An Unbreakable Bond
How facing a breast cancer journey gave a mother and daughter the gift of a stronger relationship.
From the moment I found out I had breast cancer, my daughter, DeAirah, supported me.
And as hard as the experience has been, walking through it with her provided an opportunity for our relationship to grow and for the journey itself to be meaningful and even surprisingly fun at times.
It was the gift I never expected.
A tight bond
DeAirah and I have always loved spending time together. Her calm demeanor and strong faith make her a joy to be around. While I’m typically outgoing and spirited, DeAirah is quiet and more laid back.
Besides the typical family overlap, we also have worked at the same church together and even started a party planning business together, Parties by DeAirah.
We have always been close, which is why she was the first person I told when I discovered the lump.
The start of my journey
DeAirah thought maybe it was an indentation from my bra, but we both grew concerned it could be more. So, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor.
A mammogram revealed not just one lump, but two. Then I got a biopsy on the Friday before Christmas.
I kept silent, but inside I was a nervous wreck. I felt a whirlwind of emotions, as the results would determine the trajectory of my life—for my family as well.
I immediately thought about DeAirah. If I got cancer, I worried it might keep her from finishing college. I didn’t want her to put her dreams on hold.
And of course, I also feared not being here for my family and our future grandchildren.
Did you know that African American women are 42 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women? I did not want to become a statistic!
Getting the news
The doctor called me with the biopsy results on December 27: I had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) stage O in my right breast. I was sitting in a restaurant with my family when I got the news.
There was no time to wallow in self-pity; instead, I prepared for battle.
I met with an oncologist who recommended I get a double mastectomy. I sought a second opinion and the doctor said I could just remove the breast with cancer, which I preferred. After all, breasts are part of a woman’s femininity, and I preferred to keep mine.
Soon afterward, I packed my bags for a 16-day stay at MD Anderson in Texas.
The night of the mastectomy, I cried myself to sleep, from the physical and emotional pain. I have made a terrible mistake, I thought. I want my life before breast cancer.
My mother joined me, but DeAirah stayed at college during the surgery. I know it was tough for her to not be there. She was supposed to fly out from Georgia a week later, but she ended up coming early, the day after the surgery.
She is the least squeamish around needles and doctors in my family, and so I was glad she had come.
That night, she and my mother helped me take a shower and empty the drains from my surgery. I never imagined my little girl caring for me the way I’d cared for her so many times before.
“Do you want to see my scar?” I asked.
I will never forget when she unraveled the bandages and looked. My breast cancer became real to her at that moment.
More bad news
At a follow up appointment a few days later, I learned that the cancer cells had spread to some lymph nodes and the oncologist suggested chemo.
I just cried and cried.
I called DeAirah, who had returned home and was sitting in her car after class. Tears streamed down her face, too, when she heard about the chemo.
I remember a time growing up when she had suffered a concussion during a fall in cheerleading practice. I told her that she couldn’t let this incident define her—that she had to get back up and keep moving.
I recalled my words to her. How could I not practice what I preached?
I worried that how I handled breast cancer might affect how she would handle whatever life threw her way—and I wanted it to be favorable.
Throughout my cancer journey, I resolved to never, never, never give up—including when I faced chemotherapy.
I was very thankful for DeAirah’s help during and after chemo.
The third night after my first treatment was hell. I grew irritable, I whined, I cried, I fussed and I almost cussed. Chemotherapy was the Devil!
Because it hurt to sleep on a bed and my husband worked nights, I slept on a recliner and moved it into DeAirah’s room. She made sure I was on schedule with medication, prepared meals, and kept me company.
Despite the situation, we experienced many sweet moments. During those long days and nights, we had the best life conversations about breast cancer and the impact it had on our lives. We watched countless movies together and snacked all day.
With DeAirah’s and my family’s help, I was able to endure the next few rounds of chemo, though the journey pushed me.
How I found hope, strength and peace
While I am naturally a fighter, I rely on a source of strength. I find hope, strength and peace through God and by focusing on his promises, knowing that there is always hope, no matter what my situation is.
One of my favorite gospel songs is, They That Wait Upon the Lord, which references the book of Isaiah, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles (40:31a, English Standard Version).”
The reality is that I cannot handle life on my own, whether in good or tough times. I need God’s strength and grace constantly.
I have also learned to rely on the people that God has put in my life, including DeAirah and my family. Every day with them is a gift.
The gift of cancer
Part of the gift was seeing positive changes in my relationship with DeAirah.
I saw her evolve from my little girl to a young woman who courageously stepped into a caregiver role that she would not have planned for herself. I saw her confidence grow, and I saw a fearless spirit emerge from a once reserved and quiet person.
The journey changed our mother daughter-relationship into an adult relationship. She became my confidante and I hers. The journey revealed that we could be open with each other about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Sometimes I worried she didn’t have the support she needed to keep her well-being intact as a caregiver. I didn’t want her to come through the journey with resentment.
With support from our family and faith, I believe we weathered the journey as best as we could, and today our relationship is stronger than ever.
We recently co-wrote a book about our journey called Surviving Pink. It has given us a way to share our story and encourage others on the journey.
Advice for others
Let people help you on your journey—your friends, your family and loved ones. They might not always know how to help or what to do, but if the desire is there, you can coach them through it.
DeAirah stepped into her caregiver role for me gracefully and unselfishly and never looked back. And as a result, we were both blessed.
Everyone has a village of people around them. My hope and prayer is that if you are going through cancer or something else that is difficult, someone from your village will step up for you the way DeAirah did for me.
You, too, can experience the benefit of letting others help you. When you value and grow in the relationships you have, you will find that every day is a gift.
Want to learn more about living each day with hope and joy? Read Every Day is a Gift.