My son was nine at the time of my first diagnosis and eighteen at my second. That first time I was told that, regardless of the surgery I selected (lumpectomy or mastectomy), the survival rate after five years was 80%. I translated this into, “I have a one in five chance of dying before my son is fourteen.” Praise God, my lymph nodes were clear, greatly im-proving my prognosis.
When the cancer returned over nine years later, I told my son that if it killed me this time at least I knew he could go on without me, and he told me that he wasn't ready for me to go anywhere. Again I survived all my treatments with flying colors.
The American Cancer Society boasts of being the "official sponsor of birthdays." I love that, but I tend to think more in terms of graduations. Since my first diagnosis, I've seen my precious son graduate from elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and, in May of 2011, law school.
Time for me is measured in semesters. I followed in my son's footsteps by entering law school myself in 2009 after completing a paralegal certificate. I tell people that law school was harder to survive than cancer!
After three years of my four-year program, I learned that I have the BRCA gene mutation. I stepped up by having two pre-emptive surgeries to remove the at-risk organs between my Summer term and my final Fall semester. I graduated, passed the bar on my first try (as my son had), and became an attorney in 2013—two years after he had.
Since then I have been securing justice at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County for seniors without the finances to hire an attorney. I can think of no better way to spend the remaining years that God may grant to me.
P. Melanie Vliet
La Mirada, CA