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Pink Ribbons

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month and this year I’m particularly “aware” of this devastating disease and its potential toll of pain and suffering.  Many dearly loved women are battling breast cancer with the support of family and friends, but one holds a very special place in my heart – my mother, Pauline Bernstein.

Last July at a routine check-up, my mother’s doctor found a small lump in one of her breasts.  Lumpectomy surgery was scheduled, mom went in for the procedure, and some of her breast tissue was sent in for biopsy.  I was able to take time off from work to visit mom in Florida just after she returned home from the hospital.  My wife, Lynn, and I shared a precious week with my mother helping her recover.  The biopsy results were positive; the lump the doctors removed contained cancer cells.

Mom’s prognosis is good, however.  Her cancer is not particularly invasive and the doctors believe they removed it all.  They predict that, at age 83, breast cancer will not be the cause of her death.  She will begin a series of radiation treatments this month and her spirits are high.

This major event in my mom’s life gave us a chance to see both the best and the worst in her.  In the beginning, when she first heard that she could have breast cancer, she was really worried and started feeling terrified.  She was afraid of being disfigured by a mastectomy and feeling weak and sick from chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

When her cancer turned out to not be as severe as she feared, however, and she learned that there was hope, she began handling herself just fine.  She began to do more than cope – she went on with her life.   She started looking into some of the effects of radiation and preparing herself for the process.  She knows the radiation treatments will tire her but she’s also taking care not to get too far ahead of herself and too distressed trying to predict how her recovery will go.  She’s made the smart decision to stay informed without knowing too many details, because they could trigger her fears.

Mom and I recognize this time as a valuable opportunity for us to grow closer. It’s also an opportunity for me to see my mother’s strength and how well she copes with difficulties.  I see how different she is now in her advanced age than when she was younger, how she doesn’t allow the spirit of fear to consume her for too long.  She’s determined to make the best of what she’s facing.  She has achieved a measure of maturity and grace that touches me, because I know so intimately about her difficult childhood and troubled life as a young wife and mother.

I also see an amazing thing, that she’s not afraid of death.  She looks at her situation as “whatever God wants, that’s what it’ll be”.  In her perspective, there are many people who are a lot worse off than she is.  Her positive attitude and resilience are inspiring.

The last few months have given me another chance to see the good side of aging.  I see more and more clearly my mother’s wisdom from experience and her appreciation of life today.  She cares a lot about other people, she doesn’t just focus on herself, and a lot of people care about her.  It’s a very sweet time for all of us to reconnect, a real opportunity and blessing coming out of pain and difficulty.  Through it all, we’re hoping and praying for the best.