All of which I am quite proud of, because they tell of my surviving;
Of weathering a particular storm of life.
Dearest Melanie,
I see you as becoming the gold leaf,
It is a good color for you.
You are now a new spring green, with the rest of spring and summer to come.
You are experiencing a few storms, but you WILL successfully
Cling to life’s tree and become golden and a little crumpled with age.
I feel sorry for those leaves who are still brightly colored.
In their garish display they actually seem dull and uninteresting.
Where are the struggles?
The depth of character formed through surviving life’s challenges?
It is as if they have no story.
Life is all about having great stories to tell.
In your young life you already have great stories.
Write them down so you will not forget the details.
And when you are a beautiful golden fall leaf
You can tell them to your grandchildren
Love,
Mom
November 13, 2013

Last week, I asked her to describe the why of this poem, and here is what she said:

“I was in the hospital waiting room and they had just taken you in to have your cancerous breast removed. I was suddenly overcome with emotion thinking about all the agony and pain you had endured since being diagnosed with cancer a few months prior and I burst into tears, shaking and sobbing. When I composed myself, I looked out the window at the vibrant display of fall leaves and thought about how beautiful life is and how blessed I was to be able to help you through one of its trials. I continue to learn so many things from you concerning love, patience, gratitude, endurance, sacrifice and cherishing each moment.”

Does anyone see the irony in that last sentence?? If you know my mom, you do. My mom is the QUEEN of all of those things. ARE YOU KIDDING ME, MOM??!! I could write a book about my mom’s life and the underlining themes would be those exact things: love, patience, gratitude, endurance, sacrifice, and cherishing each moment. My mom has done nothing BUT patiently endured and sacrificed with love.

My mom had a busy career but somehow always made it up the 405 to my games at UCLA

My mom contracted polio at age two and spent about two years in a hospital. Polio destroyed the nerves in her right leg muscles. Doctors stunted the growth in her left leg to keep her legs closer in length (she should actually be at least 3 inches taller). She can only slightly push her toes down. She has NEVER been able to run and play sports like the rest of us (she assures me she would’ve been a great basketball player. No doubt, she will be ballin’ in heaven. And I can be the one in the stands cheering HER on.) She wore leg braces, like Forrest Gump, as a child. But unfortunately, she didn’t experience the same miracle of running out of them as Forrest did. They fused her ankle when she was 13 and only then did she not have to wear braces anymore. She has endured pain her whole life. Additionally, post polio kicked in about 10 years ago causing a drastic increase in pain. I believe there is not a minute in the day she doesn’t experience severe pain, but she will never admit it. That is my mom. She endures. And she sacrifices, patiently and lovingly.

 

This picture was taken around 1999. My mom now uses a cane to walk, but really should be in a wheelchair. Notice the muscle difference in her legs due to polio. And please disregard my outfit… even then I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with that dress.

When Fletcher was a few weeks old, I came down with pneumonia. At the time, the kids and I lived with my parents in California while I finished chemo and radiation. I spent the nights awake off and on feeding Fletcher to… you know, keep him alive. But then my body couldn’t handle it any longer. I spent a few days in the hospital with a fever, delirious and sick with pneumonia. When I was coherent in my hospital bed, I felt so guilty that my mother, the one who already endures so much pain, was taking care of my kids all day and then staying up all night with my baby. When I was finally sent home, the doctors suggested that I no longer take care of Fletch during the night. My mom demanded that she take over. So my almost 70 year old mother is the one who nurtured my son the first few months of his life. She made bottles and changed diapers while the rest of the world was sleeping. That is my mom. The selfless one who sacrificed sleep and endured that trial with love.

This was just after I gave birth to Fletcher. He was a tiny baby. A week later, I moved in with my parents to get help during treatment.

 

This was a typical scene in 2014. My mom feeding Fletch with the girls looking on. Fletcher survived the first few months of life thanks to my mom.

Now, we are living together again. In Utah. The one place in which I could never imagine my parents living. But once again, my mom, and dad, sacrifice. My parents lived in Southern California for 27 years. Before that, they spent 20+ years in Washington, D.C. My dad is a Californian at heart. My mom is a lover of the east coast. The seasons. The fall leaves. The traditions. The rich history. The people. She is truly an easterner at heart. Just today on the phone, she went on and on about how much she loves it on the east coast. (She is currently visiting my brother in Raleigh, North Carolina). I’m not gonna lie, this makes me feel guilty. I know she wants to be on the east coast. I know my dad wants to be in Southern California. But yet, they are here in cold Utah, withstanding the snowstorms and non-diverse culture. All because of me. They sold their house and left their friends in California to help me. Because I have metastatic cancer. Which means that someday cancer will take me. And they are lightening this burden. They are helping me cope by assisting with my children. They are sacrificing their time to allow Preston and I to spend more time together. They are helping us in so many ways. They are sacrificing everything to be here, when I know their hearts are somewhere else. Just another example of how my mom has always lived her life for other people.

Now, back to that treasure of a poem my mom wrote. I have so much to say about it. But I just wanted to point out a few things. First off, my mom has weathered and survived so many storms in life. I want to be like my mom. I have a LONG way to go (I mean, she is 33 years older than me… jk mom 😉 But seriously, she is that much older than me). Second, I am so grateful for my struggles. They teach me. They give me patience. They help me become more like my mom. Lastly, my mom has always inspired me to go on adventures. Because the reward is a good story. I want to live a more adventurous life. And I can’t wait to tell my grandkids about it.

