by Jordan Stacy

March 19th of 2013

I walked into the small, cozy kitchen in my grandparent’s house to find my parents seated at the wooden table, here to take my sisters and me back home. I noticed something I had not seen before. My dad seemed to be crying, though he was trying to hide it. Soon after this, I realized how quiet my mother was acting. Being a 12 year old girl with great instincts, I immediately knew something was different but I didn’t know what. Everyone always says that ignorance is bliss but I have always hated not knowing. We went home.

Once I heard my mom leave her office, I snuck into the small, box-like room only to attempt to find evidence of what was going on. On top of her desk, I found stacked folders which read the words Akron General Hospital across the front. A knot suddenly formed deep in my stomach. I flipped through pages, seeing words like breast cancer, oncology, and treatment, trying to interpret what those words meant, which felt like reading a foreign language. The more I read, the more the knot tightened and grew. I knew what these papers meant. I knew why my dad was crying and why my mom was quiet. I felt my throat begin to close, almost as if it was hard to breathe. Tears began to stream down my face and I gasped for air. I tried to run upstairs before my mom could see me, but my mother’s instincts were faster than my feet. She knew I had found out. We sat on the red, patterned couch, in the living room, a couch that we only sat on on holidays and occasional Sundays. Suddenly, my life didn’t feel like my own. My mom proceeded to ask me what was wrong, which I quickly replied to by spitting out the word nothing, in between tears, hoping that just this once she would go along with it. My mother has never been one to just “let it go” when it involves being upset. Surprising to me, she did not just come out and tell me the news, which is more than likely because of her own fear. I had presumed, she persisted until I worked up the courage to ask, “Do you have cancer, Mom?” At this point, she too was crying when she had no other choice but to answer yes. The knot I felt earlier had spread into my chest and throat. The most intimidating question I have ever asked, the answer I wanted the least to, I miraculously let the words out, “Are you going to die, Mommy?” I felt sudden relief when she held me tight and reassured me with the words, “I’m not going anywhere.” But I knew the possibility remained, as did the slightly loosened knot in my stomach. That night would not be the first in which I lost a few hours of sleep to fear.

In all honesty, for me, the time between her diagnosis and first surgery is a blur. The first surgery lasted six hours but felt more like six lifetimes. During the fifth hour of the surgery, I was at my grade school in history class. I asked to leave and go to the bathroom when instead I went out in the hallway and started crying, in fear that the question I had been so scared to ask earlier, had come true. Luckily, it just took longer than expected and the surgery was finished within the next hour. The days following the surgery I remember persistently attempting to go into her bedroom and see her. My dad wouldn’t let me, his way of protecting me, which I didn’t understand at the time. That same knot in my stomach from before was tightened again. All I wanted to do was see her and know how she was doing, but I couldn’t. I have always hated not knowing.

Five brutal surgeries later, my mother became a patient at The Block Center, an integrative cancer treatment center. A place which little did I know, would change not only her life but mine too. There, she was instructed to begin following a plant-based and sugar-free diet to reduce her chances of recurrence of the cancer. At the time, I thought not much of this except I knew it was a good thing because it had meant, to me, she was getting better.

Three and a half years later and my entire world is different. Most importantly, my mother is living her healthiest and happiest life. For me, everything has changed. It has taken me three and a half years to realize how much my views toward life and good health have adjusted. I know how quickly life can change and how uncontrollable it is. I have learned that ignorance is not my bliss. I have come to see that some of the most kind, strongest-hearted people are given the toughest battles. Both my mother and my views of her, have changed. I have come to see her strength and perseverance as I am sure she has seen in herself.  Personally, I decided to become vegan, like my mom, about a year ago when I truly realized how important it is to me to know I am doing everything I can to be at my healthiest. Of course, I will always spend my life looking over my shoulder, not knowing. I have always hated not knowing. But I have chosen to focus on what I can control, not what I cannot. I choose to live, not to live in fear.