Breast CancerFamily MembersPatient Stories

My Mother Is Getting Better

Emily Silver, whose mother had bread cancer, recounts what it was like to experience cancer in the family from the perspective of a child.
February 2015 Vol 1 No 1

“Put your sneakers on and meet by the front door in 5 minutes. We’re going on a family walk.” I have heard these words, or some variation thereof, at least a thousand times over the years, usually called out by my mother, her warning tone stopping all complaints in their tracks. There is the usual discussion about proper walking shoes (flip-flops are never acceptable), what the weather is like, and whether we will be back in time for someone’s favorite television show, and then we are on our way to trek around the neighborhood. My parents walk together, keeping the pace, while my brother, sister, and I run ahead or lag behind, depending on the day. The best walking days are in the summer, when the sun is just starting to go down and our laughter fills the cool evening air. We share stories and laughter, thankful to get our daily exercise while spending time as a family.

Emily Silver is 18 years old and a first-year student at the University of Notre Dame. She wrote and illustrated Our Mom Is Getting Better with her brother, Alex, and her sister, Anna.

It wasn’t always like this. Family walks were something that I initially dreaded; it seemed as if my mom was trying to torture me with forced marches every day around the never-ending circle that made up our neighborhood. I was 7 years old, and there were a lot of things that didn’t make sense to me: why we had to go on family walks, why daily exercise was necessary, why my mom cared so much, and, most of all, why she was suddenly so sick.

I knew she had cancer, but that was just a word, a word that didn’t carry any meaning in my second-grade brain. Instead, I watched as my mom grew tired and her hair fell out. I was quiet while she took long naps, and I cried when she missed my school play. Months passed, and I watched her start coming back to life, her hair slowly growing back, and my world was starting to realign.

My mom was on the mend, taking her health and recovery very seriously, and that’s when it happened: the implementation of family walks.

The process was gradual; it started slowly, creeping up on us little by little, until one day I realized that my mom had somehow shifted our entire family into a healthier lifestyle. Soda disappeared from our refrigerator, and we were offered mostly water and skim milk.

My mom fed us real fruit more often than fruit juice. Then things started getting tricky; she would call us to dinner, only to place a plate filled with fruits and vegetables on the table, knowing that her ravenous children would have no choice but to munch on the healthy appetizers while she “finished getting dinner ready.” It didn’t stop there.

The final step in the get-the-whole-family-healthy plan was the family walks. These walks would take place after dinner and before dessert (“dessert night” eventually became a Sunday evening event—something I loved but at the time didn’t realize was my mother’s attempt to cut down on the sweets we ate). Resistance was futile, and whether I liked it or not (to be honest, mostly I liked it), I found myself traipsing along with the rest of my family for the required 30 minutes of exercise. Our friendly neighbors came to expect us passing by as they worked on their yard or played outside, and we’d stop to talk to them or wave as we continued on our way.

Eventually, I came to realize that these walks were really peaceful and happy breaks in our daily routine, and now I treasure the time that I have to spend with my family. Every year, we all look forward to the first warm spring day after a long New England winter so that we can go out for walks together in the fresh air. I have many fond memories of going on family walks as I grew up. I came to understand my mom’s ulterior motive for encouraging me to take a daily walk, and I have learned to appreciate the benefits that it brought to our entire family.

More than a decade has passed, and I am forever thankful that my mom regained her health, and that I am able to spend time with her, going for walks and enjoying each other’s company. I look forward to walking with my mom in the years to come.

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Last modified: January 5, 2021

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