You spend your twenties, and every year before that, believing that you are invincible. That is until the year one of your best guy friends gets struck and killed by a drunk driver crossing the street and your friend loses his sister in a house fire. Then the harsh reality that there is an end to this thing called life settles in and it doesn’t necessarily wait until you hit eighty.
You spend the next ten years or so trying to avoid any crazy disaster you can think of. You stop diving through waves in the ocean or driving near cars erratically swerving on the road. And then it happens. For me it was April 2015. I was beyond miserable. I was working at a job that I hated, commuting two hours in a car every day and losing my patience with my toddler at home. To be honest, there were days when I hated my life and wished I could run away to the mountains and just hide from it all. What I didn’t realize is how worse it could be.
As I lay in bed one morning, dreading getting up, I scrolled through my Facebook feed and there it was, a cryptic message from an old friend and instantly I knew. I rushed out of my house as fast as I could that morning to call her. I remember that conversation so clearly her brave voice, my tears and the horrible color blue her house had mistakenly just been painted. Not two weeks later my sister’s sister-in-law would get the same diagnosis, breast cancer.
I had worn the pink bracelet, supported friends on breast cancer walks and seen the disease take several special people from me, but it somehow all seemed abstract until it wasn’t. Until it attacked two girls, two friends, who were mothers, wives and “young,” just like me.
I can remember lying in bed one night with my husband, tears streaming down my face, feeling completely helpless as I thought about my friends’ kids potentially having to grow up without their moms. About my friends not seeing their kids grow up, nursing a broken bone, a broken heart, crying tears of joy at graduations, weddings, even seeing their little faces mature into adult ones. I realized that we had absolutely no control in this world of what cards we were dealt and how long we could be here. I could try and avoid disaster my whole life to have my body turn on me and start attacking itself. So I made a promise to myself that night, after I made my husband promise that he would find a replacement for me should something ever happen, that I would control the things I could control.
Within a week I had a plan to leave the job that I hated, to spend more time with my family and stop being the miserable grump. I stopped rushing my toddler everywhere and let him aimlessly walk down the street collecting rocks and smelling every flower. I stopped rolling my eyes every time he asked me to tell him a story about “when I was little,” and gladly obliged him, realizing that with every story he learned a little bit more about the “real” me. I held him a little tighter every night before bed, read him that extra book and never let us go to bed angry with each other.
I stood by as my friends fought, fearlessly fought for everything that I had foolishly taken for granted. I supported them every step of the way in every way I knew how. I sent cards, texts, meals and comfy clothes. I left voicemails, painted my nails blue for months (one was anti-pink), and listened whenever I got the chance. In the end one made it and one did not.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her, especially when I am around my son. And when I find myself about to lose it, I think of her and what she would have given to have fought one more time with her boys about putting on pants or brushing their teeth and I take a deep breath and try to just let it go.
In loving memory of Candice Benuck.
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