By: Dr. Diane Kashin, RECE
For all my adult life, I would put my head on my pillow and think of the next day ahead. As a young mom, I would think of my children’s schedule and everything I had to do for them. Then I would think of my day and what I would accomplish at work. When my children grew up and moved out of the house, I would lay my head on the pillow and think specifically about the classes I would teach, or the workshops that I would present or the projects that I would work on, the book chapters I would write or the blog I was going to post. Or if the day ahead was one that included family, I’d go through the menu of the delicious gourmet spread that I would prepare for my loved ones. When I woke up and looked in the mirror, I saw an accomplished and empowered woman, who loved her life and was excited for the day. Now when I lay my head on the pillow, I think about how many times during the night I will wake up parched with an overbearing thirst and how many times I will need to wake up, possibly from a nightmare-filled sleep, to go to the bathroom. I think about the day ahead and wonder whether it will be a good day or a bad day. What could I expect to accomplish? I no longer have classes to teach or workshops to present. Maybe I could write for a short time before my eyes feel strained and I need a nap? Now when I wake up and look in the mirror, I see the face of cancer. I see the face of my daughter.
As a mom, your heart breaks when your children are sad, and swells when your children are happy. A cherished friend once said to me, you are only as happy as your unhappiest child. Three years ago, my family went through an ordeal that I would not wish on anyone. To see your 29-year-old vibrant, successful, beautiful daughter go through the ravages of breast cancer was like carrying an unbearable weight. I still kept working but could never lose the realization that my baby girl was suffering. I took solace in the fact that she had such wonderful support from an amazing bevy of beautiful friends and a wonderful boyfriend who would become her husband. I never doubted that she would survive and indeed thrive because that is the message she put out to the world. She was determined from the onset that she would be a role model to other young women and exhibited a level of confidence that frankly, I did not know she had. She wrote blogs, appeared multiple times on television, she shared her journey on social media, she appeared in YouTube videos seemingly without concern for her hairless head or changed body. She volunteered her time with organizations like Rethink Breast Cancer because as she told me, there has to be the realization that breast cancer is not just an older woman’s disease. Young women get it too and have to endure so much more.
I have been married for 40 years to a husband who is by my side throughout the journey. He loves me just the way I am echoing the Billy Joel song that was our first dance at our wedding. I did not have to endure a mastectomy. I had a lumpectomy. I already have three children and an amazing grandson, and my daughter is now miraculously pregnant with a daughter, her first child. Fertility was not an issue I had to face, but it was one she had to. Yes, I do have to look in the mirror and mourn the loss of my beautiful hair that was my crowning glory. When my daughter and my husband cut, then shaved my head, it wasn’t easy, but we looked back at photos of my baby girl doing the same thing and I was bolstered by her courage. When she showed me how to put on my wigs and helped me set up an area in my bedroom for my scarves, hats, and blonde and brunette options, I knew that I could get through the months ahead. Like when she said to me, “look at it this way, how many people get to know what it feels like to shave their head and try on different wigs, scarves and hats?” With dangling earrings, I could embrace my bohemian side or choose the shorter blonde wig to be sporty or the more glamorous brunette wig.
Even at six months pregnant she cooks for me, and helps prepare meals for us for the days after chemo. She is an inspiration. When I see her now it brings such joy but for all those months during chemo and the ones following when I would see her with her wig, I would see the face of cancer. When her hair grew to the point that it just covered her bald head, she boldly put the wig away and embraced her new look. It took a long time for it to be back to normal. Now when I see her, I don’t always see the face of cancer. However, when I look in the mirror, I see myself and it reminds me of her. I try not to think of myself as ugly because she was never ugly, and I look like her.
My daughter is my inspiration but I will always worry about her and my granddaughter as my grandmother died of breast cancer. My mother is a survivor having fought the disease at 80 and is going strong 15 years later. My daughter is a thriver and I will be too. All my adult life I have worked on behalf of children. I am an early childhood educator who became a professor, a researcher, a writer, and a trainer to support our youngest learners. I will continue this work as it is my lifeline and my cause. Now I will add another cause to my life work. I want to help young women like my daughter for the sake of my granddaughter. I want to do what I can to stop this generational spread of breast cancer. I will forever be grateful for Rethink Breast Cancer for the work they do. To all the readers of this blog, please show your support by donating to help young women like my daughter.
We asked Dory how she is feeling about her mom’s breast cancer diagnosis. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog post for her POV.