14: This Too Shall Pass

14: This Too Shall Pass

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

This Too Shall Pass

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

~Winston Churchill

“Mom, how am I ever going to survive this?” I asked with tears in my eyes. My mom, who always knew the right thing to say, grabbed my hand and softly said, “This too shall pass.”

Tears trickled down my cheeks as I gulped back sobs. “Oh Connie, I know what you’re going through and if I could, I would take away your pain,” Mom reassured. “But I promise you that it will get better and life will be good again.”

I leaned hard against my mom’s shoulder and let the tears flow freely. She let me cry for about five minutes and then pulled me up with her strong arms and said, “Come on… let’s keep walking!” It was our morning ritual before the hot August sun of California scorched us and sent us back into the air-conditioned house.

“One day you’ll wake up and cancer won’t be the first thing on your mind,” my mom promised. As she wrapped her arms around me, she whispered, “Life will be good again, you’ll see.”

“Really?”

As I blinked back more tears, my mom pushed the hair out of my eyes, like she had done so many times when I was a little girl. It gave me comfort to know that some things remained the same.

A week earlier, I had flown out to visit my parents in Brentwood, California after I finished my radiation treatments for breast cancer. I left my husband and boys—who were nine and fourteen—in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in hopes of regaining my strength and recovering from three months of non-stop medical therapy to eradicate any lingering cancer cells.

Working full-time through treatment and having radiation on my lunch break had taken a physical and emotional toll on me. As most cancer survivors will admit—and I was no exception—the end of treatment is often the most difficult. I had reached an emotional black hole and I didn’t know how to climb out of it. I was a skeleton—having lost twenty pounds—and sleeping and eating were pure torture. When I was able to fall asleep, it was only for brief periods of time and then I would wake up in a cold sweat, screaming from night terrors.

Every night my mom would come into the bedroom, flip on the switch to the lamp I had as a child—with its layers of faded pink ruffles—and rub my back while she whispered the soothing words, “This too shall pass.” She smoothed the matted hair from my forehead and stayed with me until I fell back to sleep.

Night after night the scenario replayed itself until we were all exhausted, including my dad, who found another place in the house to sleep. But my mom kept vigil each night, making sure that I could peacefully fall asleep.

When I was growing up my mom often used the phrase “this too shall pass” when I fell and scraped my knees, was crushed from a broken heart or didn’t feel beautiful with braces and headgear. But this was different; I was forty years old and I had breast cancer! I had everything to live for—a husband who loved me and two boys who needed me—but I just didn’t have the strength to keep going. And what were my boys going to do without a mother? The mere thought terrified me.

Every morning my mom had to coach me out of bed and force me to lace up my running shoes. “Come on,” she gently coaxed, “you can’t stay in bed all day.” And then the haunting words, “You can’t waste what little time you have left on this earth worrying about the future. You only have today!”

Who better to share that with me than my mom! She had battled breast cancer five years before me and she flew out to Pennsylvania when I had surgery and took care of my family when I couldn’t even take care of myself. In her humble way she lived out her words every day of her life. She was a survivor and I desperately wanted to be one too!

The next day—after spending more than a week with my mom and dad—I boarded a plane back to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My parents accompanied me to the San Francisco Airport and were there to see me get on the airplane. It was Dad who gave me a thumbs-up sign with tears filling his eyes, but it’s my mom’s face that I will always remember—smiling through a veil of tears and mouthing the words, “This too shall pass.”

That was eighteen years ago and I can’t thank my mom enough for giving me the will to live and look to the future with hope. I’m not sure of the exact day, but I was getting ready for work and had already seen the boys off to school. I glanced at the clock and realized I didn’t have time for breakfast, so I grabbed my coffee mug and headed for the car. It was October—Breast Cancer Awareness Month—and while I was driving, I passed a road sign flocked with pink ribbons reminding women to get their yearly mammograms. I smiled and realized that when I woke up that day, cancer wasn’t the first thing on my mind. It happened just like my mom had promised.

Many more family tragedies have come and gone, but with each one the echo of my mom’s words has sustained me… “This too shall pass.”

~Connie K. Pombo

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