96. Saying Boo to Cancer

96. Saying Boo to Cancer

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Saying Boo to Cancer

When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up or fight like hell.
 ~Lance Armstrong

Boo. To me, it’s not just a word used to scare ambitious trick-or-treaters on chilling Halloween nights. It’s not a decorative term painted on fall home furnishings either. Surprisingly, it is the unique name of my mom — a Sylvania, Ohio, resident lovingly known by her family and close friends as “The Lance Armstrong of Ohio.” Boo Hensien did not compete in the Tour de France but she did snag the third place trophy in the Sylvania Triathlon. Doesn’t sound too impressive? Well she did it two days after she completed her last radiation treatment in her fight against breast cancer.

It was a snowy February day when my mom found a lump in her left breast. She didn’t tell me. It was just a few days before my twelfth birthday and she didn’t want to ruin my excitement. The very next day the lump was biopsied. Two days later was a day my mom will never forget, in fact it is a day that she remembers in extreme detail. She was seated Indian style on the kelly green carpet of her bedroom floor, folding my father’s white v-neck undershirt when the telephone rang. It was one word from the voice on the other side of line that made her heart drop. One word that made her body drop back down to the carpet she had been sitting on just seconds earlier. One word that made that cold February day the scariest of her life. Cancer.

Staying true to character, it only took my mom a few hours, and some comforting from her best friend Karen, to design a foolproof plan to defeat this sudden opponent. Step one was educating herself. She researched, read, consulted specialists and took plenty of notes in order to choose the best treatment plan for her condition. She ended up deciding on a lumpectomy and chemo and radiation therapy. She also decided that she “wanted to see what the body was capable of when placed in a really stressful situation.” So, as soon as she implemented her plan for recovery she also executed her training plan for the Sylvania Triathlon.

As soon as chemo and radiation treatments began so did my mother’s training for the big race. I specifically remember grade school mornings when my mom would make me eggs, then lean over the toilet bowl emptying herself of last night’s dinner, then immediately lace up her running shoes for that morning’s workout. Her training consisted of 10- to 12-mile runs, five days a week, as well as two days of swimming at least a mile or more — all of this completed while battling the fatigue and nausea brought on by her chemotherapy.

Everything about my mother’s battle was positive. In fact, I don’t even remember ever feeling a hint of nervousness or apprehension about her diagnosis. I don’t think I ever even thought of cancer as a life-threatening disease. My mom treated it as if it were a common cold, nothing that would affect or slow down her normal daily activities.

My favorite memory of the whole process occurred right before my mom’s chemo treatments began. It was a typical school day in my seventh-grade world until I was called down to the principal’s office. I was told that I was being picked up to go home, possibly the best news a twelve-year-old could ever receive! When I arrived at my house, my haircutter of eleven years, Kevin Charles, was there with his shears, electric razor and a huge smile. We strapped down my giggling mother with a plastic drape to catch the massive amounts of hair that would soon be falling from her head. We then pulled her wiry strawberry-blond locks into a long braid which was fastened securely on top of her head. Kevin prepared me for my first haircutting experience by instructing me on how to use an electric razor. Just minutes later my mom was left with just the braid, the rest of her head bald. After taking many Polaroids of the bald babe with the braid, the long-lasting lock was easily snipped off leaving my mother’s head completely hairless. She looked in her hand mirror and said, “I even look beautiful bald.”

Five months and hundreds of miles later it was time for my mom’s thirty-third and final radiation treatment. Two days after that it was time for the Sylvania Triathlon. Donning a two-piece Speedo swimsuit and a yellow ball cap, my mom was ready to compete. What happened next not only shocked my family, friends and the newspaper writers and photographers who had gathered for the amazing race, but even astounded the four oncologists who had been treating my mom. My forty-five-year-old mom not only finished the triathlon, but she did it in 2:38:12, only 13 minutes slower than her best-ever time, which was achieved when she was thirty-eight years old and cancer-free. She also placed third out of all the women who were competing in her age group.

Boo Hensien is a cancer survivor and a triathlete, but more importantly she is my mom. I have watched her struggle, I have watched her succeed, and through all of it I have watched her continue to be the best mom I could have ever asked for. I am twenty-one years old now. It has been nine years since my mom’s battle with breast cancer. Not once in those nine years has my admiration and amazement towards my mother faded, and I’m pretty sure it never will.

~Molly Hensien

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