My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2016. I'll never forget the day she told me. I was living in New York at the time, on my way to work. As I sat on the Metro North train to Poughkeepsie, I received her phone call. I had seen her a month or so before, and she shared that she needed to get a mammogram because something wasn't right. Of course, we were hoping for the best. Waiting for the biopsy results was the most anxiety-ridden part of this journey. I was sitting on the train, looking out at the Hudson, when she told me the news. She was so calm, so peaceful. I cried the rest of the train ride and then tried to pull myself together to teach my dance classes.
My husband and I were able to go back to Texas for the month of March to take care of my mom after her mastectomy. I was her full-time caretaker during that time. It was one of sweetest times of my life. Being there for my mom, when she needed help the most, was such a gift. After returning to New York for a few months, we moved back to Texas for July and August to take care of my mom again after her reconstructive surgery. We definitely had our ups and downs, but I wouldn't trade this time with my mom for the world. My days consisted of helping my mom get out of bed, changing bandages, draining drains, cooking healthy meals, juicing fruits and veggies, and just being a friend. I was by my mom's side all day and sometimes late into the night. It was my joy. Out of all the practical help I was able to offer my mom, I think the thing that served her the most was my presence and care. Love and a listening ear is often the greatest gift.
There are so many intricate thoughts and emotions that accompany cancer. Everyone's journey is different. Even if two people have the exact same cancer in the exact same location and are diagnosed at the exact same time, they will have two completely different experiences. Both come with their shares of joys and pains, perhaps more one than the other. Every story is worth listening to because it is unique.
One thing I noticed as I walked through this with my mom is how people react to the word “cancer.” Some get nervous when you share hard news and try to make you feel better by offering positive thoughts--“She'll get through this!” “I'm sure things will be ok!”--but sometimes people just need to be sad for a moment. I know I needed that at times. Very often, people would hear the word “cancer” and immediately begin to tell me about their aunt, cousin, father, mother, etc, who also had cancer. They may even have had the same type of cancer my mom had, but none of them was my mom. She was a unique person, in a unique situation, with her own story.
Too often we want to add our own thoughts and experiences to someone else's journey. We are all-too quick to project our own emotional needs into someone else's situation. This is just human nature; we are all at fault here. Artists are especially guilty of artistic liberties and experiential interpretation. We constantly strive to “say something” through our art. Though a valid goal, that is not why Mei/Co. exists. We want to listen.
Through my mom's journey, I realized that people simply need to be heard and valued. There's so much beneath the surface of cancer. Even years after a fight is over, it isn't really over. Whatever part of the journey someone is at, it's worth listening to, and that's why we started Mei/Co. Dance.