The Unknown

When I was in my junior year of high school, life was good. I felt I was on top of the world. I was sixteen and a returning state champion on my volleyball team. That feeling of security soon changed after my Mom asked me to accompany her to her next medical appointment one weekend afternoon.

I thought this request was strange, as she has never asked me to go before, but I assumed it was a time-saving measure before dropping me off with my friends. It felt like I had been waiting for hours by the time she emerged from her appointment. She was hysterical and couldn’t control her tears. I was shocked at the sight and asked my Mom what was wrong.

She explained that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

At that exact moment, I could see a flood of emotion fill my Mom’s face. I was numb. I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t know how to feel. Our family had known plenty of breast cancer survivors. I knew everything could be fine, but it feels different when it’s your own family. My Mother? Breast cancer? I knew she and my family were in for a battle like never before. We were terrified of the unknown and tried to stay informed.


My Mom was so strong. She went through surgery, multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and pain. She turned to the love of her community and closest family members for strength. Through all of her pain, she was strong. Our church lifted her spirits, and with treatment and support, we received word that she was now in remission! I have to admit that I didn’t understand what the word remission meant. I simply knew that my Mom was a warrior. We were so proud of her and believed that cancer was behind her forever.

Years later, in 2012, we received a rude awakening. While in my fourth year of college at George Mason, my Mom started to feel significant pain and generally unwell. I was anxious, but summer was such a hectic time that the family was distracted. My brother was now a teenager, my sister was at Penn State, and we were growing up. With swim season, summer workouts, family vacations, and back to school shopping to fill our days, we remained busy.

When summer ended, my Mom was still unwell. The pain was coming from her back, and this confused us. By early fall, she was told her cancer had returned. We didn’t know how this was possible. My Mom had done everything right. She was still young, active, healthy, and had completed treatment. We were told she was clear. My Dad struggled to explain the gravity of the situation to us. Mom’s cancer was back, and this time, it was in a much more aggressive form. Her doctors were unsure of the best treatment plan, and we began to research options. We knew that we would spare no expense in order to free her from cancer again.

I was older now, and I could be of better support to her. We felt she would get the treatment and medication necessary to be cancer-free once again. We were all together for Christmas and tried our best to keep our spirits up during the holiday season. We were worried, but we were together. As my Mom continued her fight, she stayed home. She showed more courage and resilience than anyone I had ever known. We stayed with her. She could barely move, but she stayed up with us to listen to music, watch movies, tell stories, and pray. We were grateful for the priceless time together with the woman we all loved most in the world.


When my Mom’s medical team had exhausted their treatment options, we began to rely on outside support to uplift us. Friends and family from all over the country started to visit, and I watched my Mom’s hope and love swell inside of her. She felt uplifted. One day, my Mom took my hand and gave me a rock. Her motions were so direct and intentioned. It was a rock she had been given during her journey. The rock was etched with the word “courage,” and all I could think was how much that word represented my Mom. To this day, that simple rock reminds me of everything my Mom loved and the courage she had throughout her life.

On January 20th, my Mom passed away. She was surrounded by her most precious loved ones at home. We held her hand, and I could feel her strength and bravery even then. She asked us to let go, trust, and know that she would be okay. I’m still moved by that moment. Despite everything she went through, she wanted us to know that we didn’t need to worry about her and that she would be safe. The thought of the loss of my Mother still stops me in my tracks. How can she not be here with us? Why must we live without her here beside us? While I don’t know if I will ever fully accept it, the agonizing early days of grief have been replaced with a loving reminiscence of my Mom.

By 2014, life felt stable again. My siblings did too. I was a graduate of Mason and co-founded a successful financial IT company, my sister was at the top of the swimming world at Penn State, and my little brother was in high school. We had managed to continue to grow without our Mom being here in person, but her love for us has remained with us through everything we’ve done.

Sometimes I stop and think about what my Mom would say about a situation. What guidance she would give, and what she would think I should do. In all ways, my Mom’s support and love have served me even in her physical absence. We have all faced trials after her passing. Notably, a car accident that left me in a coma for weeks and visually impaired for the remainder of my life, but I am always reminded of my Mom’s bravery.

When I get down, I think of the fight my Mom had. We can’t give up in this life. My Mother was a warrior. Her breast cancer battle taught us to value family more than ever. It taught us to persevere and fight through the challenges of life, but most of all, it taught us that in all things, we must have courage.

The Unknown was originally published in Livestrong Voices on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.