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Breast Cancer: When Your Cells Turn Against You

Last December, my mom underwent mastectomy (a surgical term for removing one or both breasts for cancer). It was a shock to me when I found out about it. All along, I thought it was just plain lump in her breast. After all, the biopsy said it was benign. Her surgeon, who is the leading surgeon of our country, told her she had nothing to worry. Thing is, we have a history in our family. Two of my mom's sisters already had breast cancer, her youngest sister for 10 years and elder sister for 7 years. Both underwent mastectomy and are still living quite normally until today. So it was this reason why her doctors had to remove her left breast, just to make sure it would not spread.

During her operation, my sister began to panic and started to cry. She said, how come the operation took so long when the doctors said it would only take 4 hours. I didn't know what was happening in the operating room. I wasn't aware of mastectomy as part of the option. But I didn't want to cry. I didn't not want to panic. I had to remain still. I already prayed and I kept my faith all the time. My sister asked, what if something went wrong, how could she live without our mom? I dismissed that thought. Mom would be alright. Whatever happened there, I knew she'd survive it.

If it was hard for me and my sister to wait, it must be harder for our dad, who at the time was in Europe, working thousands of miles away as an engineer. Could he sleep well? Was he focused on his work? What was he thinking, same as my sister or me? Dad used to sweat the small stuff. I wondered how he was taking it. Mom and dad are so close and connected to each other, they feel each other when something is wrong with the other.

When hospital staff brought my mom in her room, I felt relieved. She just turned her head to me and my sister and then closed her eyes. She was still groggy. My sister began crying again and my aunt called me outside, she said she had something to say. This was the time she disclosed to me about mastectomy. A surge of fear and pain overtook me. I felt something was clutching my neck and I couldn't breathe. I was just quiet, nodded to my Aunt, and found myself walking endlessly round the hospital until I realized there was a place for me to go. I climbed the stairs to the 4th floor and knelt down in the chapel. I was face to face with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the loving mother who the world has come to know. Her face was still and her eyes were expressive, her arms were open, perhaps ready to catch me if ever I fell down. I began to cry. I remember praying or asking her, "Tell me, it's gonna be alright. You love me right? You love my mom and my family? Please, please send me your love." For one hour I was just talking to her. But the whole chapel felt silent and the only thing I could hear was my mind, the beat of my heart and the constant soft sobbing. After awhile, I found my feet again. I was ready to see my mom and my sister. They didn't need to see me crying.

On my way back, I began texting my friends both global and local. I asked them to send me and my mom their love, prayers and healing positive energies. After a few minutes, my phone was filled with love and prayers from my friends. I saved them and thought of reading them one by one to my mom. That night, I didn't sleep. I was just beside her, holding her hands, sending positive energies. I said my prayers for her in all religious traditions I could think of: Tibetan, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Islam, Pagan or just anything that I learned from the heart. I called the Gods and Goddesses who I loved. I told them to help heal my mom quickly and to keep her safe and positive.

It only took my mom two days to put a smile on her face, even if her surgery was very painful. She said, "it's just a breast, I still have my life." On the third day, she woke up early, took a shower, put on her make-up and perfume and changed her hospital gown to a regular pair of pyjamas (easier for nursing staff to check her wounds); she was ready to receive visitors. My family and friends came flocking and although her eyes get teary once in awhile, it was easy for her to put her smile back. She said, at the operating room, she was singing "jingle bells" until anesthesia put her to sleep. I read to her all the messages my friends sent her and she was grateful.

Looking back, I remember that a few months ago, I read Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, when Jacopo, one of the editors and main characters, gets cancer. He talks about metastasis and how your cells turn against you. He says:

"And what are cells? For months, like devout rabbis, we uttered different combinations of the letters of the Book. GCC, CGC, GCG, CGG. What our lips said, our cells learned. What did my cells do? They invented a different Plan, and now they are proceeding on their own, creating a history, a unique, private history. My cells have learned that you can blaspheme by ana-grammatizing the Book, and all the books of
the world. And they have learned to do this now with my body. They invert, transpose, alternate, transform themselves into cells unheard of, new cells without meaning, or with meaning contrary to the right meaning. There must be a right meaning and a wrong meaning; otherwise you die. My cells joke, without faith, blindly." (Eco, 514)

