As the daughter of a long-term breast cancer survivor, cancer has shaped the life I lead personally and as the president and creative director of Elaine Turner, my luxury lifestyle brand.
My mom is now 74 years old and has survived a recurrence of breast cancer after going 23 years cancer-free. She is currently being treated at MD Anderson and is not only surviving but thriving.
Here are three ways my mom’s diagnosis has changed me.
1. Cancer took my innocence
It was 1988. I was 18 years old and a freshman at The University of Texas when my mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I still remember exactly where I was when I got the call -- alone in my dorm room. My mother's voice sounded subdued but strong. She told me very directly that she had stage III, aggressive breast cancer.
I remember being in shock. I couldn't move. It was like the bottom had fallen out from under me. Everything was going to change.
She went on to say, "I have breast cancer, and it has spread to my lymph nodes. I'm not sure what will happen, but I will fight hard."
I was supposed to be in one of the most happy, socially lighthearted times of my life, and instead I was contemplating the idea of losing my mother.
I grew up on that day in September 1988.
I struggled with the extreme contrast of college life and the morbid reality of a cancer diagnosis of someone I so dearly loved. To this day, there’s a disconnect for me when I listen to other people tell their stories of frat parties, football games and wild nights. I was living in a cloud of fear and anxiety as I tried to fit in and find my place while struggling with the reality that my mom was very, very sick.
What I learned from that time was resilience, faith and love. I realized how strong I was. I learned to accept life’s unpredictability and knew that no matter what was dealt to me, I could and would handle it. This lesson has served me well as a mother, wife, business owner and friend.
2. I learned my mom is mortal
I grew up believing my mom was invincible. After all, she’s Mom -- the super human that's always around to meet my needs and support me 24-7.
Cancer blew those misconceptions right out the window. My 46-year-old mom had always been healthy and lived a clean lifestyle -- and she was just hit with stage III breast cancer.
This was the first time I saw that my mom was truly vulnerable. I got to see a different side of her. My compassion and empathy grew. My love for my mom grew. My understanding of the sacrifices she had made for me and my family grew.
I was given the gift of witnessing and experiencing empathy, compassion and love. These three values are at the core of who I am and how I live my life today.
3. Cancer has made me diligent about my own health
Through my mother's cancer journey, I have become more diligent about my own health.
Experiencing this cancer journey has taught me the importance of taking charge of my own health and receiving intensive preventive care. I am religious about my yearly mammograms. I have dense breast tissue and a mom with breast cancer. To the medical world, I'm considered "high risk.” I had a baseline breast MRI done two years ago, and I will continue to have one every five years. I get 3-D mammograms and ultrasounds if needed. I even underwent genetic testing. Thankfully, it came back negative.
I'm not going to lie. I'm afraid I could hear the words, "You have cancer.” But one thing is for sure -- if that day arrives, I'll be armed and ready to fight.
Throughout my mom’s journey, I've seen her fight breast cancer with such courage and grace. She's never lost her optimism or will to live. She's a mom, grandmother, friend, wife and most of all, an inspiration and role model to me and many others.
And thanks to what I’ve learned from her, I'll carry with me a huge wealth of knowledge, faith, courage, hope, optimism and GRIT to beat no matter what life throws me!