My Mom is Alive (but not Everyone Is as Lucky)
An honest conversation about cancer
Imagine that you can travel back in time.
That you know an easy way to teleport yourself to the most special moments and experiences of your life. That with the snap of a finger you can step into the feeling in your body and the state of your mind years, even decades ago. I do. It’s called visual journaling. And this artwork is an example of how we can use our creativity and inspiration to cultivate this superpower.
I make stream of consciousness art that takes snapshots of my psyche at the moment of creating the artwork. This artwork is a by-product of such a process. And it’s called My mom is alive.
My mom is alive is the visual representation of one phone conversation that I had with my mother on November 22, 2021.
I was enjoying an autumn walk in a nearby park with my favorite music blasting in my ears. My mom called me to share that she’d accidentally discovered an amazing self-care experience out of the blue.
She’d inadvertently come across a way to vent and process difficult emotions. An activity that helps her metabolize painful experiences and heal the scars of trauma. A 30-minute experience that has a detoxing impact over the psyche and clears the mental cache. The activity in question is running in the meadows with Elsa (a 7-year-old husky, who helped her overcome a lifelong fear of dogs) while listening to loud music and singing along.
My mom was forced to discover the concept of self-care and learn to prioritize her own needs at the age of 54. Because less than a year before that cathartic experience in the meadows, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. On my brother’s birthday. Two weeks after I’d moved to The Netherlands on my own to restart my life after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out my social enterprise overnight.
Lucky for my family, my mom’s cancer was caught incredibly early. She caught it herself. She claims that it felt like someone told her to place her hand on her left breast, where she felt a tiny lump. My mom’s left breast was soon removed and thankfully she recovered completely. But when it comes to cancer, unfortunately not every story has a happy ending.
According to The World Health Organization, In 2020, 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 685 000 women died from cancer globally. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer. This is more than the population of Bulgaria. Breast cancer occurs in every country of the world in women at any age after puberty but with increasing rates in later life.
Cancer, just like miscarriage, mental health, addiction, and sexual dysfunction, is one of the topics that we as a society feel most cringy about. We just can’t have educational, constructive, and empowering public conversations on these subjects. And I’m sick and tired of this. So, this is a story about cancer. A happy story. But not every cancer story is happy. Many aren’t.
There would be more happy cancer stories if we as a society started having more conversations about this painful, yet incredibly relatable subject. If we began to educate ourselves on the risks and best practices for prevention. If we went to the doctor for regular check-ups and performed routine ones ourselves!
I’ve lived in the context of a cancer diagnosis twice. Unlike my mom’s happy story, my grandmother’s story wasn’t a happy one at all. If anything, it was one of the saddest stories I have seen.
After my grandmother’s health had been in a very bad shape for close to 6 months without any doctor being able to diagnose her, a heart surgeon recommended that my grandmother sees an OBGYN. My grandmother had worked as a nurse in a blood bank. She worked in the healthcare space. And yet, my grandmother hadn’t seen an OBGYN for several decades. My grandmother was diagnosed with vulvar cancer around my mom’s birthday — on May 29th. We buried her on July 13th.
Other people’s experiences are even more brutal. Rapid growth. Multiple occurrences. Late diagnosis. Incompetent doctors. Us humans know a bit too much about what it’s like to live in the context of cancer.
There are many things we as a society can do to improve the numbers — both in terms of early diagnosis and prevention.
Our eating habits, level of physical activity, mind fuel, quality of sleep, stress levels, and many other epigenetic factors play a role on whether or not we become a part of the cancer statistics. In certain occasions, what’s in our control is how we respond to the diagnosis — the changes we introduce to our lifestyle and the improvements we actively pursue.
Self-care is a major improvement we can make to our life. Having therapeutic and cathartic hobbies is tremendously underrated. Activities and experiences that make our hearts sing can quite literally boost our immune system. They work like exercise for the mind — they keep us alert, energized, and excited.
My mom running with the husky and screaming into the empty space around her is quite the immune system booster. It’s something that she accidentally discovered out of desperation. Because less than a year earlier, she’d heard the diagnosis that terrified her beyond anything she’d ever experienced.
This diagnosis was the wake-up call that many people in life receive. And she picked up. She responded to the universe’s invitation to chill the fuck out and learned to prioritize taking care of her own needs.
A scary experience can awaken you. It can enlighten you. Ironically, it can catapult you into and pull you out of the darkness pretty much at the same time.
The day I heard that my mom has breast cancer has been the scariest day of my life. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of such news, you know the intensity of the pain and terror it brings. You know the color of it. You almost know its taste.
I’m not a religious person, but I consider myself spiritual in my own way. I also consider myself a blessed person. A lucky one. A winner. I got to watch my mom come back to life. Or maybe become truly alive for the first time ever. Many people aren’t as lucky. The empathy I feel for them can never ease their pain. But what I can do is show my gratitude for the gift I’ve been given. My mom is alive. And the day I learned she was truly alive — November 22, 2021, was a day I wanted to remember for the rest of my life. I wanted to remember how I saw my mom in my mind’s eye as she told me her experience of reality on the other side of cancer. Out of the tunnel. Out of the darkness.
After talking to my mom for close to an hour, I headed home. I sat down on my living room table, took out my felt tips, and took a snapshot of my psyche after one of the most special phone conversations I’ve had with my mom. A moment I wanted to immortalize. A moment that this drawing will remind me of for as long as I’m alive.