I am lucky to be the mother of two amazing sons. I’ve always known this, but it became especially clear after my two breast cancer diagnoses, when they cared for me with grace and strength.
My first breast cancer diagnosis
The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, our oldest son, Rich, was away at college with no cell phone. We had to call security to pull him out of class so we could tell him the news via a payphone call.
There were moments of silence as we spoke. I know he was furiously trying to think of details and questions while he stood there alone.
Our youngest son, Brian, was 14. When he got home from school the day of my diagnosis, he knew by the grim look on our faces that something was off. After we told him, he went upstairs to process the information. Later, he asked questions. One always stands out: what were my chances of survival?
In spite of the fear and uncertainty, we made it through those first conversations about my breast cancer and came out stronger for it.
A dose of laughter
At the end of the school year, Rich, then 19, came home to help for a couple of months. He drove me to chemo appointments at MD Anderson so my husband wouldn’t have to take off work.
He always tried to lighten things up. The first time he took me to a chemo appointment, he sat down in the recliner, not thinking I was supposed to sit there. The nurse said, “You’re welcome to stay in that chair, but if you don’t get out, I have to give you the chemo.” He jumped up. We both laughed pretty hard.
A watchful eye
Back at home, Brian kept a tender, watchful eye on me. One night after my last treatment, my fever began to climb. Earlier in the summer, I’d been hospitalized with a neutropenic fever. That memory was on his mind this particular evening. He kept checking my forehead and asking me to take my temperature.
There were threats of flooding, so driving to MD Anderson was out of the question. I did what I could to reassure him, but he cared for me with courage and determination. Eventually, my fever stabilized, but it seemed so unfair that my son had to deal with this.
I also recall a brighter moment on the last day of my treatments. I had finished my 18 weeks of chemo and six weeks of radiation. With Rich back at college, I wanted Brian to be at MD Anderson with me and my husband when I rang the bell to celebrate, so we took him out of school that day. Afterwards, we went to lunch and savored every minute together. We championed everything he’d done for me that summer.
Facing cancer again
Exactly 12 years later, I found out about my breast cancer recurrence through a yearly mammogram. Once again I needed my now-grown sons.
Multiple scans were ordered to plan the best course of treatment. This time, we got a grim diagnosis: stage IV metastatic breast cancer. It was the single darkest day of either diagnosis for any of us. Rich, now newly married, was living 1,500 miles away, so I had to tell him over the phone. Brian described the days after we found this out as mind-altering.
But when my oncologist looked at older films and compared some spine lesions, we got happy news: The lesions hadn’t changed in seven years. The stage IV diagnosis was retracted.
A week after we celebrated a beautiful Mother’s Day together, I underwent a double mastectomy. Before the surgery, I asked that a photo of my family -- now dubbed Team Coutee, with the addition of my daughter-in-law -- be hung up in the operating room. I wanted to be surrounded by my family’s strength.
After my surgery, my sons again helped with my recovery. My oldest son came home to help a week after the surgery. Together, we made it through cancer again.
The very pulse of my heart
My sons are the very pulse of my heart. They are strong, crazy-fun to be with, funny, imperfectly perfect, smart, hardworking and the best part of what it means to be a momma. I have shared some of my life’s sweetest moments with them, and I’m so proud that our family’s legacy lives on in the men they’ve become -- and my beautiful new grandson.
As we celebrate another Mother’s Day, I want them to know just how grateful I am for the way they stepped up and knocked it out of the park with love that only the three of us will ever know.