Monday Moms: Out of the Darkness
By Susan Hannan
In 29 years I have never talked about this, even though I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 13 when my dad came in my room, sat on the twin bed opposite mine, and said “Your mom has breast cancer.” I don’t think I had ever heard the words “breast cancer” spoken out loud but I could figure out what it meant. Friends would ask me what was wrong with her and I would say cancer. Then they would inevitably ask what kind and I did not want to say breast cancer. I remember wishing it was any other kind of cancer so it would not be so embarrassing. There was such shame and secrecy around it. In my high school there were support groups for kids of divorce or with parents in jail, but nobody talked about breast cancer.
My mother survived that first diagnosis of breast cancer only to have it come back with a vengeance 4 years later as I was graduating high school. She was stage IV and given three months to live. But she was determined to see us all graduate college and I was the youngest of her 4 daughters. My college years were a race to beat the ticking clock. I was 20 years old at my graduation and my mother died 10 days after I received my diploma.
My mother was a homemaker and a volunteer. I think she chaperoned every field trip of my elementary school years. She was a girl scout leader and cookie mom. She volunteered at the hospital and with the American Cancer Society. I have 4 girls at home now with exactly the same age difference as me and my sisters. She influenced me a lot in that short time with her, and I volunteer with a lot of different organizations including Girl Scouts and Piedmont Hospital. For the past 11 years the majority of my time and passion that does not go to my family has gone to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Komen has saved many lives through their research grants that have discovered drugs including Tamoxifen, and more targeted treatments for better cures. Komen funded mammograms have saved thousands of lives through early detection. But to me the most important thing that Komen has done, what has saved the most lives and changed the world forever was to lift the veil and take away the secrecy and shame surrounding breast cancer. It is now something we think about and talk about and it is in the forefront of our collective awareness. That means that it is something women can take action on and help to save their own lives, armed with knowledge and resources.