‘It’s cancer’: the two words I never thought I’d hear my mom say

It’s 1:58 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28, 2015. I’m walking northbound on Mississippi Street, near the new apartment complex that’s quickly being erected in Memorial Stadium’s shadow.

I’m giving my mom a call. I knew she had been to the doctor the day before to go over some test results, but that was about the extent of my knowledge.

She picks up.

“How’d the appointment go?” I say, probably not in this exact wording, but it sounds like something I probably would have said.

“I wasn’t going to tell you until this weekend, but it’s cancer,” my mom says.

I let that simmer for a second.

It’s cancer.

Wait. What? Cancer? No. This isn’t real, just like how BYU apparently beat Nebraska off a Hail Mary this season. I was with my mom for an entire long weekend. She looked as if nothing was wrong with her. She works out a lot. She’s always busy. She’s not a home body. She hasn’t smoked a cigarette in over 21 years. She hasn’t drank since the spring.

My mom and I four days before she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.
My mom and I four days before she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.

I’ve known so many people with cancer. My track coach died not too long ago from lengthy battles with the disease. One of my close friends in my sorority had cancer when she was younger. My aunt. I could continue my list, but I don’t feel like digging into that.

It’s very different when it hits home like that. I loved my track coach so much. But it’s different when it’s your mom. It’s different when it’s your dad. It’s different when it’s your sibling. It hits home to a completely different level when it’s your immediate family.

I don’t necessarily remember the rest of that conversation from that Wednesday and our conversations from then since have blended together like the multi-quarterback front that Ohio State has been employing the past two seasons. It all just runs together.

I walked through the door to my house on that Wednesday just a few short minutes after talking with my mom. One of my roommates, Robert, happened to be in the living room. For good reason, I apparently looked like I had been tackled by Shawn Oakman.

“You OK?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said, and I explained how my mom had, just a few minutes before, told me about her diagnosis. Robert hugged me in our living room and I let it go.

I’m not a crier. Not like that. Sure, I’ll tear up at Remember the Titans and We Are Marshall, but don’t wail like that. That’s not me. I haven’t bawled like that since. People are telling me it’s OK to cry. I know that. It’s not how I grieve though.

After the initial conversation with my mom, I messaged my editor-in-chief, Katie. Her mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in February. She knew exactly what mental state I was in.

“Believe me, I’ve been there,” she told me. “At this point, honestly there’s not much you can do. You should be with friends and people you’re close with. Whether that’s skyping with a friend or family member, you need to take the night off work and just be. You shouldn’t worry about the Kansan or production. You won’t process this tonight; I didn’t process it until 8 months later. But I think you should focus on doing something for yourself, not work or school related. Just take the time to just be.”

For all of you who know me relatively well, doing things for myself isn’t how I go about my life. I currently have four jobs, three that pay. I’m on one executive board for a student organization and am an officer for another. I’m in 15 credit hours. I try to have a social life, but that doesn’t always happen.

My mom took to social media to tell the world of her diagnosis on the first of November. Just a few days later, she’s already scheduled to have surgery to put in a port for chemo and start that process on Monday. She’s slated to undergo four months of chemotherapy.

As a journalist, I’m naturally inquisitive. I remembered my mom saying something about triple negative. I had no idea what that means. I’m a sports journalist, not a medical journalist. I still don’t know what exactly this all means, but this is what I do know, thanks to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation:

Triple negative breast cancer is named because the cells test negative for three receptors. Those three receptors are Estrogen, Progesterone and HER2/neu. With triple negative breast cancer, the cells test negative in all three of those areas.

Positive? Negative? OK…? So if the tumors are positive, there are many receptors. If they’re negative, there are very few receptors or none. With my mom’s cancer, she has few open wide receivers because the cornerbacks’ coverage is impossible to penetrate. There are lots of treatment options for tumors that test positive, but the same can’t be said for triple negative.

Triple negative breast cancer is a lot more rare than many of the types of breast cancer, but it’s not the rarest. About 10-20 percent of breast cancers are found to be triple negative.

The bad news? Well. There’s a lot but I’m not getting into it.

Have I processed this yet? Nope. Not a chance. I haven’t dwelled on it. My processing of this will probably be very much delayed since I haven’t seen my mom since before her diagnosis. I’ll be headed home next Thursday, as I have a doctor’s appointment of my own on the following Friday morning. My mom will have completed her first week of chemo by that time. It might hit me then. I don’t know.

I’ve tried to relate it to my own terms.

Her doctors are her head coaches, her offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators. Her opponent: a high powered, aggressive Big 12 offense that makes quick progress and a defense that has yet to be scouted. I’m hoping the defense plays like a scout team true freshman rather than a Carl Nassib. Her coaches will be able to scout the defense in due time. The first scripted play they’re running is chemo. As of right now, they’re going with the run game. For four months, they’re going with the run game, in hopes that my mom goes all Samaje Perine on cancer’s ass. The desperation Hail Marys are in the back of the playbook. Her play callers are hoping not to need to use those. As the game runs on, the plays are going to be less and less scripted and become more and more situational.

Me? I’m one of the fans who painted “BOWEN” on their chests after Charlie Weis was fired. Even though it’s uncomfortable at times to be out in the rain or chilly weather without a figurative shirt on, I’ll be there. I have a front row seat to this one and I’m cheering my ass off. Because this isn’t Madden. This is real life.

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