Thanksgiving 2013. Just one month before Fletcher was born.

 

About Melanie

Hi. My name is Melanie. I currently live in Salt Lake City with my husband and our three children. Although I have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, people are continuously surprised of my optimism for life. For this reason, I have started this blog to inspire others to live life to the fullest as if they had Five Years To Live.


14 Responses to My First Mastectomy (part II)

  1. Debi says:

    Oh, the tears! What a perfect tribute to an absolutely incredible woman. So giving and tireless even in her own struggles. It’s impossible to know how much she suffers physically because she’s always been so hilarious and fun! I think it runs in the family.

  2. Erin says:

    This is the most powerful thing I’ve read in…I don’t know how long. I’ve got tears streaming down my face and so much love and admiration for you both. Carol has always been so strong and positive, and clearly has taught you to be the same. I’m inspired by you both. Her poem is beautiful and so well-written. Thank you for sharing it! Keep writing Mel! You have invaluable wisdom to share.

    • Melanie says:

      Thx Erin. My mom is pretty incredible, and it’s been fun to see how my mom’s written thoughts are just as dramatic as the way she talks 😉 And thanks for your encouragement. I’m no writer like you. But it has been fun to clear my head by getting my thoughts onto paper…er the computer.

  3. Ilaria says:

    Wow, Mel! What a beautiful post! I wanted to say two things: I bet that your parents’ heart is not in California or on the East Coast. Their heart is right there with you and your family, and they just followed their heart to be with you! I mean, this is not a choice between three States. This is a choice to embody the love you’ve been writing about. I admire that (and them) so much!! Soooo much!!

    The other thing I wanted to say is that my aunt had polio as a baby and went through almost exactly what you described with both of her legs and she has also never had the use of her right arm and hand (she’s a lefty by default). It was a miracle that she even survived. I have never met a more giving, loving, generous, active, resourceful, accomplished person in my life as my aunt. She has been and still goes through tremendous pain, and she never complains. She is now in her 80’s and she still works part time. It’s amazing what adversity teaches people, especially people who want to live their lives in spite of it.

    Mel, you’re at the top of my list as a loving, smily, optimistic, friendly, funny, strong, amazing, impressive, resilient person. Wow! You are such an example and good influence on my life, and we live far far away. Keep going strong, Mel!!! And come do that European cruise soon!!! 😉 Love you!! ❤️

    • Melanie says:

      Ila, thanks for your beautiful words. I agree about my parents, although it is hard sometimes knowing what they are sacrificing to be here. And your aunt! It’s so true! Adversity teaches us so much. Humans are pretty incredible. I’m amazed at what people accomplish through persistent hard work. Thank you for the compliments. I’ve always known we were gonna be friends from the moment I met you and your awesome accent 😉 Love you!

  4. Dianne Day says:

    I could read your posts all day long! You inspire, captivate and your love is truly felt beyond these short posts.
    I am so honored to know your mom and witness first hand the support and sacrifices she’s showed you and your family. Consider yourself very lucky. Not everyone has that moms like that.
    She has raised an amazing women and I know you are raising the same type of daughters (and son). Thank you for always sharing the most important things in life with us. Love you!

  5. Caroline Merrell says:

    Mel, what a wonderful tribute to your mom! I’m so grateful to know you both. It’s clear that you are who you are because of her. Thanks so much for sharing this. I love these little glimpses into your story. They’re so powerful. Merry Christmas! I love you!

  6. Sherrie Martineau says:

    Thank you for sharing your tender and strong thoughts and life. Have an amazing time st the Duke game!

  7. Brenda Yancey says:

    Hi Melanie,
    I saw you on the news coming to the Carolina’s to right off a game on your bucket list. I was inspired by your look on life and what a great mother you have. I knew what it was to have a great mom stand by you in times of trouble . I wanted to write and encourage you. In 2008 my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and he did extensive treatments and had to have a bone marrow transplant. Here we are in 2017 and he is doing great. Everyday we wake up, we celebrate everyday as if its our last. We don’t have to be sick and it could be our last. We have to appreciate everyday God gives us and when you go through this type of experience, you see how valuable life is and what’s really important. You have a beautiful family and three pretty children. I want to encourage you to trust God completely. Luke 1:37 say nothing is impossible with God. He is a miracle worker and you can hold to that. I will lift you up in prayer everyday. Even though I don’t know you personally, I love you, your family and remember most of all God does to! We are here for you and your family anytime.

    • Melanie says:

      Brenda,

      Thank you for your kind words and for your encouragement. I love hearing stories, like your husband’s, that give me hope! Yes, I definitely see how valuable life is now and how important it is to not sweat the small stuff! Thank you for the prayers! I believe in the power of prayer. I have seen this power work in my life. So thank you! I am trusting God that no matter the outcome, no matter the timing, all will be well. I am just trying to be the best person I can be and letting God take care of the rest. I’m grateful for any extra days I have here on earth because Every Day is a Bonus Day! Much Love, Melanie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *