It’s the end of February which means that raiseRED, a UofL event that raises money for children with cancer and blood disorders, is close to ending. I’ve volunteered to dance for 18 hours straight which makes me want to take a moment to reflect on my experience with cancer. Although I have always appreciated the fact that college students come together to support something so important, this event has always resonated with me on a much deeper level. Here’s my story about my mom’s cancer.
Throughout my teenage years I was always close to my family. However, I was particularly close to my mother. My mother was everything you could ever ask for and the greatest role model I’ve ever had. I’ve never experienced anyone like her. She was strong, outgoing, supportive, loving. The thing is, she was like this to everyone not just myself and my family. She would’ve done anything for anyone just to make them happy. She would make everyone else happy before herself. Everyone she met knew that she was a one-of-a-kind person.
Around November of 2015, my mom wasn’t feeling well. She went to the doctor multiple times, but the doctors couldn’t find precisely what was wrong. She wasn’t being the person we all knew she was. She was constantly in debilitating pain, unable to live the life that she was used to. Seeing her in that state, all I wanted to do was take that pain away. As December came around, I was looking forward to spending Christmas with her so I could put a smile on her face. Anyone that has met me knows that I am always trying to put a smile on someone’s face. I wanted to do this for my mom; I wanted to make her the happiest person on the earth on Christmas. I was hoping I could do this, but I failed.
But on Christmas, she was feeling worse than ever. Three days after Christmas, December 28th 2015, my family got the worst possible news anyone could ever receive. On this date, my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer. I didn’t know what to do. I was on my phone all day to distract myself – looking at social media and seeing everyone and their upbeat lives. We were told that stage 4 cancer is the worst stage possible, with a 30% chance of living within 5 years after diagnosed. In other words, a 70% chance of her dying to this disease.
I felt my heart drop out of my body. I have never felt more pain inside my body before, and this pain shaped me to be the person I am today. My mom being diagnosed with cancer was a huge shock to all our family and friends because she never showed any signs or partook in any risky behaviors. She never drank, never smoked, no family history of cancer, and exercised frequently. On January 6th, 2016 she started oral chemotherapy and radiation for the cancer. She received these two treatments for 6 weeks. In the first two weeks of treatment, she was struggling. Like I said, she was the most outgoing person I’ve ever known. Now, she struggled to get from her bed to the shower.
During those 6 weeks, I honestly wasn’t in the right state of mind. All I wanted to do was heal my mom- I would’ve taken her pain and gave it to myself if I could’ve. I would have done anything for my mom. Those 6 weeks passed, and she completed all the treatments. After that, she took a couple months off to recover from those treatments. During this time, I was just hoping the chemo and radiation did their job of getting rid of the cancer. In May of 2016, she had surgery at Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Indiana to remove the tumor inside her, located in the rectum. The surgeon told my mom and the rest of us that the surgery was going to be routine, roughly taking 6 hours.
During those 6 hours, I did nothing but stare at the door she had entered for the surgery, waiting for her to walk out all healed. A part of me knew that wasn’t going to happen, but I had to think that. I couldn’t think anything else. During the operation, he found that the cancer spread to her pelvis. He said he tried to get it out but couldn’t at that time. While he was doing the operation, he was trying to scrape the cancer off her pelvis. By doing that, he cut many nerves. Cutting those nerves only gave her more chronic pain.
My mom was in the hospital for 10 days following the procedure. She was completely knocked out for days before she was even able to speak. During this time, I wasn’t myself. I felt that seeing my mom the way she was had made me into a different person. My mom in that hospital was the worst thing I have ever seen. She was helpless, and I was also unable to do anything. I would never wish such a life experience upon anyone, ever. After she got out of the hospital, they met with the surgeon that performed the operation. The surgeon told my parents that he knew he was a good doctor, but this cancer was over his head. When this experienced medical professional said that this cancer was too much for him, we understood how grave this really was.
He told us that we needed to get her to a much more advanced medical facility specializing in this specific case as quickly as possible or she could pass at any minute. After a week or so, Vanderbilt accepted my mom into their medical center. Vanderbilt wanted to do surgery but decided to do chemotherapy for the time being because the surgery was too risky. A week after, they inserted a port into her to take chemo. She had chemo from July 2016 till December of 2016. This time was extremely hard for her, my family, and myself. During this time, I wanted to not think about it, even for a second, but I could never get my mom out of my mind. Just seeing her go through what she was going through was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
The worst part was that I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t help her; I could only watch as she suffered. That is what hurt me the most. Watching your mother get eaten alive by cancer, and you can’t do a thing. These are my deepest feelings and secrets, something I haven’t told to anyone. In 2016, I started college here at the University of Louisville. Doing school was extremely hard for me. I struggled the first year because I didn’t know how to put schoolwork in front of my mom.
