By: Tina Engberg
St. Patrick’s Day often confers feelings of raucous celebration on people. It’s festive, it’s symbolic of the start of spring and oh, the green. Green that perks up the soul after a long winter where everything is so bleak and washed out. For my family though, St. Patrick’s Day reminds us of something else altogether, a different color: PINK.
March 17th, 2014 marks an important date for us as a family. The 20th anniversary of my mother Mary Brickley’s first surgery to remove her cancerous breast. Chemo and radiation followed, and a few months later, the prophylactic removal of the other breast. But March 17th is the date that Mom got prepped at Piedmont Hospital, under the care of Dr. William Barber. It’s funny what you remember on days like that. The gurney was going down the hall and Mom’s reminding Dad that if things don’t go so well, he’s to find a new wife, but: “Not some ‘Buckhead Betty.’ Dad and Mom concocted a plan where she had stuck a “Kiss Me I’m Irish,” sticker on the breast to be removed. It was her little joke to Dr. Barber. A day later when Dr. Barber came into check the dressings, Mom asked him about the sticker. They had a laugh. Later on, when she had the clearance to unwrap the binding, she found the sticker on the other remaining breast. Well played, Dr. B!
Once the surgery was done, Mom started the oncologic treatment for the breast cancer. Back then, you went to a room at Piedmont and “drank the red Kool-Aid” through your IV. Startling then, memories of this make me realize how far we have come in the past twenty years in treating breast cancer.
One day a few weeks into the rounds of chemo, it was clear that Mom’s hair was on its way out. She wanted it cut off since it was annoying to have it fall out in clumps. I remember driving down West Wesley with the windows of my car wide open. The wind was literally pulling Mom’s hair out as we drove. We decided, with glee, to give the hair to the birds for their nest building. It was rather freeing to reach over and grab Mom’s hair and fling it out the window as we drove along. By the time we made it to the Peachtree Battle Barber Shop, what remained of Mom’s hair made us laugh. She looked like a plucked chicken. Royce the barber uncovered a perfectly round cranium with his clippers. Wanda the Wig became a part of the family.
I know that these are odd remembrances of a time that was filled with a fair bit of fear and healthy servings of uncertainty. But in their own way, they were reassuring. We knew we had to laugh about the little things during the journey in order to appreciate the bigger picture. And now, 20 years later, we are so grateful that where we are today is so much better than where we were 20 years ago.