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Mother’s Day great cancer-screen reminder: Mitchell

Breast Cancer Ribbon

Breast Cancer Ribbon

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Updated: June 12, 2014 6:36AM



Today, I will drive to Milwaukee to have brunch with my 86-year-old mother, Carrie Duncan.

I will tell her that it is Mother’s Day and she will remember that for all of five seconds. Then she will say, “my memory is bad,” and I will tell her again that it is Mother’s Day.

I will look at her wrinkled face and hands and see my own face and hands.

Yet, I will say “Yes Ma’am” and “No Ma’am” the whole time we are together like I did when she was a beautiful woman and I was a young girl.

I’m fully aware that at my age, I am lucky to even have a living mother this Mother’s Day. But in order to properly care for an elderly parent, you have to go through a stark role reversal.

Now, the woman who gave us unsolicited advice, is on the receiving end of it. Just as I often didn’t want to hear what she had to say when it didn’t mesh with my own views, my mother has her way of reminding me that she is still my mother even if her memory is fading.

For this Mother’s Day visit, I will definitely wear a hat.

Born with a mass of thick, black hair, my mother is now reduced to wearing her thinning gray hair in plaits.

But during each visit, she surveys each of her six daughters’ heads with eagle eyes.

“One day you are going to cut your hair off and it isn’t going to grow back,” she’d warn us, turning up her nose at our latest hairstyle

Of course, that day came for me in 2009 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy.

Although most women in my position are able to grow back a full head of hair, I inherited my father’s genes and ended up with a rather large bald spot at the crown of my head.

Recently, I got sick of trying to hold onto what was left of my hair and shaved my head to a crew cut. Since then, I’ve gotten curious looks from co-workers and strangers, wondering if my cancer has returned.

Thank God, the answer to that question is No.

But my shaved head is a painful reminder that too many black women are still dying from a disease that does not have to be a death sentence.

In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control reported that breast cancer was the leading cause of cancer death for black women aged 45-64 years.

I know these are not things most of us want to think about on Mother’s Day.

But think about that.

Most black women between 45-64 are mothers and grandmothers.

By the time these women get to be middle-aged and seniors, they have obtained the wisdom needed to handle this world’s trials and tribulations.

Losing this population of black women to breast cancers leaves a giant hole in families and in communities.

Given the Susan G. Komen “pink ribbon” campaign, many more of us are aware of breast cancer and mammograms.

Still, even though I’m a breast cancer survivor, I have to remind myself to schedule my annual mammogram.

Frankly, Mother’s Day is a good day to remind the women in your life to get this life-saving screening. Breast Cancer doesn’t just impact the life of the woman who gets a cancer diagnosis; it impacts the lives of everyone around her.

Today, will be a good Mother’s Day for me because my mother will be waiting.

She will be slightly befuddled, and move a lot slower than I ever thought I’d live to see.

But she has seen the promise of her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.

I can’t ask for more than that.

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST



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