A Letter To My Mother
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful woman named Christine. She and her husband wanted a baby and she hoped and prayed for her wish to come true.
One fateful day, the universe heard her prayers. The angels met to determine which lucky baby would be delivered into her loving arms. They searched among the many souls waiting to enter this world and tried to find the child that was meant for her.
God sat by and listened with a smirk on his face. Searching wasn’t necessary because he knew exactly who belonged to Christine. He had known for years before she even spoke her wish who she was meant to spend her life with. He pictured her future daughter’s big brown eyes, dark hair and kind smile – qualities that mirrored Christine’s. He saw laughter and tears and a bond so strong and rare – a relationship he’d heard many pray for, but very few were blessed to experience. He reluctantly pulled himself away from these visions of the future and told the angels to stop. He knew who was destined to be Christine’s daughter. In that moment, with immeasurable love and light, he sent down Cassandra.
Mom and me.
I decided to start this blog with the story above because it’s mom’s favourite. Sometimes she’ll say, “Daughter, tell me the story of when God sent you to me.” And I happily oblige.
My mother and I are extremely close. Like, Gilmore Girls close. Although mom hates the almost constant comparison and insists that she doesn’t speak at Lorelai’s frantic pace. (It’s true – thankfully, my mom is much calmer.) I understand why people draw that conclusion – we have a relationship and a closeness that is unique.
Looking back on my early years, I sympathize for my mom. From the moment I was born via emergency C-section after 27 grueling hours of labour, I felt like I tested her patience and sanity. I was a couple of days old and she had to give me my first bath. She said all the other babies were quiet, but I fought the entire time. I clutched the sides of the basin, raised my little head and screamed at the top of my lungs. The nurses commented on my uncommon strength (“She’s very strong!”). My mom was nervous and I don’t blame her.
She said she knew then that I was strong willed and had a mind of my own. Although I’m an only child, I made up for it in energy, curiosity and constant chattering – all qualities I still possess. But when we reflect on the past, she never lets frustration or annoyance show. She might smirk and laugh, yet insists I was a good girl. In this case, I think hindsight helps!
The closeness we had when I was a child continued through my adolescent and teenage years. As I grew up, our dynamic shifted and our relationship evolved. I learned quickly that there are certain things you don’t tell your mom. Likewise, there are things your mom doesn’t want to know. #nosextalk
People would comment that we were like best friends and I’d cringe because I knew what my mother’s immediate response would be – “I’m not her FRIEND! I’m her MOTHER!” As a single mom, I understand why she was quick to correct people. It was important that friends (and I) knew that the duties of a mother came before those of a friend. Although we had a relationship that had many qualities of a friendship, her main role was to raise me. At that point in our lives, we couldn’t have it both ways. When I was in my early twenties, a person commented that we were such good friends. I started to correct them, but mom stopped me, smiled and said, “It’s okay. We can be friends now.” Sweet! She could officially be my bff.
Both mom and I were very calm waiting for the results of my breast lump biopsy because we were convinced that it wasn’t cancer. My lump didn’t feel like most cancerous tumours and, after all, I was only 28 years old. I booked an appointment to receive my results and it was something I thought I could manage on my own.
I was heating up my car before work on November 12, 2013 when I received a phone call from the office of the doctor who performed my biopsy. The receptionist spoke in an urgent tone, asked me where I was and told me to come in immediately. That instant, I knew. I told them that I didn’t need to come in today because I had an appointment later in the week. (Useless attempt to delay.) She told me an appointment wasn’t necessary and to come straight in. (Shit.) My first thought – I have cancer. My second thought – get to mom.
I drove to her workplace, walked into the building and up the stairs to the room where I knew she’d be sipping her coffee and catching up with friends before her day started. I remember it perfectly. I swung open the double doors and saw her sitting there, Tim’s cup in hand, laughing at something a friend was saying. My heart broke because I knew that my presence, what is represented, would devastate her. She turned and looked at me and her pleasant expression instantly changed to one of anger. She practically hissed, “What the HELL are you doing here?” She knew, too. I explained that the doctor called and needed to see me right away.
I chatted the entire drive and listed absurd reasons why the doctor would want to see me urgently. She humoured me by listening, nodding and agreeing that maybe I was right. We both knew I was wrong.
