IF YOU'RE A WOMAN, SOMEONE NEEDS YOU
By Elizabeth Foss
Four years ago, in late August, I sat on my front steps watching my
2- year-old son play in the sprinkler. I had finished chemotherapy a
few months earlier and was struggling to "rejoin the living" after
cancer treatment. I spent that year feeling as if I was suspended in
a strange world where I knew very well that I was not immortal and
had yet to believe that I had a long life ahead of me. My
next-door-neighbor joined me on the stoop and we sat in comfortable
silence, watching Michael play.
Making an effort to shake my melancholy, I asked when her son, Joey,
would be leaving for his first year in college. Her eyes filled with
tears and she told me they were going to drive him to North Carolina
the following day. I empathized with her sorrow as best as I could,
but, in all honesty, I was thinking about myself and my own
tow-headed little guy. I thought, "At least she got to see him grow
up. I don't know if I'll get that. Joey's 18 now and graduated high
school. Her job is finished. Will I finish mine?" Time has altered my
The cancer around which my life revolved has been gone five years --
the medical community calls that a cure. The Lord has blessed my
husband and I with two more sons, children the doctors said we'd
never have. Our faith has grown exponentially and life is usually
very peaceful, as peaceful as it can be with three little boys. And
the melancholy I had courted that summer is an infrequent visitor
instead of a constant companion.
The visitor returned this month. Yesterday, my little boy, now nearly
seven, asked, "Mommy, why does Joey's mom wear a towel around her
head? Does she have cancer?" I told him that she did have cancer and
that the medication had caused her hair to fall out. Then came the
question I was dreading, the question I asked myself frequently since
learning my neighbor's diagnosis. "Mommy, is she going to die?"
I talked with Michael about the disease, about how it was different
from my cancer, about how wonderful modern medicine is, and about the
fact that she might die, but we were praying that she would live.
Very solemnly he said, "I'll pray hard, too. Joey needs a mom."
In that instant, I remembered the summer day that seems so long ago.
Of course, Joey needs a mom. He will graduate from college this year
and he needs a mom to talk to as he sorts out his plans for his
future. His sister will make the trip to college in the fall and she
needs a mom to be there when she calls home with trials and
tribulations. Most likely, they will both marry in the near future
and there will be babies. They will need a mom to guide them in the
days of early parenthood and to encourage them in the long run. My
neighbor deserves the joy of holding a brand new grandchild for the
first time. She wasn't finished being a mom when her son turned 18. A
woman is never finished being a mom.
I watch my friend struggle to maintain her daily life and I know well
the physical and emotional pain of her treatment. I can feel her pain
intensely, but the perspective of time allows me to be grateful that
there is a treatment at all. Her pain has a purpose. I know she can
emerge from this experience whole again.
My neighbor has breast cancer. Ninety percent of breast cancers are
found by the woman or her husband. If you are a woman, someone needs
you. You are a mother, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother, a friend.
As the school year begins and calendars fill with all the important
activities of your life, pencil in one more. Every month, five days
after your menstrual period, examine your breasts. If you are over
35, make an appointment today for a mammogram. Keep the appointment.
Cancer doesn't go away if you pretend it isn't there. If you fight
it, chances are very good that you will win.
Foss is a freelance writer living in Springfield.
This article appeared in the August 24, 1995 issue of "The Arlington
Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the
Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call
1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA