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My mom, PK McGill, was diagnosed on May 3, 2011 with Triple Negative breast cancer. It was the most devastating day of our lives. I went with her to the appointment, and I remember crying the whole way home. We truly thought it was the end of our lives as we knew them. Shortly thereafter, we also discovered that the insurance she had through her husband's job had a cancer rider and would not pay for any of the diagnosis or treatment. Our whole world crashed (again).
We also soon discovered that because she did have health insurance, many charities weren't able to help because their funds were designated for people who were uninsured. We started a massive campaign to find the money to pay for her treatment. During this time, someone told us about an organization called Pink Up the Pace, based in our town, that pays for diagnostic tests related to breast cancer for uninsured OR underinsured people. They paid for everything related to her diagnosis (biopsy etc.) and helped us find the money to pay for other things - including her chemo port.
An anonymous donor connected to friends of ours also stepped up and offered to pay for her chemo visits which were $3500 a pop! We also found a surgeon who waived her fee to do the removal. In the end, she was able to go on Medicare early and everything was paid for.
In some ways it was frustrating that we spent so much time worrying about money, but in other ways, it did take our minds off the very real possibility that our mom might die. My mom was in treatment for a full year - chemo, radiation, and surgery. She has always been the person who took care of everyone.
She's the most supportive mom - the one who will do whatever you need to manage your life or make your dreams come true. And during this time, it fell to all of us to not only take care of ourselves, but to help take care of her. Honestly, some of us managed that better than others!
The biggest thing I learned during this time is that we were all processing and dealing with the information/fears the best way we knew how - but we didn't really talk about why we were doing what we were doing. We all just acted and many feelings were hurt during this time.
I also learned so much about the power of community. So many friends and family stepped up to help - from driving her to a chemo appointment when everyone had to work to sending money or making food - to just constantly holding our family in prayer. We also learned the power of ritual and taking control of what we could. We had a head shaving night where my step dad shaved my mom's head because she wanted to be in control of that. When they were done, we had a wig party and took a bunch of photos of all of us in various outfits with wigs.
My mom LOVES living in Florida - and the last photo we took was her in one of her favorite Florida dresses with her head shaved - her husband was in a Hawaiian shirt (his head is also shaved) - and it was gorgeous. To this day, I have the photo framed at my house to remember how beautiful she was in that moment and how much hope we all had for sunnier days to come. And sunnier days did come.
Last year we celebrated 5 years cancer free with a fundraiser/party to benefit Pink up the Pace.
Yes, there were moments (days/weeks) of devastation and fear. Like when my sister and I crossed the finish line of the Pink Up the Pace 5K and my mom was sitting in a chair waiting for us - so small and pale (she was right at the end of her chemo). I almost collapsed and didn't know if I could even make it across the finish line to hug her. But, at the end of that one year, we had all grown and changed in ways that never could be explained.
We learned a lot about who we each were and who we wanted to be. My sister even got pregnant with her second child! My only message to anyone who is dealing with a diagnosis - theirs or someone they loves - is to allow yourself to be who you are and to feel what you feel. And, to talk! If you decide to do something or feel you can't do something - talk about it. Explain how you are feeling. And listen to other people when they explain. You don't have to understand, but just listen and allow them to feel how they feel and do what they need to do. And, of course, never lose hope. Honestly, I also think the biggest message I would have is to never lose your sense of fun and humor. Some of the best days in our family happened during that time because we allowed ourselves to enjoy the moments that were enjoyable.
Submitted by LaKay Cornell