We got good news at the end of 2016. She was declared NED (No evidence of disease) by Vanderbilt. At this time, I was relieved. I was happy, but I wasn’t happy at the same time. My mom went through hell and back the past year and that changed her. The past year has caused my mom so much pain that she couldn’t handle it. I watched her suffer through the pain from the nerves being cut in the first surgery. I watched her suffer through the pain of not knowing if it would come back. I watched her suffer through the pain of not being able to do things she used to be able to do before the cancer. This horrible disease has hurt my mom in so many more ways that words can’t do justice. If I were to see this horrible disease in person, well you wouldn’t want to know…
In all of 2017, she was NED, but I still had a feeling deep down this cancer was going to come back. In 2018, my mom started telling the oncologist she was seeing that she had a weird feeling that the cancer was back. You just know when something is wrong deep down, and she knew. On December 10th of 2018, the radiologist scanned her and compared all the scans from 2018 to this one. The radiologist on that date was stunned and said “you were right, you did have the cancer starting around March 2018 but the scans didn’t see it”. When I found out the cancer was back, I tried to hide my feelings from my parents. I put on a face but that night, I cried for hours just thinking my mom may not make it through it this time. Anyone that knows me, knows that I hardly show emotions. But here, all I could do was cry myself to sleep.
If I could go back in time, I would let people know what I was going through because as much pain as I went through was not normal. At the end of 2018, the cancer was back and the oncologist at Vanderbilt Medical Center said that there would be no surgery anymore-she would be on chemo for life. They also told us that they couldn’t deal with the tumor, and it was over their head just like the doctor in Deaconess. Them saying “they couldn’t deal with the tumor” was a nightmare in real life. One of the top medical hospitals in the world can’t do anything to help my mom.
To be completely honest, at this point, I didn’t think my mom was going to make it. I was going to lose my mom. Yes, you are not supposed to think like that but what if one of the best medical centers in the world told you they couldn’t help your mom? You too would be thinking just that. A couple days later, a friend of my mom who also had colon cancer gave my mom the name of her surgeon at the University of Kentucky medical center. She said, “she is the best surgeon I could possibly think of”. At the start of January 2019, she met with the surgeon. The surgeon was absolutely appalled at what had gone on with the treatments, specially the fact that no one removed the pelvic tumor. She told us that the tumor had to come out. If it didn’t come out, it would eventually end her life.
On April 18th 2019, my mom was going to have an 8-hour surgery. I was scared. They didn’t know if she was going to make it through the surgery. We went to Lexington the night before the surgery so we didn’t have to travel 4 hours the day of surgery. That night, I didn’t sleep. Not a wink.
It was the worst night of my life. But April 18th, 2019 was one of the biggest days in my life. We went into the hospital around 6 AM and met with the surgeons around 7 AM. She was called back around 8 AM. I hugged my mom the hardest I could hug her without breaking her back! I didn’t want to let go, but I had to. I watched her go through the door, and I would’ve taken her spot then and I still would’ve till this day. I didn’t know if she was going to come out. I looked at that door for about an hour straight until I heard us get called back. I looked over at my dad and said “wasn’t it supposed to be 8 hours?” I knew it was supposed to be 8 hours. It was supposed to be 8 hours, and they just called us back 1 hour in. I was thinking the worst possible. At this point, I just wanted to see my mom’s beautiful smile. We went back there, and they told us the medicine wouldn’t put her to sleep.
The surgery only lasted 6 hours, but I thought that was because something went wrong. We met the surgeon, and she told us that she got the pelvic tumor. She saved my mom, and we owe her so much. We went back to the room to see my mom, and even though the cancer was gone, she was in so much pain. I just wanted to stop it, stop my mom from being in so much pain. She was in the hospitals for 10 days, and she told me those were the worst days of her life. You could tell how much she was suffering. We went back a month later after she recovered and met with the surgeon to see where we needed to go from here. She said we needed to start “mop up chemo” to get rid of any leftover cancer cells. She started mop up chemo in September of 2019. Since then, she has completed 9 rounds of chemo and has 3 to go.
This is where we are now and after the chemo, she will be scanned again for signs of cancer. As of January 2020, she is NED (no evidence of disease). My mom is recovering but still in pain a lot of the time.
As you can tell, cancer is a disease that hits particularly close to home for me and that is why I am so passionate about raiseRED dance marathon. Every dollar the student body raises is split between patient care at the Norton Children's Cancer Institute and research right here at the University of Louisville. Last year our student body raised over $682,000 for this cause, and this year I am going to raise as much money as I possibly can in order to help families who are going through things similar to what mine has gone through, and you can too.