Stronger than Cancer

My mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, and went through phases of “having cancer” and “not having cancer” in the five years that followed. Technically, she beat cancer quite a few times, and it only beat her once – so I still think she’s the winner in that battle.

During those years, Mom watched my brother get married, ate cheese and chocolate with me in Europe, started volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter, read to children with my dad at an inner city school, and planted about a thousand flowers (literally and metaphorically) in her garden and in mine. Many of the things Mom did in those years between diagnosis and death were done with the unspoken knowledge that her time with us, and our time with her, was likely limited.

It is unfortunate but true that it often takes a tragedy to help you clarify what your life is really about. To start looking at the type of person you are, and the type of person you wish to be.

Mom was amazing, but had always been a bit of a nervous person, and spent a lot of time worrying about bad things that might happen, and bad things people might be thinking. She was kind but quiet, loving but low profile.

And then, she got cancer. The bad, fourth-stage, “you only have three months to live,” type of cancer. And that’s when my timid little mommy became a bad-*** cancer fighter.

She had a stem-cell transplant, took round after round of chemo, and endured seemingly endless radiation. She lost her hair, her appetite, and her short term memory. She emerged skinny, bald, and weak, but cancer free. Take that, cancer.

This post-cancer mom was still my mom, but more like Mom3000. All of the tiny wonderful things she always thought, she started saying out loud. And all of the things she had been afraid of seemed to sink into the background.

She complimented rough-looking teenagers on their pink hair and pretty flower tattoos. She lent a hand to single moms who were struggling to get groceries in the car while three wiggly kids were trying to get out. She gave money and time to causes that she supported, and told others to find causes they could support too. She told every single person in her life exactly what they meant to her. And one by one, everyone she touched started to do the same.

We all started to be a little more kind to ourselves and the people around us. We stood up for the disenfranchised people and animals in our communities. We spoke openly about our love and concern for the people in our lives. We started saying “no” to things that took time away from our families and our true selves. We all started to grow into the people my mom knew we were all along.

Cancer does not destroy the spark in our loved ones – it just challenges them (and us) to make it burn more brightly in the time they have left.

Do I wish my mom never had cancer, never got sick, and never died? Absolutely. But I can’t help but wonder if she and the people around her (myself included) would ever have grown in such countless ways without the Cancer Deadline that was always looming in our thoughts.

I have always hated the euphemism that someone “lost their battle with cancer.” My mom touched and changed more lives than I could ever count, in more ways than I will ever know. Cancer only took one of those lives. So, from where I’m standing, it pretty much looks like my mom was stronger than cancer. In the difficult journey we had to travel, Mom gave us each so much more than cancer could ever take away.

Alisha Krukowski works and writes for Hello Grief and Comfort Zone Camp.  You can read more of her work here.

Photo credit.


  1. Elizabeth said on February 12, 2010 at 10:22 am ... #

    Sounds like she was stronger than cancer to me, too. I’m so glad your mom had such an impact on those around her – she was clearly one of the greatest influences that has helped you grow into the amazing woman you are.

  2. Daniel said on February 12, 2010 at 11:31 am ... #

    Thanks for writing that Alisha. It was very touching and inspiring. It’s amazing how seeing someone go through that courageously effects us so much.

  3. Michelle said on February 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm ... #

    Well written, Alisha. My grandmother was stronger than Lymphoma too. I’m not sure I have the words yet to describe her as wonderfully as you’ve done here with your mom…but I’ll work on it. For now, I’m left with a smile on my birthday thinking about my favorite woman. Thanks for that 🙂

  4. Brandon said on February 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm ... #

    Wow, very powerful and touching Alisha. Thank you so much for sharing another wonderful piece.

  5. Stacey said on February 12, 2010 at 3:17 pm ... #

    That was so touching, thought provoking, empowering and makes me appreciate what we sometimes take for granted. Thank you.

  6. Anonymous said on February 12, 2010 at 3:27 pm ... #

    Than you Alisha for this great article. It made me reflect on how my mom was/is also Stronger than Cancer, and all the things I learned that time she was fighting it. I truely would not be the same was it not for all those things she tought me. Seems like we had kick *** strong mothers. 🙂

  7. Grant said on February 15, 2010 at 8:48 pm ... #

    Awesome article, Alisha. I really like the way you said “We started saying “no” to things that took time away from our families and our true selves.” Especially the part about “our true selves.” I think I needed to hear that today. Thanks.

