The disease and treatment's effect on my six-year-old autistic son is what got to me
To rid myself of my stage two breast cancer diagnosed in October 2011, I went through chemotherapy, a double mastectomy (with implants) and radiation therapy. Believe it or not, my first bout of breast cancer didn’t really bother me. I was in very little pain, and my treatments didn’t affect me too much.
The chemo, surprisingly enough, wasn’t too bad. I didn’t get nauseous, thanks to the excellent anti-nausea medicines the chemo nurses gave me. My only negative side effect was extreme fatigue. I’d come home and fall into bed.
The mastectomy also didn’t lay me low. The only bad part about this operation was the drainage bulbs dangling from plastic tubes they had sewn into my chest, which collected the fluids coming from the wound sites. Each day, I had to empty the bulbs and measure how much fluid was seeping from each “breast.” I hated this process, but it did not ruin me.
Finally, the radiation wasn’t too bad. I got really good at lying still on the treatment table. The procedure did burn my skin, but I managed to live through the whole thing.
What did bother me about my experience?
What my cancer did to my six-year-old autistic son really bothered me.
Tommy became completely destabilized. At his young age, he didn’t understand what cancer was, but he sensed it was very bad. His teachers and everybody else knew I had cancer. And though people were treating him with kid gloves, they gave off negative vibes about this disease.
To make matters much worse, Tommy’s intervention specialist went on maternity leave. She was replaced by a teacher who did not know what to do with my destabilized child.
This substitute would frequently call me and tell me to come to the school to pick up my child because he “couldn’t do anything with him.”
I’d trek up to Tommy’s school, where I’d find my only child lying on the floor, bawling his eyes out or screaming at the top of his lungs, in full tantrum mode. Because of his autism, which affects his ability to communicate, this was the only way Tommy knew how to “articulate” the grief and anxiety stemming from my poor health situation.
“Tommy,” I’d say. “Mommy’s here. Tommy, stop crying. I’ll take you home.”
Oh my God, it wasn’t the cancer that got me; it was Tommy’s reaction to it.
What did I do to keep my sanity throughout this horrific time?
I sat for several hours a day at my kitchen table and prayed to St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus. I did this because I was a devout Catholic and because St. Anne was my grandmother’s favorite saint, to whom she constantly prayed. If this saint was good enough for Grandma, she was good enough for me. Hour after hour, I’d repeat the prayer to St. Anne. This got me through the day.
These are the words I’d recite over and over:
“Remember, O glorious and good Saint Anne, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help and sought thy intercession, was left unaided.”
“Inspired by this confidence, behold, I cast myself at thy feet, and beseech thee, by thy great prerogative of being the Mother of the Queen of Heaven and the Grandmother of Jesus, come to my aid with thy powerful intercession, and obtain from Almighty God through the blessed Virgin Mary, this special favor which I beg of thee…”
At this point, I’d state the favor I wanted—“the renewed health of both myself and my son.”
This is how the prayer concluded:
“Cease not to intercede for me until, through Divine Mercy, my request may be granted. Above all, obtain for me the grace one day to behold my God face to face and with thee and Mary and all the saints praise and bless Him through all eternity. Amen.”
Day after day, prayer after prayer.
After a very rough year, I completed all of my cancer treatments. Things started to slowly return to normal.
And lo and behold, Tommy returned to his happy self.
I know in my heart that Tommy and I both made it through cancer together with the divine help of dear St. Anne.
It’s not what happens to us that disturbs the soul; it’s what happens to the ones we love because of our negative experiences that plagues our minds.
This is, unfortunately, just a fact of life.
A life, by the way, that I’m terribly glad to still be living.
Author’s note: Since the writing of this essay, my breast cancer has returned. The radiation treatment I had five years ago caused a rare form of cancer on my radiated breast. On June 10, 2016, I had surgery to remove this new cancer. At 11 years old, Tommy is taking this second bout of illness better, I’m happy to say. We are praying and will continue to pray to St. Anne for my complete and total return to good health.