Twenty One Years Ago Today – A Son’s Story of Breast Cancer Survival

Wow, where to start with this one? Perhaps from the beginning of the end.

I remember being around my oldest son’s age lying in bed at night after dinner thinking about how perfect my family was. My parents adored me, my younger sister was (marginally) tolerable, I had all the toys a boy could ever want (is that possible?) – life at 123 Sunny Circle was good.

Yes, that was really our address.

Then one fateful day, somewhere around 1985 or 1986 I remember having “The Talk” with my parents. My sister was only 5 years old at the time, so she wasn’t included. I was a big boy at 10 years old, though, and they had something very important to share with me.

My mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Don’t worry, they think they caught it early. She’s going to have surgery to remove her breast followed by chemotherapy radiation to kill the left-over cells and she’d be ok. My mom was still very young at that time – only 34 years old when she was first diagnosed. When you’re only 10, your parents are invincible, so I reacted to the news of her cancer diagnosis much like I would have had I been told she had a cold.

My mom fought that round of cancer and was diagnosed as being in remission after a few months. We were back on track once again; back to our Sunny Circle life.

Except the cancer came back – this time to the opposite breast. Again, they performed surgery to remove it and gave her a heavy-duty dose of chemo (for what seemed like an eternity) in the weeks after the surgery.

I remember my mom going through the chemo sessions. She was always very weak and quite pale, although, she was very light complected to begin with. She lost all of her thick, auburn colored hair both times she went through the chemo but it always came back seemingly thicker than it was before.

Round two went to my mom after she received her second diagnosis of remission.

That’s the problem with cancer, though – it doesn’t give up easily. The final blow came after a 3rd diagnosis. “How can she have breast cancer again?” I asked. “She doesn’t even have any boobs left!” My honest, upfront question gave my mother a chuckle, but she knew what her long-term prognosis was after a 3rd diagnosis. The cancer had spread to her blood stream; there was no telling how far it had gotten.

She didn’t give up – how could she, afterall? She had two children to think about. She enrolled in a then-experimental treatment at the University of Iowa Hospitals, which was a good 4 hour one-way trip away. My grandparents drove her there and back each time, again, for what seemed like an eternity. I remember my mom describing what the treatment was like. I was only 14 years old by then, but I knew enough about cancer that I had picked up over the years to follow along pretty well. She said the treatments were like having a red colored drain cleaner injected into her arm. “It burns all the way up the arm.” she said. I wish I could have been there for her during those treatments but I’ll always be grateful to my grandparents for supporting her.

My mom passed away 7 days before her 39th birthday, one chilly Iowa October morning. She lost that round, and ultimately her battle with cancer, but she didn’t give up without a fight. We watched her battle her disease for years; she did it for us. I knew that then, even as a young boy and I carry it forward with me to this day. She passed away but I survived – despite a few scars.

I can’t believe it’s been 21 years since my sister and I lost our mother to breast cancer. We miss you, mom.

Support Breast Cancer Awareness – Visit Susan G. Komen for a Cure and help support the cause.


  1. Memoirs of a Single Dad says

    Thank you Betsy and Liz! I appreciate the kind words of support. 21 years seems like an eternity sometimes and others it feels like it was just yesterday.

  2. Liz Schwartz Faron says

    I was blessed to know your mom from K-12 and then to have her as my college roommate and forever friend. She was a good woman and I know she is very proud of you as she looks down from heaven. You are an awesome writer. Keep it up. I miss her with you.

  3. Betsy Oakland-Garey says

    Very nicely written. I’m sure your mom would be very proud of the man you have become and the journey you life is taking.

  4. says

    beautiful post….one of my best friend’s has breast cancer. She’s a mom of two. The treatments have come a long way but not quite far enough yet.

  5. says

    This is a beautiful tribute to your beautiful mom. Thank you for sharing her with your readers. I love the pictures and admire her strength to battled her cancer. Cancer didn’t beat her, she beat them!

  6. says

    We lost my aunt when she was around the same age, under almost the exact same circumstances.

    I am truly sorry for your loss. I’m sure you still miss her every day.

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