My mother’s fight against breast cancer

pink ribbon in front of pink female logos
Illustration by Kiv Bui.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month affects everyone; about one in eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes. The affected are our mothers, children, siblings, friends and co-workers – in short, almost everyone will one day have a loved one diagnosed with breast cancer. Some will survive, others will not. I had to cope with my mother’s disease and treatment and eventual recovery this year. I hope that others will not have to endure what my family went through.

My mom was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer last year, right when I started my CSUN journey as an incoming transfer student. The cancer was located on the left side and had spread to one area in her lymph nodes. This diagnosis was a big shock for me and my family since my mom is usually the strong one.

She was asymptomatic and was only diagnosed through a routine annual mammogram. An annual mammogram is necessary and helped with my mom’s case of finding her cancer quickly. This was only the beginning; her medical team did an ultrasound and a biopsy to be sure it was cancer. The biopsy is a procedure where a needle is inserted into the breast tissue to get material to sample. This test was quite painful for my mom; I saw all the bruises.

I had a hard time managing and doing my course-work during fall semester while my mom was going through treatment. She was set up with a PICC line in her right arm to do chemotherapy treatments. She even had a nurse who came to change her IV lines once a week. That was hard to see in her arm – it made everything seem more real.

She started her first chemotherapy session in September. Her first session wasn’t bad but as the treatments progressed, things got worse. She was struggling to keep food down and smells were bothering her. She ended up losing her hair, which devastated her since she used to be a hair stylist. It was hard to see a woman who has been strong for all of us like this. I would buy her flowers on the weeks she did her treatments to cheer her up. I never went to her chemo sessions. She didn’t want me to come, so my brother or my dad would go instead.

Her treatments continued through this year and again it was a struggle. There were some days she couldn’t do treatment due to low blood count. The doctors couldn’t risk doing the chemo because her blood count needed to be at a stable level. So, there were a lot of delays. Her last chemotherapy session was in February. But in April she had to have her surgery to remove the remaining cancer cells from her lymph node and breast. This was a nerve-wracking experience for me since I was in class during that time. I am grateful my brother was there on the day of the surgery. A week after we got some much anticipated test results from the doctor who did the surgery and the biopsy: my mom would not need more chemo or surgery.

My mom still had to continue with radiation treatments during the summer of this year. She finished with that in July. She is currently taking a medication to prevent the cancer from coming back. She will be on that medication for five years.

My mom wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for the doctors she had. The doctors from UCLA Health gave her top notch treatment. I must thank Dr. Arzoo, her oncologist and her surgeon, Dr. Attai, for saving my mom, as well as the nurse from the home health center who came to change her PICC lines.

So, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has come full circle for me. We need this awareness to help push for a cure to be found for this terrible disease that devastates so many families. I’m so glad my mom is cancer-free and will continue to be, God willing. It is my hope that through mammograms and other methods of early detection, other women are also better able to survive cancer.

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Yougineh Boughousi a month after surgery. Photo credit: Alin Boughousi