Mom sat across the table, picking at her chef’s salad. “Will you shave my head when my hair starts falling out?” she asked. I felt as though someone had just shocked me, feeling the jolt and the breath simultaneously.

We just got the diagnosis. She didn’t look sick. She didn’t feel sick. This malignant intruder, breast cancer, assaulted her body. It threatened her identity. It punctuated her life. Even as we spoke, it was at work. I tried to ignore the unfurling pit in my stomach.

How fast things change. We skipped along as if we had all the time in the world: she with her quilting, baking, and volunteering; and me with my work as an oncology nurse, church member and writer.

I wondered how she would deal with the loss of control. Chemotherapy treatment exhausts people. My mom didn’t have time for this. She always expected a lot from herself. She entered college full-time with three children under the age of ten, completing the nursing program with highest honors. Now I questioned whether she could attain high honors in this new curriculum: Life without Breasts 101, Principles of Fatigue 212, and Penciled-in-Eyebrows 201.

While at my home one evening, Mom asked me to feel her lump. A rush of heat flooded to my face. With trepidation, I extended my hand. A palette of reddish-purple and green bloomed over her breast—evidence of the two biopsies. The lump was hard and large, her nipple inverted. I tried to conceal my shock. As Mom carried the lump in her breast, we carried Mom in our hearts. Her cancer was a family affair.

Worries invaded my thoughts as I drove to work: Where are we going? Will she live, or will this take her? At night, when darkness expands fears the cancer felt bigger, ravaging my sleep. The cancer feels bigger in the vast darkness of the night. Is she scared?

Days blurred together like the spinning blades on the ceiling fan I stared at during long, sleepless nights. She underwent surgery for venous access port implantation. Echocardiograms tested her heart function. We consulted with oncology specialists. Nurses conducted chemotherapy teaching. Prescriptions needed filling. Questions needed answering. Anxiety-filled nights and appointment-filled days became the norm. Even though there was a plan, it sometimes felt like we were going in circles and we couldn’t see the end in sight.

climbing on the stool

Five days passed since her first treatment. We talked several times a day. She told me how terrified she was when she felt the lump. With a sharp pang, I realized how much I love her. The shearing day arrived. She clambered onto the stool in front of her bathroom mirror. From behind her, I positioned the scissors in my right hand. I took a deep breath that did not begin to fill me.

I started to babble about my childhood—if only for the distraction. “Remember Susan?”

Her somber reflection gazed at me.

I picked up a lock of hair between my index and middle fingers. The shears snipped through the lock of hair; I felt as though I was violating her. I composed myself and leaned towards her, examining her face.

All the tools needed for the job?

“Are you okay?”

She nodded. A forced smile appeared on her face.

I rambled on, trying to divert the silence.

“Remember Susan’s camp? I thought they were rich because they had a dishwasher at camp. I didn’t know anyone who had a dishwasher in 1970…”

I hoped words in the air would act as a balm for the pain in the room. My voice trailed off. It picked up again.

“I don’t think Susan and her mother were very close.”

hair scissors

I collected another lock. The scissors sliced through the air. Another clump of hair fell to the tile floor. I kept my eyes focused on her head. It seemed too difficult to look into her eyes.

The electric trimmer shot minute shavings of hair into the air, leaving cleared strips in its path. Yet, she is still in control of her own path through her choices, attitudes, and actions. She has chosen to be a victor, rather than a victim. She inspired me, as she taught me a life lesson that I never wanted to learn this way. We were chartering new ground with no compass, only faith and love.

“Done!” I announced, as I brushed tiny hair clippings from her shoulders.

The mirror displayed a different woman—one with no make-up or hair but with courage to show her imperfections. Her control was still apparent, but carefully wrapped with acceptance and vulnerability. This was a defining moment for her as she made a choice to run towards the cancer instead of way from it. She braced herself for the lessons it has to teach her. I honored her for this.

This experience became not only a time of shearing, but also a time of cleaving to her—of embracing her and her vitality for life. I felt closer to her. Yes, I could navigate this path with her.

She climbed down from the stool. “Thank you for doing this. It’s somehow easier here at home, with someone I love. I hope it wasn’t too hard on you.”

“Not at all,” I said.

I set the clippers down and began sweeping up the hair, as she headed to the kitchen to make us some tea.

26 Comments

  • Karen Rackliff
    2 years ago

    Beautifully written Sharon, brought some tears to my eyes! She’s lucky to have you as her daughter.

  • Marie Quimby
    2 years ago

    This is beautiful Sharon, and I can just picture your Mom getting off that stool and moving forward. She is an awesome woman. And you are an awesome daughter!

