I almost titled this "My Mother In Law Has Cancer", but I didn't want the cancer to define her. I hesitate to even say "Survivor" but a blogosphere person, who just found out she has cancer, is looking for inspiration. And the survivor that I think of is my very own MIL.
So when I say my MIL has cancer, I mean, had, technically, I guess. But not just once or even twice, but many times. In her breast, then her colon, and her lung and then her breast again and well, lots of cancer. Cancer that first appeared many years before I knew her and then most of it over the past eight years that she and I have become family.
Cancer that has completely changed her life. Cancer that has sent her to the hospital countless times. Cancer that has required her to endure major surgery, over and over. Cancer that took away a big part of her colon and now both of her breasts. Cancer that has made her so sick all she can do is lie on the sofa and wish the hours away.
When I first met my MIL, shortly after I met my husband, she seemed healthy and vibrant. Within months, just as Matt and I were getting engaged, she found out that she had colon cancer. I didn't know her very well then. I felt for her, but I was concerned about my fiance. I didn't understand the magnitude of what she was going through, nor can I really comprehend it now.
Obviously, I didn't want her to die, nor did I want her to suffer. But that's long before I knew her like I do now. Like a friend. I would say, like a mom, since I know that's what you are supposed to say about your MIL. But I don't see her that way.
My mom is right here, two blocks away. I talk to her all the time. She knows me well, but will always regard me as the child she gave birth to and raised. How could she not? But my MIL didn't know me when I was young. She wasn't there to experience a lifetime of me. She has no feelings of regret or frustration with who I am or what I have done. She just knows me as the person who married her son and is the mother of her grandchildren.
When people complain about their MILs, how they butt in and take their husband's side. I shake my head, not so with me. And then they say, but she tries to be my mom. Again, not my MIL. She is her own person and regards me the same way. I do not feel that she talks down to me in any way. There is mutual respect and from me, without a doubt, admiration.
My MIL dropped out of college to have a family. Her own mother died young and she has had many obstacles along the way. But after the colon cancer surgery and subsequent grueling chemo and radiation, she is every bit a survivor. She decided to go back to school and pursue her dream of getting a college degree.
Always the smartest person in the room, it was hard to believe that she could have possibly not finished college. So, while she would get scans and check ups, she went to school. Earning first her undergraduate and now, in May 2007, a Masters degree. She excelled in college in every way. Receiving top marks and recognition for outstanding work. And through it all she continued to battle cancer.
As a result of her initial colon cancer surgery, she had scar tissue that would cause her to get a "blockage" which would mean she had to stay in a hospital for days, in horrible pain, until it passed. She always completed her required school work. She had to have more surgery to correct the situation, then had cancer removed from her lung. And just before the start of this year, she found out that she had breast cancer.
While getting a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she completed her Masters Degree (with Honors). Nothing was going to stop her from pursuing her goal and living her life. She is an expert on cancer. She researched and knows as much as a patient can.
Not long ago, I told her that she was such a great resource for cancer patients. She surprised me by saying that, although she is happy to help (and she is involved in many ways), she also didn't really want to be a poster child for cancer. That sometimes she is sad and scared and overwhelmed just like all other people who have or have had cancer. That she didn't want people to be frightened by her multiple bouts of cancer and recurrences. She didn't want their pity. She didn't want them to look at her and fear the worst. That she was tired and weary of always having to be strong. That she knows she will always be fighting this disease. It has been difficult and terrifying. It still is.
And I think she was also trying to say that she didn't want the cancer to define her. And it hasn't. It has made her better. It is part of her. And even though she and I do not share any blood, the cancer is now part of me, too. Because I see how someone can live through it and with it and despite of it.
I will always be inspired by her courage, her steadfastness, her strong will, her openness. And I am grateful that she is my MIL and my friend.
I have been meaning to write this post (what else is new?) and was inspired to put other tasks aside for a fellow blogger, Whymommy, from Toddler Planet, who won a pass to BlogHer 2007 and now can't go. You see, she just found out she has breast cancer and needs to start treatment right away. I hope this helps to give her a little bit of encouragement.