Real Life Super Heroes: My Aunt
(Photo by Christopher Chong)
As part of Everlasting Footprint’s series, “My Personal Super Hero,” I want to talk about a hero I know, whose story reflects that of many other real life heroes; the decisions we make, especially the daily ones, can define us.
Being a Hero is About Strength
There is an entire industry dedicated to superheroes, in film, literature and art, including the ComiCon held at the Javitts Center in New York City recently, where people gathered to bask in “hero” culture.
October, also, was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My real life hero was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of this year, but it is her actions I want to tell, actions that are truly heroic, even though they may be regarded as ordinary.
My aunt, who we’ll call Cleopatra, is a woman who won’t stand out in a crowd. She is the embodiment of normal; her face is pleasant to look at, she has coffee brown eyes, a creamy complexion, and a petite 5’4 frame. She is a mother of two and lives a quiet life away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.
What you don’t see right away is her sharp wit and devious laugh, and a woman who enjoys reading, which is rare in my family. What you don’t see is a person who took me to a museum for the first time in my life, just so that I could satiate my need to see dinosaur fossils; a person who gave me picture books in which I would learn facts about animals, dinosaurs, places.
What you also don’t see is the cancer steadily growing inside her right breast.
Being a Hero is About Bravery
It is not simply the fact that my aunt was diagnosed with cancer that makes her a hero. The definition of a hero lies in the decisions we make, after all. She is a woman with two young children who made the heroic decision to get a mammogram. It was something she dreaded doing. Mammograms are not simple procedures: they hurt like hell. It’s all kinds of pain, and furthermore, if there is no immediate need to get one, why go through it?
My aunt’s story is a good example of “why.” She hesitated about getting a routine mammogram, but because she did get one, she was diagnosed with an early onset of cancer. If she had chosen to wait until next year, the cancer would have definitely spread and been, at the very least, harder to remove.
It can be common for people to cite their mothers as heroes. Mine certainly is. Over this summer, she had to be heroic as she dealt with a delicate brain operation to remove a tumor. It was a trying time for my family. I remember being in the hospital and getting a text message from Cleopatra who said she was in the area and wanted to visit.
Unfortunately she couldn’t see Mom, at least not then. But it was more than a month later before I knew the reason for her being in the area. She had to get a biopsy the same week my mother went under the knife. Except, Cleopatra kept her reason a secret. Few people even knew what was going on with her, but my nuclear family had no clue.
Because my aunt wanted to spare us the emotional load of knowing that she had cancer at the same time that a tumor was being removed from my mother’s brain. She wanted to keep our situation as stress-free as possible, even though she was alone as she went in for the biopsy.
The surgeon warned my aunt that there was a possibility, if they found that the cancer had spread or if there was more of it that was undetected by the mammogram, that he would have to remove the breast. My aunt, in spite of the fear she had of losing her breast, in spite of the physical and emotional toll she was undergoing, still reached out to me to visit my mother in the hospital. It didn’t matter that Mom would be weak; Cleopatra would be comforted in the solidarity of knowing what my mother was going through.
Being a Hero is About Action
That is a real life hero: someone who thinks of others even when their own life, their health, is in crisis. Cleopatra had no way of knowing how bad it was until the biopsy was finished, and all she could think about was her family, her husband, and her children. What if she hadn’t gotten the mammogram like she planned on doing?
My aunt kept her burden a secret from us until my mother was fully healed. This is what real life heroes do: take action for the people they love. My aunt did the responsible act of getting a mammogram and moving on from there. She didn’t need to get her breast removed after all. The cancer was still young, infantile, and could be treated with radiation.
My aunt recently finished her last round of radiation treatment, for now. She looks and acts largely the same, even though she’s changed in my eyes. I don’t think of her as an aunt anymore. I think of her as a hero.
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