It was during a recent marriage counseling session that our pastor said something that really stuck with me: Life doesn’t care that you’re planning a wedding. That statement never rang more true than it did about two weeks ago. It was our weekly trip to Target to stock up on essentials and take a break from the never-ending tasks of planning a wedding when I decided to call my mom for one of her classic recipes. She sounded slightly off but nothing too noticeable, until she said the words that made my heart stop. “Call me when you get home, I have something I need to tell you.” I kept asking her what it was and why she couldn’t just tell me now, but she insisted, “I don’t want to tell you while you’re at the store.” I’m a huge worrier. I worry about things I can’t control, and I typically think of the worst things possible if someone tells me they have bad news. I knew right away, I needed to know what was going on otherwise I’d probably get into a car accident trying to hurry home to find out. “Just tell me,” I said. “Is it bad?” My mom responded, “Well . . .” That’s when I badgered it out of her. I said I’m just going to panic and freak out until she tells me so she might as well do it now. “I went to the doctor,” she said. “They told me I have breast cancer.” I’ll be honest, everything she said after that is a complete blur. I felt my knees go weak and thought for a second I might keel over, right there in the dairy aisle. My eyes filled with tears and I could feel the lump in my throat grow bigger. It was perhaps the last thing I ever thought she’d say.
My fiancé, Tom, hurried over and gave me a big hug—completely confused and probably a bit shocked to see my complete 180. One second I was talking to my mom about what kind of beans I needed for her recipe and the next, I’m crying standing next to an assortment of cheeses. I could barely say anything back to her. I had so many questions and even more fears but couldn’t get any words to come out of my mouth. She told me she’d call me as soon as she knew more. Through tears, I told her I loved her and that I was so sorry. The one thing about my mother is that for my entire life she’s been the caretaker. She is always the one who takes care of us when we’re sick, when we’re hungry, or when we just need a laugh. Being adopted, I always struggled when my friends were able to point to physical genetic attributes inherited from their mothers. But I soon discovered, there was plenty of my mother in me—I credit her for my sense of humor, my strong will, and my faith. And now, all three of those attributes were more important than ever. As soon as I got home that afternoon, I couldn’t focus on anything. I had planned to finish working on our table numbers and pick up a few more items for the big day, but all I wanted to do was be with my mom. As soon as I got to their house, I fell into her arms and felt like I never wanted to let go. Even now, she is still the caretaker—still the one taking care of me, though it should’ve been the other way around. We talked about everything she knew so far, what was next, and called the rest of the family to let them know the news. She was so strong through it all—she said she hadn’t cried once yet, she was just focused on getting through this and putting it behind her and was confident her sense of humor and faith would pull her through. And then she said something I hadn’t even thought of: “My goal is to be there for your wedding.” The thought that my mother—the most important woman in my life—may not be able to come to my wedding now had never even crossed my mind. To be honest, I completely forgot about the wedding and how it might be affected. We didn’t know what was ahead or what kind of treatments might be needed and until we knew, I forced myself to push that idea out of my head. She’ll be there. She has to be. I can’t do this without her. A few more tests showed she was stage one (thank goodness), the cancer hadn’t spread and for now, the next step was a lumpectomy. She told the surgeon about the wedding—less than two months away—and was reassured, there should be no problem with her being able to be there, by my side. I’ve never been more thankful for anything in my entire life. Suddenly, that was the only thing that mattered. I no longer cared about any of the details, what we were going to do for this or that. I had a new perspective on everything. As long as my family was there, truly nothing else mattered. All the worry and stress that had already been building through wedding planning suddenly melted away—whatever happens, happens. I just want my mom to be healthy. In a weird way, we feel very fortunate. My mom has annual mammograms and makes sure she keeps her health in check as much as possible. They discovered the cancer at her annual mammogram appointment and because of that, were able to catch it early and before it spread. My mother will have surgery on Monday and because of the outpouring of love and support from friends and family—and her unwavering spirit and strength —I know everything will be OK, and she’ll be even stronger on the other side. I can’t even express how amazed and inspired I am by her. Her determination to be there on the day I will be married and her incredible role model status is the best wedding gift I could ever imagine.