We walked into his office and took our seats beside each other. Our fear was tangible in the small room. Suffocating. He said, “The biopsy came back and I’m sorry to tell you that you have breast cancer.” The words no sooner left his mouth and mom made a sound that I’ve never heard before. It was… Primal. I believe it’s a sound that only a mother can make. One of complete devastation and fear for her child. She doesn’t cry a lot (no judgement at all, just fact) and this made her outburst even more impactful.
When we finished the appointment and went out to the hallway, she slumped over, put her hand to the wall and said she needed a minute. I was terrified that she was going to have a heart attack. She looked overwhelmed and shattered – dazed and confused as to if the last 20 minutes happened or if it was a nightmare. I gave her a long hug and assured her I would be okay. I thought, no way am I leaving her. Not now. Not yet. I’m going to do whatever I have to do.
I haven’t seen her that way since. It’s as if all her walls were down in that moment and when we left that office, she moved forward with a strength and determination that fuelled me as well. A single focus – me getting better. Period.
On the day of my first mastectomy and reconstruction, she was almost as terrified as I was. I begged the nurses to let her stay with me until I had to go into the operating room. She and my dad sat with me, ensured I stayed warm under heated blankets and held my hands until it was time to go. I gave them long hugs and walked away. I must’ve looked back a dozen times on the walk to the room, each time seeking out my mom, who was always staring right back at me. Even as I walked through the doors, I twisted my neck to see her face one more time. Just once more. Each step was a prayer – please let me live, please let me see her face again, please don’t make me leave her, please let her come with me.
She said that watching me leave and having to let me go was one of the hardest things she’s ever done in her life. Our bond is so strong, so deep, that what you do to one is felt by the other. We both experienced the utter torture of leaving each other and the pain of not being able to go through this together.
My mom was my rock throughout the entire cancer experience, which spanned more than two years (if you count all my surgeries). She managed my horrible drains, listened when I had emotional breakdowns, made my favourite foods, took me for cupcake runs when I was feeling up to it, indulged in Netflix binging and bought me fresh tulips every single week. Most importantly, she made me laugh and feel normal. Alive. After my first chemo, I was sure that seven more would kill me. She was calm and steady in her reply and insisted that I would not die. I clung onto her words and her strength and used them throughout those horrible months.
On the night I received my diagnosis, we hugged before bedtime. We’ve hugged every night since… Almost five years later. Sometimes I cry (cancer sucks). Most times I laugh (she’s hilarious). But I always feel blessed to get that hug.
A Bond Like No Other.
Going through my cancer crap made us even closer, if that’s possible. We enjoy many of the things we used to with a newfound appreciation of getting to do them together.
As I write about our relationship, I see flashes of our lives together. Our adventures…
Floating in the ocean for hours and loving every second of it.
Looking up at the South African night sky together, knowing as we experience it that the moment is extra special.
Running errands together on Saturday and getting cozy afterwards to watch Dateline.
Getting our nails done.
Hearing her burst into laughter while she writes one of her famous poems. #angel
Receiving text messages from her when I wake up begging me to get up and join her because she can’t wait to get our day started.
Walking down Main Street, U.S.A. at Walt Disney World. And watching her meet Mary Poppins.
Having her walk into my room on my nineteenth birthday at 1:50a.m., the time of my birth, with a champagne bottle in hand.
Watching her do random acts of kindness for friends and strangers alike.
Waking up to an Easter egg hunt. Still.
Drinking mulled wine.
Seeing her light up as we lit lanterns, made a wish and watched them float high up into the sky.
Laughing – always laughing.
My mom is strong, hilarious, selfless, trustworthy and caring. I get to see sides of her that nobody else does and I consider it a tremendous privilege. On several occasions, I’ve filled our home with post it notes stating things that make her an amazing person, a wonderful friend and an incredible mother. No words ever seem like enough. She makes life magical.
Years ago, mom jokingly asked me just how much I love her. I told her it was simple, really… I love her more than anyone, anywhere, ever. It’s an honour to say… Happy Mother’s Day, mom!
Cassandra Umbriaco is a guest blogger for Rethink Breast Cancer. Since being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer at 28 years old, she combines her love of writing with a passion to help women affected by cancer. Check out her blog at cancerunder30.wordpress.com
Cassandra is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) who hopes to connect with and support women affected by cancer. Visit www.cutherapy.ca to learn more about Cassandra and her therapeutic approach.