My mom is fast recovering and her doctors are surprised and happy that she's healing faster than average women who have cancer, considering that mom is also diabetic and hypertensive. Mom can say to her cell which Jacopo thought it was only the cells who could do the talking, "...(M)ethistemi? It’s the same thing: I move, I transform, I transpose, I switch cliches, I take leave of my senses." (514) Yes, my mom's cells turned against her that's why she's left with one breast and her physical body altered. But when this happened to her, everything around her went on her side--love, love is on her side and that's everything she could ask for.
Cancer du sein : Quand votre cellule se retourne contre toi.

(NB: I originally posted this on TIG web)


Lisa's picture

Love and Support

Your words tell an incredibly moving story of doubt, love, and support. Thank you for sharing this moment in your life. It is a crazy instance when our bodies, our most relied upon refuge, turn against us. You and your family are blessed to have such strong, resounding support when the unthinkable did happen. It is great news that your mother is recovering with such resiliency. Your mother is in my thoughts.

Warmest wishes,


katea's picture

Thank You!

Thank you Lisa for your kind words and support. My mom, like her two other sisters with breast cancer, will continue to live life to the fullest.

warm regards,

Poverty is man-made that we can undo.

jap21's picture

Hang in there!

I am really glad to see the how strong and brilliant you are. All us women need to be like you nowadays. Please allow me to suggest a book to read: You Can Heal Your Body, by Louise Hay.Read it, please. And read it for your mom too.

God bless you today and always.


Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America

Kagwii's picture


Hi Kate,
Thank you for sharing with us this very moving story but also a story of hope, courage and love. May God continue to restore your mom and surround you all with love and support.


snelsonwoman's picture

A big Change

Hi Kate, I know you must be exhausted and happy your mother is doing much better. God does answer and has plans for all of us in this world and just be STRONG> LOVE ALWAYS

With Love!!

dawn_dancer's picture

All in the Family

Hi Katea --

I'm glad your mom is recovering quickly. I also am a breast cancer survivor -- 14 years now -- and it runs in my family also. Please be aware that when there is such a strong family history, that you also have the possibility of having a higher risk of getting the disease too. You and your sister may want to consider getting genetic testing to see if you've inherited either of the two cancer genes (BRCA-1 or BRCA-2). If you have, there are things you can consider to reduce your risk, as having this gene also increases your risk of ovarian cancer.

I'm not saying this to scare you, but to empower you and give you options. I'm also posting this here to let other women who have a strong history of breast cancer in their families know that there are options and things to be aware of. Anyone who wants more info is welcome to contact me.

As much as cancer sucks, the gift in it is how aware we become of the preciousness of life. My guess is that you're appreciating your mom tremendously right now, Katea. Please be sure to tell her that -- over and over!

katea's picture

Thank you

I will heed your advice. I will also ask my cousins and sister to do the same. I appreciate it a lot. I also read about hormone treatment to avoid getting higher risk of cancer cells.

Poverty is man-made that we can undo.

dawn_dancer's picture

A bit more info

The way it is in the States, it's expensive for the first person to have the genetic testing, but then once they've isolated the gene, everyone up to first cousins can have the test more inexpensively since they know where to look in the DNA.

I don't know anything about a cancer hormone treatment, but if you test positive for BRCA-1 or 2, I do know that hormone replacement therapy, such as is used for menopause, is a definite no-no as it is estrogen that encourages the growth of cancer cells.

Good luck -- let me know how it goes!

katea's picture

about the info

Yes, I read about the estrogen causing the growth of cancer cells since I tried to understand the result of my mom's histopath and came across FISH and stuff. Mom is taking this medicine which, according to her other doctor, is good for the first three months only cos this tablet actually makes veins (?) brittle or something. It is quite scary knowing that cancer really runs in the family and not only that diabetes is also in our blood--fatal combination.

I will let you know when I get the cancer screening test already. Again, I really really appreciate your help and the information you provide for me. Breast cancer is number one cancer in my country but it's the easiest to cure, according to the study.

I will keep you posted.

Poverty is man-made that we can undo.

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