On October 17, when I run the Nike Women’s Marathon, I will be running for many people who fought cancer, including my mother Joy. My mom is one of the most generous, selfless and strongest women I know, made even stronger and admirable because she fought and beat leiomyosarcoma, or LMS, a rare cancer of the smooth muscle cells.
I remember when my parents told me about my mom’s health issue. I was 17, a senior in high school, and my girlfriends and I were in Puerto Vallarta for spring break. We were staying at my parents’ timeshare, and my parents had intended to spend the week there with us. On their first day in Puerto Vallarta, while sitting outside enjoying the perfect Mexican Riviera weather, my parents told me they could not stay the entire week because my mom had to see a doctor at UW Madison about her cancer. I don’t remember how I responded at that moment, but I remember feeling like everything around me — the sunshine, the warmth, the laughter and chatter of spring breakers — disappeared and it was just me and my parents and the word cancer hanging between us. I know I did not cry, probably because I don’t think I fully understood the situation. But I do remember later in the day feeling so frustrated and so full of emotion that I snapped at a good friend and yelled, “My mom has cancer!”
About three years before this day in Mexico, my mom was sitting at the dinner table at home when she noticed a mass in her right thigh. The mass was slightly tender on palpitation. My dad, a general surgeon, thought it was a lipoma, a benign fatty tumor, and at the time, my mom was so busy with life and her own ob/gyn practice that she did not have time to see a doctor about the tumor. It wasn’t until 3 years later when my mom met with a local plastic surgeon and had the mass removed. The pathology report indicated Stage 2 LMS. The slides were sent to UW-Madison for a 2nd opinion, which echoed the 1st opinion. My mom then had an MRI and chest CT for follow-up.
LMS is such a rare cancer that there was very little reason for my parents to have thought that the tumor they felt 3 years ago could have been LMS. My mom clearly remembers my dad’s emotion when she told him that what they thought was a lipoma was actually leiomyosarcoma.
To treat her cancer, my mom went back for another surgery to take out more tissue from her right thigh, and she proceeded to go through the prescribed radiation treatment of 5 days a week for 12 weeks. After 3 years of radiation, the doctors told my mom she was cured. She continues to get a yearly scan, but she has remained LMS-free since 1999.
During my mom’s cancer experience, I was in boarding school in Connecticut and college in Portland, OR. Perhaps I was too absorbed in my own silly teenage woes, but from my perspective, my mom remained a patient, loving, devoted mother, wife and doctor as she was fighting her own battle with cancer. She beat her cancer and has continued to live a full life and spread her Joy to her friends, family, and grandchildren. I can only hope to be as strong and brave a woman as my mom has been her entire life. On October 17, I will run for Joy.