Holding On

October 20, 2012

My mom is petite, no taller that five feet two centimeters tall, but she stands stoically and proudly. She has always been the rock in my family, balancing a life of work as well as taking care of our family. I have always admired her and have seen her as infallible – she has been so strong throughout her life – and now, I hope that she continues to fight, as she always has.
I am now a senior in high school, ready to embark on my next learning journey, but no matter what happens, my mom will be with me, in my heart. The past year and a half has devastated my family and me. During the winter holiday season of my junior year, we learned that my mother has breast cancer. Last summer, we went on a final vacation together before my mother would begin her radiation therapy and be too weak to travel. She visited her homeland, Vietnam, the country from which she escaped, for the first time in 25 years.
When my mom visited her primary school, she broke down and cried. It was the first time I ever saw my mom shed tears, but I recognized what she felt, standing in that empty classroom: the bittersweet nostalgia, the desire for a simpler time, and the fear of the uncertainty that the future holds. As she picked up a piece of chalk and swiped it across the chalkboard lovingly, I saw a woman who has experienced more than a lifetime of hardships, and I knew that my mom deserves so much more than she has now; she deserves the world, she deserves a strong, healthy life.
Throughout senior year, my head was swimming. IB classes, sports, music, volunteer, college applications, and radiation therapy, kept me busy during the day and awake late at night. I silently watched as the daily therapy took a toll on my mom. She quickly became burned by the heat and was in constant pain. I could tell she was trying to hide her pain. I did all I could, bringing cool ice packs, finding her the lightest shirts to wear and helping her in any way I could; but it was not enough. My mom still had cancer, she still had burns, she was still in pain, and we all knew it. My dad has withdrawn, unable to accept the reality of the situation. He and I keep our emotions and pain bottled up. It runs in the family.
During this time, I had a private ritual that was more sacred to me than anything else I could do. In the dead of night, I would silently make my way to my parents’ bedroom and sit outside the door. I would listen closely so I could discern my mom’s breathing. The slow inhale and exhale, the signal of life, the signal of peace, a few hours without pain. In fact, as I write this, I can hear my mom’s breathing now. It is as gentle as she is, a languid inhale, taking in fresh air and a quicker exhale, as if she cannot wait to take her next breath of life.
In the fall, I had set my mind on staying in state to take care of my mom, because I cannot afford to lose her; none of us can. My mom has insisted I follow my dreams though, and I now sit here with several choices for my future; she has always put the interests of others above herself. I have only a few days left to decide and I am torn. But I do know my mom has inspired me to achieve all I can, and I have strived to make her proud. I will work for her, and I hope that

I will be one of the individuals who can contribute to the cure for all cancer. Although I do not know where the future will lead me, I do know that I want to be part of my mom’s cure: she gave me the gift of life, and I desire to do the same for her.
Hang on mom, I’m working for you.
Katarina Nguyen