[Editor's note: This letter has not been edited to maintain the sincerity of the message]
I was eating applesauce, French fries, and a burger when she told me she had cancer. I hate that meal now. When she started to talk, I knew what was coming. I just knew where it was heading. The lumpectomy the week before was supposed to be nothing, but I knew where this was going. When she said it, I put my fork down and lost my appetite right away. I couldn't eat even though I had just come from soccer and was starving. I was confused by cancer, just the word. Was she going to die? Then she reminded me of the people we know who survived, and that made me feel a little better. But this was my mom, and I wasn't so sure. It didn't really comfort me. Then I thought I was going to get cancer—maybe genetics or something. I am a worrier. I nursed from her—could I get it that way? I wanted to throw up. I hate throwing up. I wanted to be angry, but there was nothing to be angry at. Cancer is not a person.
The surgeries started so fast. During the first one, I was at soccer camp and tried to focus, but I kept looking at my phone. Was she OK? Was it over? Did they get it all? I was playing soccer with my feet, but my mind wasn't playing soccer. I liked when my uncle came to get us; he watched us, and I knew we were safe. He told us Mom was OK—tired and sore but OK. Then I went to stay with friends for the night to try to keep some normal, and my mom and I Facetimed each other. It didn't seem like my mom there—she seemed like an imposter. She is usually loud and crazy, but this person was quiet and tired. She wasn't even joking with me; that scared me most. While I loved seeing her, it made me uncomfortable, and I was worried because I'd never seen her like this. This was what cancer did to people—it changed them! Before the surgery, I was convinced she would beat cancer, but then, when I saw her so rundown, I wasn't so sure. Where was my strong mom? I wanted to cry, but I was at my friend's house, and that stopped me. I am glad it did. I came home the next day, and mom was home in the chair. I wanted to hug her, but I was scared she was going to break, plus she had those disgusting drains. She looked so small. I know she is small, but it was a different small. Almost like if she stood up, she wouldn't work right. I was nervous it wasn't going to be normal, but I was happy she was home.
After some of the other surgeries, we would visit at night and talk while she laid in her hospital bed. I hate the hospital. It smells weird and funny. There are always stretchers with sick people. I think it's like a prison for sick people. I don't want my mom there. I like visiting but just want to get out of there. I end up getting in trouble because she doesn't think I want to be there with her, but I cant stand to think of her as "sick." She is NOT sick. That is something I will not think about; I do not like sickness. The more surgeries she had, the more I got used to them, and they became a bad routine, one I don't want. At school, my friends asked how my mom was, and I just wanted to get my mind off of it. I wanted them to stop asking, but I know they were being nice.
Cancer made us stronger; we can defeat anything now. But it also makes me crazy because I think I have tumors all the time. It makes me more cautious about things too. Cancer didn't change how I feel about my mom like I thought it would. She is still a strong, taller-than-you-look regular mom, and that's what I needed. It didn't really change her. She slowly got better, louder with each day. I liked it a little—except when we are in public—but that will never change, I guess. I needed to know cancer wasn't going to change my mom. I love her just the same too.
Benjamin's mom Ann Marie is now a Guardian Diva for breast cancer site CureDiva.com, which educates, inspires, and empowers other women fighting breast cancer diagnoses to receive the help and products they need.
Images courtesy of Ann Marie Otis