Imagine this: me, an innocent toddler, walking clumsily around our den, my mother’s outstretched hands ready to catch me if I fell.
Imagine this: me, six years old, racing ahead, thinking she was holding onto my bike. She wasn’t. Yet I didn’t fall.
Imagine this: me, twelve-years-old, sitting on the back porch, the hot wood burning the back of my thighs, hearing my mother tell me she has cancer.
Imagine this: still twelve, my mother’s head bald as a cue ball, but she’s gripping my hand as the surgeon wheels me back to the O.R. Me, having cancer. My mother, recovering from her last chemotherapy, sleeping in a hospital chair next to me all night.
A mother’s love knows no bounds. That’s what I’ve always heard. That’s what I’ve always felt, when she’s smoothed my hair or patted my back or kissed my cheek. It’s there, in the way she speaks to me, softly yet sternly, shaping me into the woman she knows I can be.
My mother was raised to be independent yet humble—not needing any help, but also not being afraid to ask for it anyway. She put this to use when the doctor told her that her own body had turned against her—she had breast cancer, and she’d need chemotherapy to save her life. She put on a brave face, not letting us see how scared she was, and she lived.
And just when she thought her nightmare was over—just when she’d stop fighting for her life—she found out that I’d be fighting for mine.
I was twelve, slowly merging into teenagehood, when all I should’ve been worried about was algebra and training bras. The doctors told me I was so brave and so strong. They told me I had Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis, a rare blood disease where the white blood cells attack the bone, but I was so brave and so strong. I’d be fine. One surgery on my skull to scrape the bad cells out, and I’d be done.
But then, a year later, at the ripe age of thirteen, a full teenager, I was back for a second round of surgery, and a more pressing worry. Chemotherapy was in the talks. My mother held her breath when they mentioned this. I breathed for her.
The first day of her chemotherapy, I cried. The first day of mine, I didn’t.
Four years flew by in a blur of butterfly needles and the same old question: how are you feeling today? For every appointment, for every treatment, every scan, every emergency room visit, she was there, smoothing my hair or patting mu back or kissing my cheek. She knew what it was like to be at the brink of death, and she wasn’t going to let me feel that fear alone. She knew she had raised me to be strong and brave, to not need help, but she helped me anyways, because that’s a mother’s love.
I probably would have died without the chemotherapy. But I definitely would have died without her there next to me.