If You're a Woman, Someone Needs You

Author: Elizabeth Foss


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 thinking dramatically.

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 Catholic Herald."

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 22203.