Saturday, October 27, 2007

Why my mom is my hero.

I thought this might be an appropriate post since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Growing up, I heard about a number of people who were diagnosed with cancer but I never thought that the disease would hit home.

I can remember the day. I had just walked out of the baggage claim at Logan Airport. I had been in Ishigaki racing at the World Cup. My mother was there, waiting for me, and only days after my birthday I was so excited to see her. But when I climbed in the car, I knew something was wrong.

She looked at me and said "There is something I need to tell you. I need you to be brave for me." As the lump in my throat grew, I imagined the worst... and I was right. My brave mother had known for over a week, since before I left for Japan, but had decided that I needed to be able to race worry free and so she had waited until I returned to tell me. Only days later she would head into surgery to have the lump in her breast removed. I looked at my mother and I said "I know what I want for my birthday. I want you to fight this and I want you to win."

Ever since that day, I have had a different outlook on the challenges that I face in my life. Watching her tackle the disease head on only proved to me something I had known for years, that my mother is one tough cookie. It was inspirational and absolutely amazing.

How can watching someone go through cancer be inspirational?

Cancer is an interesting disease. It doesn't discriminate. My mother has always lead a healthy life and has promoted an active and healthy lifestyle in all four of us, her children. She doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, exercises and eats healthy foods and yet Cancer still found her.

I wasn't sure how she would react when her treatments started. Knowing that your life could potentially be counted in days is probably one of the greatest fears of any parent and it was evident that she was very scared. Initially, she struggled with acceptance of the disease. "Why me?" was a common theme. But we soon realized that it didn't matter why, it only mattered how we were going to beat it.

My sister and I bought necklaces, the symbol was that of an "open wave", one for each of us and my mother. The wave was a symbol not only of summertime, my mothers favorite time of year and something for her to focus on, but also of the bond between us and the fact that we were always going to be with her no matter how tough it got. It symbolized the future ahead. Once she put the necklace on, she never took it off. She still wears it to this day.

As if going through treatments, radiation and chemo, for cancer is not bad enough, she was hit with every single side-effect possible - nausea, tiredness, tingling - enough to keep most women down, but not my mother.

She was and continues to be a constant reminder of the amazing human ability to persevere through even the most difficult physical, emotional and mentally taxing times. Now, as I toe the starting line, when I have to wake up for 5am swims and when I'm just having a tough day, I think of her. How can I complain? How can I be weak and give up? I'm not the one out there fighting for my life. What I do is so easy compared to that.

I continue to wear a pink ribbon on my race suit. However, the ribbon is now over my heart. I wear it to honor her, her struggle, her defeat over it and the strength that she has given to me. I also wear it to honor all of the other men and women who are diagnosed with and who battle the terrible disease every year. It is my hope that in the future I can work with some of my sponsors to raise awareness about the disease and to raise funds for Breast Cancer research.

So, for everyone fighting and everyone who knows someone who is fighting. Keep fighting. Never give up. Think Pink.