All Mother-in-Law Jokes Aside

by “Lynn”
Sonoma County, California, USA

All mother-in-law jokes aside

I’ve always had a pleasant relationship with my husband’s mother — after 16 years of marriage, she still minds her own business and remembers to compliment my cooking.

But my mother-in law can be a difficult woman. She is critical of nearly everyone and everything, embarrassingly racist and has never kept a friend more than several months. She is impatient and demanding, and can find displeasure with a perfectly sunny day. It’s always too hot, too windy, or too cold to go outside, and then she’ll complain that she feels like a shut-in! I’ve always thought of her as cranky, self-absorbed and completely lacking in empathy.

I learned how wrong I was when I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. I spent the next year dealing with biopsies, radiation, doctor appointments, medical tests, etc.

The doctors did all they could to save the breast, performing a partial mastectomy after finding the cancer. Though the prognosis looked good after surgery, six months later, a mammogram showed yet another tumor growing. After much emotional turmoil and second opinions from doctors all over the region, it was determined that a full mastectomy would be needed. It was like being pulled back into a nightmare after waking up relieved that the bad dream had ended.

Devastated with the news, but not willing to risk my life to keep the breast, I began to look into the possibility of reconstruction. For numerous reasons, it wasn’t feasible. There seemed to be nothing we could do but go for the surgery and learn to live with one breast. This was a hard pill to swallow as I’ve always prided myself on having a beautiful body, and have been an avid exerciser since I was 18 years old.

One afternoon, my husband and I were visiting with my 82-year-old mother-in-law and we shared with her about my upcoming surgery. Tears filled her eyes when she heard about the second surgery, and that reconstruction wasn’t an option. “Can I donate one of my breasts to you?” she asked naively. She was absolutely serious. Of course, breast transplants aren’t possible yet, but I was amazed at her generous offer and deeply touched.

With all her difficulty and foibles, I see her in a completely new way since that day. Knowing she would give me her breast if she could taught me how caring and loving she really is under her cranky guise. She is definitely a heroine to me!

Originally published as HeroicStories #65 on September 30, 1999
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.

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