In honor of Mother's Day, we asked Suzan Printz, mother of PRG Executive Director Heather Salazar, to share her feelings about her daughter's diagnosis.March 3, 2005 is a date in my history I will never forget. It's one of those days you remember exactly what you were doing when you heard about something horrible, such as President Kennedy has been shot or the events of 9-11. For me, it was a phone call from my oldest daughter, crying, "Mom, it IS cancer, come to the doctor's office!!" I felt my heart break into a thousand pieces.
The journey begins. We have to tell our family and friends. But our daughter and her husband have to tell their four young children. Later, when she is not around, my grandchildren will ask me some pretty tough questions! They don't understand why this is happening - I don't understand!
She researches the type of cancer she has and all of the treatment options. I listen trying to understand - and the pit in my stomach is growing larger every day. Plans are made for surgery. This all seems so unreal! I tried to make deals with God. "Please just pass the cancer to me. She is only 31 and has four children." She is my baby! Then the guilt sets in. What did I do wrong? Did I feed her unhealthy food? Did I pass her the breast cancer gene? Then the pity part is over! You pick yourself up, brush yourself off and put on your boxing gloves! We are going to FIGHT this!
Little did I know how difficult and heartbreaking the battle would be. Sitting in the waiting room for the nine hour surgery. Not leaving the room because I told her that is where I would be. Seeing her for the first time after surgery - so weak. But I was so thankful she was here and ready to begin her battle.
Each day seemed to bring new challenges like going shopping for a wig before she lost her hair. That is just not right. It seemed like only yesterday we were shopping for a wedding dress. Losing her long, beautiful, blonde hair was definitely one of our hardest times. You talk about it - you just don't really believe it will happen. Then it does! I remember just putting my arms around her and we both cried.
I cried myself to sleep many nights. Like the nights before we went to chemo - praying the IV would go in smoothly. Chemo days were real bonding days for us. We had lots of time to talk, met lots of interesting people and I got to see just how strong my daughter is.
I tried to be there for her in any way I could. Many times that meant crying together, or just holding her hand. I just wanted her to know I would be there always! For anything! I still have days when the pit in my stomach returns. And days when I can't believe we had to live through breast cancer. It was a very emotional and humbling time. The support we all received from our family and community of friends was truly amazing!
I love you Heather Noelle Printz Salazar to "infinity and beyond"! You have given me much joy, a few grey hairs, and lots of love. Your life is never dull! Thanks for letting me ride along with you!
As my one year cancer-versary approaches, I find myself reflective about my cancer journey.In March 2012, my breast surgeon had tears in her eyes as she diagnosed me with advanced breast cancer: technically Stage III, but with suspicious liver spots. Her compassion was equally magnificent and terrifying. I found it incomprehensible; I was 32, I was nursing my baby, I was perfectly fit and healthy, I had no family history of breast cancer. On my side, I had strength from God, the support of my knight, my husband Brad, and all of my friends and family.
In the first weeks following my diagnosis, I found the Pink Ribbon Girls. I read the “About PRG” section on the website. I found camaraderie in the bios of the two founding members, Heather Salazar and Tracie Metzger. It was my first view of other thirty-somethings who had been-there, done-that with breast cancer. Their stories paralleled my own. I drew inspiration from their journey and their pay-it-forward mentality.
During all of my cancer treatment: twenty weeks of chemotherapy, a bi-lateral mastectomy, and twenty-five rounds of radiation therapy, I never met another thirty-something breast cancer patient. (And I met a LOT of patients in the chemo room.) I dashed out of the chemo room each week to fight rush hour traffic and pick up my children from the babysitter. I thought wistfully of the older folks who sat near me who had plans for a light dinner and an early bedtime. I, on the other hand, picked up my children, and then commenced with the chaotic dinner-bath-bed routine that is life with small children. I cherished these times with my daughters: cancer gives one perspective, that is for sure. Doing cancer as a young mom is very different from doing cancer at a later life stage. It was a bit lonely, I will say.