  8. JC said on April 11, 2010 at 9:34 am ... #

    Your Mother has touched one more life, mine, thank you. JC

  9. George Jennison said on April 17, 2010 at 8:22 am ... #

    What a wonderful story about your Mom, you, and your family. My oldest brother is fighting cancer now and your Mom’s story is so meaningful and gives me so much hope. Thank you!

  10. Chae said on May 25, 2010 at 10:57 am ... #

    Thanks. Just reading radiation, chemo etc., brings back bitter memories.
    My wife’s battle with cancer was also technically a victory … she succumbed to an infection after doing all the post cancer stuff – removal of the port for a new port. She was too weak at that time to fight back especially after all the tests they ordered but she did beat the cancer and she beat it with a vengeance, even though it was taking a physical toll on her.
    Like your mom, she was more outgoing and full of life during her “fight” but her default mode was always outgoing, so now she couldn’t be denied!

  11. Casey said on September 14, 2010 at 3:57 pm ... #

    Thank you! This article is really useful. I’m very grateful to you for writing it.

  12. Lacey said on November 19, 2010 at 9:52 am ... #

    This truly touched my heart and I can’t stop cry. Not tears of sadness but tears of joy. My best friends mom past away from cancer a few years ago and I had no idea what to say or how to relate. Now, after reading your article I found words of comfort to bring to my dear friend. What an amazing story of how cancer can be a blessing as well. She sounds like she was an amazing woman! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    You have opened my eyes

  13. Momma said on October 7, 2011 at 8:55 am ... #

    Dearest dottir#1, your article gave me chills. What a beautiful tribute to a strong and lovely woman, your mom. I feel so privileged to have met her when she came to Holland. Thank you for bringing her “to life” for me again through this memory. Love and life you!

  14. elizabeth said on January 22, 2012 at 10:19 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing. I also don’t like the phrase”lost the battle”. My husband was given 4 to 14months to live in april of 2011. He had Brain Cancer. He passed this december. He gave us so much in those 8months.Our daughter kept a journal on caringbridge which allowed family and friends to travel the journey with us. So did he “lose the battle” I’d say he gave us a beautiful journal of memories of love and laughter. That’s a win win…

  15. Brittainy said on March 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm ... #

    I needed to read this, I guess, but it also hurts. In a way your words are true to what happened with my mother, but in away not. In the end the cancer did beat her, she didn’t keep fighting until the end of it, she gave up. I saw it in her eyes that she stopped trying, and I you forfeit how can you truly win any battle?

  16. Terri said on July 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm ... #

    Thanks, Alisha.
    Dave is sleeping now, but when he wakes up, I’ll have him read this.

  17. Cheryl said on December 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm ... #

    Cancer took everything away from me.
    My Mom and Dad just 32 days apart.
    My brother, who fought me tooth and nail over the estate matters
    with the money reduced to a mere pittance,
    all my relatives because they accused me of wrongdoing,
    my chilhood home that was sold and torn down,
    our family pet, Muggins, who could not wag his tail hard enough when he saw me coming.
    My own 2 sons have not spoken to me
    Five years it has been
    Bereft does not even begin to cover… I’m just blanketed with sorrow. Anniversaries, birthdays too painful to bare.
    The most horrible thing was… I was so far away.
    I was allowed the honour of holding Mom while she died surrounded by all the family. I was not even advised that my Dad was not doing well. He died alone while my brother was raking leaves. Dad would have wanted it that way…he always wanted to be a hermit.

    I’ve already started my Christmas tears. I have no vices to help me cheer
    No cigarettes,
    No booze ,
    No sweets for me here
    Diabetes will take me to where I’ll be free.

    I just take it all right on the chin. No money for presents
    I cannot work. I’m sick and tired… there is no doubt.
    I sit and I write of my experiences here
    Hoping to find friends I need not fear

    I was married 2 times to men I did fear
    I still was to shed so many a tear
    Two years have gone by… alone by myself
    At least I can cry without disturbing the mouse.
    Mr. Mouse was his name…
    His nose was as far as he could see
    Not wanting to see even a hurting me.

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