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Marie,thank you. It is a day I will never forget, nor will she. I saw a strength in her through the vulnerability that exposed such beauty and grace. I will always see my mom differently and in amazement.

  • 2 years ago

    Brought tears to my eyes, as I re-lived similar moments with my mother. Cancer took her from us at age 59. As I approach that horrible number, I can not help but be haunted. She was God’s child and I miss her terribly, but will see her again.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Karen, I am sorry to hear of your loss, although I hope you were able to find some tender, special memories with your mom after reading this. Being an oncology nurse and daughter to a mom diagnosed with breast cancer, I know exactly what you mean about the haunting. Life deals us so many curve balls, doesn’t it? We can only live in the fullness of the blessings we have here and look forward to eternal life. Peace, my friend.

  • 2 years ago

    Beautiful Sharon. How blessed your mom and you are to have each other.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Thank you, Cindy. Yes, I know I am. Family is so important!

  • Susie Balas
    2 years ago

    Beautiful! You were always so good in English, I can see why you are such a good writer. Thanks for sharing. Xox to you and your Mom.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Susie, How I miss you! I saw you as the creative. Yes, I loved words, and still do. For a moment, I was swept back to Mr Farnsworth’s English class. Too long ago! Thank you for commenting. If you are ever in Maine, please let me know.

  • Toni Benner
    2 years ago

    Sharon, this is beautiful writing. I too, had a mother who had cancer, and I cared for her during her last 7 months. It was difficult, but extremely special. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Toni, It is not easy to watch the ones we love slip away. The time we spend during those final days is truly a gift. I still have my mom, but I have been with many others during their final time. Truly life-changing. thanks for the comment.

  • Crystal Deck
    2 years ago

    Sharon, you brought tears to my eyes. Your writing is beautiful and I am sure your blog will inspire many people. The bond between mother and daughter is precious beyond words….and yet you have shared it with your writing. I look forward to following your journeys.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Crystal, So good to hear from you. I am pleased that this touches hearts and I hope it gives encouragement to others who need the strength to face cancer head on. Take care. Hope to hear from you again.

  • Pat
    2 years ago

    Sharon, thank you for sharing this awe inspiring journal of your feelings as well as the strength of your mothers. It tugs very deeply to my heart core. I too went through this with her, blow by blow via telephone as one of her best friends, but you really brought out the deep inner feelings that you both were feeling at the time. Very descriptive and heart wrenching. You are truly a deep thoughtful person, one who loves the Lord as well and I know your mother is so blessed to have you. Betty is strong, in fact one of the strongest people I know. But, it is from the Lord that she gleans this strength and He is the crutch of her very soul. God bless you both.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Pat, I appreciate the bond you and my mom share. It is truly inspiring. Yes, we went through this together — the only way I could see to do it. Mom is blessed to have such a close friend as you. Thanks for commenting. Love

  • Andy
    2 years ago

    It’s great to see all your hard work come together. You have a gift with words. So very proud and very blessed to be able to share this awesome journey with you.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Andy, yes, so blessed to be on this journey with you. Thank you for your support!

  • Pammie
    2 years ago

    Very well written! Your Mom is lucky to have you. What a blessing you are for her. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Thanks, Pam. As an oncology nurse yourself, you will understand when I say I feel I received blessings, by going through this with her. The cancer allowed us to share in depths we may not have otherwise. Posting this story brought back so many of the feelings, and the blessings. Never forget all we go through.

  • Denise Crommett
    2 years ago

    Really beautiful Sharon

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Thank you Denise.

  • Barbara Gilbert
    2 years ago

    Sharon, What a gift of writing you have. The fact that you are sharing it with others is a blessing to all who read your stories. May God bless you!

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Thank you Barb! That’s what I pray for… to bless others!

  • Kathy Swett
    2 years ago

    Wow, Sharon. Beautifully written. Betty is the strongest person I know and even stronger in her faith, which brought her through her walk with breast cancer. She walked through her cancer journey with her head held high, even on the difficult days, especially because you, and Pete and Andy as her family, walked close by her side. She was consumed with learning everything she could about breast cancer and you provided much of the resources she needed. You were there every day with support, kindness, love, devotion, faith. Yours is a very special family. I am so happy you two have such a strong relationship. Your writing is extra special. You remind us all to treasure each day. Thank you for that. God bless.

    • Sharon A Gibbs
      2 years ago

      Kathy, I can’t follow that. You said it all so beautifully. Blessings to you, Friend.

  • Donna
    2 years ago

    Nice Sharon. Your a good writer and may God Bless you and your family.

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