Chapter 1: Early Daze. My Mom has breast cancer.

When I think back on my childhood, I can only stop and smile. Take a moment to pause on the time when the most important things included who was giving out the big candy bars for Halloween or who had the coolest bedspread. I was convinced I was going to be in the Olympics for gymnastics and that I was destined to marry Michael Jackson. We were even able to convince our Father to drive by MJ’s house when we were on a trip in CA. There was a CLEAR no parking sign and police officers stationed outside Neverland. That did not stop us…that is just a “suggestion”! My Mom and Dad unloaded all 4 of us kids and we proceeded to take pictures of the gates HOPING to get a glimpse of MJ. My Father ended up with a ticket for loitering. No pic of MJ.

Here is where we insert the “Kathleen” part of this story. The night before we left for CA, I woke up and could not move my legs. Not a cramp…I was actually paralyzed. I called for my parents and they tried everything to no avail. They called our pediatrician and we met him over at the doc office. He ran some tests and determined I had some virus that had settled into my legs and I should be back to normal in a couple days. Did I mention we were leaving on a plane for CA that day? Guess who now had to be in a wheelchair all through O’Hare Airport. I was not happy and my siblings loved every moment of making fun of me. As doc said, the virus broke the next day and I had the use of my legs again.

There were 4 kids in my family growing up in suburban Chicago. We took the bus to school, had lemonade stands, played sports, went to church every Sunday. Nothing really out of the ordinary, but when I try to remember the early details, it is like a haze. Little bits and pieces that come back to life through pictures. Almost like I am reading someone else’s story. Too normal. Not my life.

When I was in 5th grade, my life turned upside down. I was 10 years old and my Mother was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. The new normal.

My Mom has breast cancer.

As girls in 5th grade, we are just figuring out what breasts are. I was a very athletic kid and the thought of two bumps slowing me down or getting in the way of a soccer ball was frustrating. I certainly did not have any idea what a mastectomy was, but I remember actually thinking it did not sound so bad. Cut mine off too! Until I saw it.

We were a very open family and I asked my Mother to show me what her chest looked like. That image is as clear in my head today, as the day I saw it. Now remember, this was 1987 and medicine has come a long way. I remember slowly looking from the long jagged ugly scar, up to my Mother’s face and back to the scar. Then landed back on her face where she was trying to smile through the tears. She kept telling me she was going to be ok and that the doctors took away the sickness. They did a single mastectomy and she was going to start a medicine called chemotherapy that would help get the rest of the sickness out of her body. She was confident that she would be fine. She was a very religious woman and knew that Jesus would not take her away from her children.

That first year of her in treatment was quite a blur and I remember very random things. I remember getting a Coca Cola sweatshirt for Christmas, I remember these weird post-it notes that we used to collect that came in different shapes, I remember going to outdoor ed weekend. I distinctly remember this is the moment where I felt different. Something hit me that my Mother might not be ok. She would normally have been here. She was always the room mom, the brownie mom and she would have been here. I was standing by a fence at dusk and there were fireflies everywhere. It was a moment I will never forget.

Oddly enough I don’t really remember her at all that year. She was “there,” but it was almost as if I was starting to protect myself. Trying to put up a barrier and perhaps start to let go (just in case)? I kept busy doing all the things a normal 10 year old girl did. My parents had also planned on buying a lot and building a new house right before she got sick. So just about a year after her diagnosis, we moved into our new house. That was exciting! I would FINALLY not have to share a room with my little sister. And surely, this was the new start we all needed.

She was very lucky and only lost a small amount of hair going through chemo. My Mother had long, beautiful thick blonde hair. Like the kind that you covet. On the outside…she did not look sick. Our parents really shielded us from how she was feeling and tried to keep life as normal as possible. So, to us…she was all better. Chemo was done, new house, starting middle school…life was starting to feel normal again! I could see some light shining through the end of this last year and a half.

And then, one really icy cold day. She fell.

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