October: Breast Cancer Awareness and Memories of a Mother’s Fight

The following guest post was written by Catherine Crook, who is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and interning at Planned Parenthood Arizona in the communications and marketing department. A lifelong Arizonan, she has spent every October promoting breast cancer awareness and taking part in citywide events in Phoenix since 2001.

mother_and_daughterWith October in full swing, your calendars are probably already filled with costume shopping, haunted house visits, and drives north to see the leaves — all things we can’t help but love about October.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time to share our stories to raise awareness of breast health.

For me, October is a reminder. When I was 13 years old, my mom was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, marking the beginning of a long and difficult road ahead. I don’t remember everything, but I do remember that it did not feel fair. My mom is so compassionate; she will cry watching TV for the loss of someone she has never met. Few things make her happier than making new friends on planes and dancing to Aerosmith or Darius Rucker. Starbucks is her only addiction and she takes better care and a deeper interest in her hair than most professional stylists.

At the midpoint of enduring four months of chemotherapy, she lost all of her hair, which I was sure would destroy her. To my delight and surprise, she found a place that sold nice wigs almost identical to her blonde, preppy, shoulder-length cut, and tried to work her way back into the world. At this time, I was still fearful of becoming a victim to my own optimism regarding my mom’s disease, and there wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t worry about a phone call that would take all of us to our knees.

Time passed; my mom’s gratefulness rarely wavered, and before I knew it, my mom was laughing and dancing, assembling the pieces of her life back together again. The only difference in her was a new-found strength, evolving from no longer fearing the worst, and a tenacity that transferred even after she was cancer-free; it forces her to find beauty in every day, no matter how difficult.

However, I couldn’t see it clearly at that time and it was a long few years. There were tears, of course. There were dark hours and days, but the strength she claimed during this time changed me irrevocably, serving as a reminder of the lessons I learned in the wake of the scariest experience of my life at that point: face the things you’re afraid of, as you will have support, and understand that the fear-based anticipation of hearing what you’re afraid to know is very common. If you push through your disquiet under the appropriate guidance, your emotional freedom is in the knowledge that awaits you.

If my mom, the woman who cries watching American Idol every time the camera pans to the contestant’s parents, not only can survive breast cancer, but can do so with humor and develop an even deeper love and appreciation for what is hers, then there must be a way for gratitude to come from misery and fright.

After months of chemo and six weeks of radiation treatment at Mayo Clinic, my mom was officially cancer-free. We celebrated accordingly that day and, per her demand, there has not been a missed opportunity to support local breast cancer charities and events.

My family and I are irrevocably grateful, to say the least, for my mom’s survival. But unfortunately, she is not the only one who has withstood this battle, and not every person diagnosed with breast cancer meets the same fate.

Raising awareness is a key objective during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I share my story to do exactly that.