Being a teen extrovert, I did not listen to my parents. The very next morning, my friends gathered in our usual spot at the lockers before class and the big news was that the other girl asked Joe to the dance. Everyone wanted to know how I missed my chance. My head literally spun and I felt like I was walking through the thickest fog with everything around me slowly being muted. I walked to my first period class, Student Council. As our faculty leader started our daily meeting, I stood up and walked to the bathroom. I slid down a wall and sat with tears streaming down my face. I was followed soon after by a friend who bent down and asked me what was happening. I told her my mom had cancer but I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. She immediately went back to our classroom and gathered an army of friends who all came into the bathroom to comfort and support me. My friends became my lifeline.
Life at home was difficult. I resented my brother being away at college and my sister being away and married. We grew up with our mom as a stereotypical homemaker and stay-at-home mom. My siblings learned how to do laundry the night before they left for college. They only cooked when a cooking class assigned a project at home. I don’t remember my mom’s illness being explained to me in any way. She simply had cancer, was getting chemo, and we had to keep things quiet for a variety of reasons. Her own parents couldn’t know because my grandmother was convinced she herself had cancer and talked about in non-stop. She was actually fairly healthy. My mom didn’t want people at church to know because she didn’t want them bringing us meals. I wanted them bringing us meals.
If someone in our family needed the phone, they would often pick up a receiver and tell whomever was on the phone to get off. One night, I was tired of walking on eggshells at home and balancing secrets. I was in my room, lamenting on the phone with a friend. I didn’t know my mom picked up the receiver just as I was telling my friend what a bitch my mom was being. I knew when I heard the screaming. My heart sank and the bile rose in my throat. I whispered a good-bye to my friend and headed downstairs to what I knew would be a major punishment.
My dad was screaming at me as my mom clutched her heart. He was yelling that the chemo weakened her heart and she could die from a heart attack right then. My mom just looked at me, trying to breathe, tears running down her face. It was terrifying. It was dramatic. They left for the emergency room. How would I know she was ripe for a heart attack because of the chemo? No one told me anything at all about her illness. She still had her hair because she wore some cooling contraption on her head during the treatments. She was quieter and more withdrawn, but was still living her life. It was all so unfair. It was all so scary. I was a typical teenage girl, complaining about her mom on the phone with her friend, and it appeared that she might now die because of my words.
She came home from the ER that night and continued to get weaker and sicker. There was still no real explanation to me. I helped around the house doing laundry and making meals. I also chose to continue my teenage life and was fully involved in trying to get my mom’s attention in a positive way by finding a boyfriend and making her proud of my achievements.