Facing the reality of breast cancer

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    Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer amongst women. According to the American Cancer Society, a woman has a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. About 266,120 new cases of breast cancer are predicted to be diagnosed by the end of 2018, and roughly 40,920 women will die from it.

    Cancer is a disease the world works tirelessly to find a cure for. So many diagnoses are made each year that it is difficult to find someone whose life has not been touched by the disease.

    During junior year of high school, my family took in my aunt who had been suffering from stage four breast cancer. She could no longer care for herself. For two years, my family watched how breast cancer depleted her health and the effect it had on her family and friends.

    My aunt was in the Army working in intelligence at the Pentagon. She was the hardest working woman I had ever met, and if she wanted to, she could have conquered the world. My aunt owned a ranch, grew most of her food, had the most unfinished DIY projects and raised two boys on her own. She was strong, dedicated, independent and had no problem talking to strangers at the grocery store.

    She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and then again in 2009 with metastatic breast cancer, stage four. For the longest time, my aunt would not let the cancer beat her. She fought every single day until she passed. Along with being strong and dedicated, she was also as stubborn as stubborn goes. Breast cancer was not going to knock her down. In 2014, her health began to decline rapidly. That is when we decided to bring her in, and that is when the independent and fierce woman I knew had to face the grim reality of breast cancer.

    For a while, her health—as bad as it was—remained stable. She could move well with a walker, make her own dinner and care for her three dogs. Though her health was failing, her faith grew every single day. Our church family welcomed her with open arms, and they wrote letters and sent meals. It was a blessing during a dark time.

    During my spring semester of senior year, my aunt’s health was at its lowest, and any day could have been her last. She struggled with giving up her independency and allowing my mom to care for her. It took all she had to get out of bed, but even on her worst days she had a smile. The weekend before graduation we brought in hospice, and after a few days she took her last breath. As I watched her pass, a part of me wondered, “After all the fighting, this is it?”

    I struggled for a long time trying to come to terms with her cancer. Throughout my senior year, I faced depression because no matter what I did, I could not heal her. During her last few days, my aunt was barely conscious. She could hear us speaking to her, but did not have the strength to eat, drink or open her eyes. The morning she passed I was sitting with her, because that is what we did most of the time. When she passed, it was as if time stopped, and all I could hear was my grandmother saying, “This is it…this is it.”

    I was angry and heartbroken and lost. I did not understand how someone could go through years of battling cancer only for it to be over in a matter of seconds. It was not fair for her to be taken so soon, and I wish I could have had more time with her.

    Cancer takes everything, and breast cancer is the most common thief. I do not know when, but at some point during her battle I believe she accepted the possibility of death.

    One day we will find a cure to cancer, but until then, we must never stop fighting.