Mater Dei High School

Column: My mom is head-scarfed, but happy

We don’t eat out anymore.

When we walk, it’s one foot forward at a time — step, pause, step, pause. The well-worn sounds of pages flipping and keyboard clicks have ceased — for anything that requires intense concentration brings on headaches. Tasks lay half-finished, forgotten and abandoned: soapy dishes, uncapped water bottles, lights left on. Naps abound.

They say it ages you 10 years, but it seems more like it’s been 80 years. Because of all this, we don’t eat out anymore.

My mom has cancer, and this is what it looks like.

Cancer is in the way she can’t stay awake for more than a few hours at a time and retires to bed early, with an apologetic smile and a kiss on my forehead.

Cancer is in the way people are speechless when they hear me say: “I don’t think I can make it — that’s the day right after my mom has chemotherapy.”

Cancer is in the stares, the narrowed eyebrows, the pursed lips as we walk slowly — step, pause, step, pause — through grocery stores, Church pews, and parking lots.

Cancer is not something that only happens in Hollywood movies or best-selling young adult romance novels (whose storylines are read only for their romantic aspects and whose post- cancer conditions seem almost idealized).

In fact, there’s nothing romantic about it.

How can it be romantic when cancer is the reason that all normal functions of our lives have been stopped—why we, as a family, cannot brave the risk of bringing my mom out to a public restaurant and subjecting her weakened immune system to the outside world?

Cancer is the reason we don’t eat out anymore.

Yet my mom is resilient, though she may not be able to write letters on her own or scoop stubborn, frozen ice cream by hand anymore.

She smiles as she asks me to help her tie her headscarf, chuckles as I remark that she looks like a pirate, and agrees that: “Yeah, this one is really ugly, isn’t it?”

She white-knuckles her way through traffic, clutches her full-to-the-brim grocery basket, and refuses to accept pity.

Cancer may be why we don’t eat out anymore, but it will not be the reason we lose hope.

Hope comes to our front door, disguised as family friends crowding the doorway to drop off food for our family.

Hope is in the shaky yet solid steps my mom takes by herself the third day after chemotherapy.

Hope is in the way she ties the knot of her headscarf—with a flourish and a smile.

Cancer may be why we don’t eat out anymore, but it is also the reason that I can look at my mom and hope that one day, I will be as strong as she.

My mom might wear a headscarf now and — when she wears a red one — look like a pirate, but she is as happy as ever.

If you personally know someone with cancer, or someone whose family is dealing with cancer, you have a huge role to play. Now is the time for you to show your friend or loved one how much they mean to you and support them in whatever ways possible. Cancer doesn’t just affect the one person that has it—it affects the entire community.

How you can help:

Raise awareness
Breast cancer awareness isn’t just about pink ribbons and marathons. Raising awareness means encouraging your female family members to check themselves monthly for breast cancer and to schedule annual health checkups. By skipping health checkups, many women do not discover cancer until it is well past the first two stages. Do not let your family members be one of them.

Research your family history
People who have a family member with cancer are several times more likely to develop cancer than theaverage person. It is important to ask your parents and grandparents about the cancer history of your family to determine possible cancers that run in the family. If your family has a history of cancer, it may benefit you to look at gene tests of afflicted family members, or to encourage those family members to take a gene test. It always pays to be vigilant.

Plan things around them
Chemotherapy is tough, and it often takes a few days to start eating and functioning normally again afterwards. Depending on the chemotherapy schedule, your friend may not be able to do anything for up to a week after a chemotherapy session, either to recuperate or to tend to their family member’s recovery. Ask in advance what the chemotherapy schedule is so you choose a date that works with your friend. Remember that cancer makes even ordinary conveniences— like watching a movie or talking on the phone—extremely exhausting, so be accommodating and understanding.

• Ask how they are holding up
It is more important than ever for you to show how much you support and care for your friend. They’re facing something that they have never encountered before, and even if they only respond with “fine,” your question will mean much more to your friend than pretending to ignore the fact that something life-changing is happening in their lives. Ask them how they are doing, and ask it often. If one of your friend’s family members has cancer, keep yourself updated on how they are doing as well. As their best friend, you have a responsibility to show that you care, because you are one of the main support systems in their lives. Your friend will never forget those who have helped them during such an emotional, turbulent time.