What can I do? What can I say?
Help me understand what you're going through
Stories of Support
Co-survivor: Traci Stewart
Survivor: Her Mother
The Stewart Family
The sun barely shone through the clouds - a small portion of light. It gave me hope, fear, and sorrow. I was only nine years old. The gargantuan window next to my mother's hospital bed showed the entire sky. The sizeable window sill looked big enough to fit about ten of my teddy bears. The hospital room was dull, the walls bare. They reminded me of white grains of sand that were just thrown and pasted against the wall. The frayed and torn chair appeared to have been used for multiple overnight stays. A miniature television hung from the corner of the ceiling; game day host shows played in several rooms.
My mom was sick. She had a really bad cold or something. She was really tired all the time. It was hard for her to keep her light blue eyes open longer than a couple of hours. The hallways of the hospital were silent. The only time I heard people talk was when there was an emergency and doctors were rushing up and down the hallways screaming, " Patient in room 152 has stopped breathing, need assistance!" I was holding my mother's hand, reading her my homework for the week.
My father slowly walked in the door along with my sisters. My Dad made eye contact with me, but quickly broke and stared out of the window. He looked restless. He walked over to me slowly and put his hand on my shoulder. "Your mother is very sick, Traci; she has breast cancer." I could feel the tears welling in the corners of my eyes. A rush of warmth encircled my body. I felt hot on the outside, but cold and empty on the inside. My sisters looked terrified, as if they had just watched a scary movie and were unable to move. Tears were flowing rapidly from their eyes. I could not get one word out of my mouth.
She was my best friend, my confidant, my other half. On beach family vacations, my mom and I would always leave early. We blasted Disney music and sang songs with the windows down. She knew every word. Her favorite was "Circle of Life" from the Lion King. It reminded her of when I was born. Once we got to the beach my mom and I ate pizza to relax with each other. Once the rest of my family got there, we would have a tennis match. If she lost, she would get furious, but she respected her opponents. With squinted eyes and clenched fists, she still managed to put on a tiny grin to make everyone happy. I would always be on her team. I ran away from the tennis balls, while she would come flying in to smash them.
When I looked back out of the window, the small portion of sunlight had faded away. I could hear nothing but the soft crying of my sisters trying to hold in their tears. My father's eyes were glazed over. Unfortunately, I noticed everything at that moment. I turned to look at my mother for the first time since I had heard "breast cancer." She looked at me with a smile. This made me angry and confused. "How can you smile at a time like this, mom?," I asked her. "What are you thinking?" God has a plan for me sweetheart, this isn't the end, I can feel it."
A couple of months passed by and the holiday season started to play a big role in my family's life. Without my mother, there would be no decorations, no lights, no happiness. It would be nothing without her. Despite getting treatment every week, my mother fought her battle hard and still managed to be a normal mom, at least as normal as she could be. She was usually waiting for me everyday when I got home from school, with a bright smile on her face. I could smell the aroma of my mother's cooking on a warm burning stove.
She always had a snack ready for me. Boy, did my mom make the best grilled cheese sandwich. She would grill the sandwich just long enough so the cheese just barely slipped over the side of the bread. I would never eat any other grilled cheese. It wasn't just her grilled cheese either. Whenever my mom cooked, I completely forgot about her being sick. However, sometimes I would peek in the kitchen, and my mom would be sitting. Her head down. Sometimes she forgot that she even made me a snack and would fix me another grilled cheese.
November 1999. She was supposed to pick me up from volleyball practice that day, but when it came time to leave, she wasn't there. As I picked up my phone to call her, infuriated that she was late, my sister Kelley ran in the door frazzled. She was breathing hard with tears running down her cheeks. Her eyes were red. She rushed me to the car, pushing me through the parking lot. I got in the car and Kelley said, "It's mom, she's really sick." My heart started ached. I thought she was going to be gone from this earth for good by the time I reached her. I had more memories to make with my mother, but they were going to be washed away. School dances, high school and college graduation, even my wedding, they wouldn't mean anything without her.
At the hospital, my sister and I ran up to my mother's hospital room. Up the stairs we went, taking two steps at a time. The room was different from her first one. It was spacious and brighter. The walls were painted blue. There were flowers everywhere. Yellow roses that smelled like sweet honey. I ran right up to my mother when I saw her, and softly jumped up into her hospital bed. Her bright blue eyes lit up. I put my hand on her head and noticed that the blond lockets of hair were turning into a lightest gray. I asked if she had cut her hair. She told me that because of her treatment, she was starting to look different. I said, "Its ok, Mom, you are still the most beautiful person I've ever seen."
She squeezed my hand tight and gazed at my father. It was the kind of look that parents give each other, but you never understand what their secret signs are. I stayed up all night trying to spend every second I could with my mom. She slept most of the time. She looked at peace then. The small amount of time she was awake, she would ask me about school and how my friends were doing. Not once would she talk about how horrible she was feeling or how she could be gone any minute. We talked until her eyelids were too heavy.
The next morning, the doctor told my mother she could go home. This was the first small sort of good news I had heard in awhile. As I walked outside on Thanksgiving, the sun was shining brighter than I ever thought it could. The sky was perfect Carolina blue with small portions of puffy white clouds. On the way home, I noticed red and yellow flowers, children playing in the fall leaves, bright green grass, and gigantic maple trees. Maple trees were my mother's favorite. As I waited for my mom to get out of the car, I could smell a wood fire burning. It brought me a sense of comfort. My mother was right by my side.
Read more stories of support