My Momma Sue.

So, as you might have heard, this whole process has definitely sucked. And I know what you’re thinking/have been asking me, and I’ve been selfishly not answering – Rachael what process? You had a surgery, but what was the actual surgery? What is this weird “pump up session” you posted about? When is your next surgery? And for god’s sake, how long until we get to see the new non-cancerous tits in a swimsuit?!

Burning questions, I know. And I know I’m beating a dead horse when I say I promise to answer all of these questions at some point because after all, that’s the whole reason I started writing this damn blog. But. Friends. Family (except M-Rag because apparently, M-Rag doesn’t read my blog – JERK). Today is a big day. Today is a day that I dread for 364 days a year and then when it finally arrives, I don’t really know how to feel about it.

So. Let’s start with yesterday. Yesterday was International Women’s Day. A day where I was once again in awe of just how incredible women are. And, once again, a day where I wish that I could be even just an ounce as inspiring as Emma Watson. (PS – eight days till “Beauty and the Beast.”) Yesterday was also the much-needed reminder that the women I am surrounded by every day eternally amaze and astound me.

I know women who have fought and survived cancer. I also know women who have raised some of the strongest women I will ever know. I know women who have traveled the world all on their own when everyone has told them they couldn’t. I also know women who have founded their own incredible companies. In fact, I work for a woman who founded an incredible company, and, at some point, I might even tell you what that company is. But, for the moment, let’s focus on one of the two women in my life with whom, apologies to Ms. Watson, no woman could ever compare.

Maybe one day, with her permission, and a lot more of her insight and handholding, I will tell you more about the second woman. But today, on this day, when I lost her eighteen years ago, I want to tell you about the first woman.

Densel Sue was my mother and I am happy to report that I have yet to meet another woman with the name Densel. And as a true mark of my overall timidness to actually discuss her with anyone who knew her, I do not know where the name came from. But, I can tell you that when nurses asked her how to spell her name, I distinctly remember her saying, “You know, like Denzel Washington, but with an S!” Bless you Denzel for making my mother’s life just a little bit easier on those tough days.

So, for the past eighteen years, I have been told constantly, without fail, by everyone who knew her, that my mom was hands-down one of the best, kindest people that they will ever know and that she would undoubtedly be incredibly proud of the woman I have become today.

And in those moments, these words have brought comfort and momentarily soothed the angst that I am so terrible at hiding. But, in the back of my mind, I always think, really? Densel Sue is proud of me for the time I got so mad at my brother I kicked a hole in a wall at T-Rag’s house and then lied to my parents and said I accidentally kicked it while “practicing” soccer dribbling? Do you really think she would be proud of the time I was hysterically crying while re-packing my bags, begging the Australian not to break up with me, all the while pleading with him to tell me that the real reason he was ending it with me was not because I lived on the other side of the world, but because I had actually “packed too much stuff?” And what about after my surgery two+ weeks ago when I was mildly drugged up on pain killers, coming off of anesthesia, and dropping countless F-bombs followed by a mild C U Next Tuesday? Do you think she was proud of me then?

But, that was it. Those few words were all I ever let the conversation become. Just a brief description of how proud she would be of me, but never anything more. Never any stories. No real glimpses of who the woman that I spent nine years calling Mommy really was. Never any real insights as to why she might actually be proud of me, all because I was scared shitless of having a real conversation about my mother.

And then, BAM. I cut off my cancerous tits and decided that now, when I’m already knee-deep in pain pills and hyperactive emotions, would be the perfect time to take this intensely emotional journey and learn as much as I can about my mother.

First, I started by asking my parents the technical questions. What procedures did she have? Did we have the same surgery? From a medical standpoint, in the end, what actually happened? 

And then last night, I spent 46 minutes on the phone listening to T-Rag tell stories about Momma Sue. I had never done that before. They were married for twenty years, and I had never asked my Dad about my Mom. This mostly stems from the fact that my parents were divorced when I was four, and up until about the age of twelve, I ardently believed that my parents’ divorce was caused solely by the fact that one night, my father made too much macaroni and cheese.

Putting the macaroni and cheese aside, during this 46-minute phone call, I learned two very incredible things. Incredible thing #1: when my parents met at Virginia Tech, only a few years after women were actually allowed to attend Tech, my mom, just a little ole’ Sue from Tucumcari, New Mexico, was ONE of the TWO (count ‘em, 2) women in the civil engineering program at one of the leading engineering universities in the country. And, as rumor would have it (I’m still waiting to confirm my source with the VT ’73 Bugle), she graduated top of her class, with honors. Hello Glass Ceiling — meet Densel Sue.

Incredible thing #2: when Momma Sue was in the hospital, she spoke to T-Rag about two things. First, obvi she wanted to make sure that M-Rag and I always knew that we were able to do whatever we wanted to do in both our personal and professional lives. Then secondly, and most heart-breaking/shocking/inspiring/tissue hurling, Momma Sue was very adamant in telling T-Rag that no matter what, I, Rachael Sue, must never feel limited, in any way shape or form, in any part of my life, by the fact that I was a woman. Hello Women’s Movement of 2017 — Densel Sue.

It’s been a mildly stark change, we’re talkin’ Jon Snow level of stark, for me to start thinking about this whole other glass-ceiling-breaking, badass woman who was my mother. Mostly because, for the majority of the time that I knew her, I only ever really thought of her as being my badass mother who fought cancer. I never knew her as the exceedingly talented engineer who worked at a prominent engineering firm at a time when women didn’t work as engineers at engineering firms.

So, finally, eighteen years later, I am currently grappling with the fact that I didn’t really know my mother. Not because I had such a short amount of time with her, but because I have spent the last eighteen years refusing to actually talk about her with anyone who actually knew her. Well, compatriots – that ends now.

Slowly but surely I am bucking up the courage to have actual conversations with people that knew and loved my mother. If you are one of those people, I am warning you now, I will cry. Just recently I was told that my crying is “charming,” and even though I love and adore the person who told me this, I feel obligated to tell you that me crying is in no way shape or form charming. I will also advise you to re-read the part of this post about the hysterical crying and the Australian and the begging and all of the re-packing and then picture all of this happening with me sitting in a ball on the floor wearing a long peasant dress, a giant floppy hat, and an intense sunburn. Fingers crossed, our conversations will never reach anywhere near that level of uncomfortableness.

Then, after 46 minutes of fighting back tears while talking to T-Rag, I somehow squeezed in a 47-minute conversation with M-Rag. We spent most of our time giggling about how T-Rag told me the story about when he and Momma Sue took the PE exam, Mom got her results saying she passed on a Monday, while Dad didn’t get his results saying he passed until that Friday. So, for four days, my Mom had passed her Professional Engineer exam, while T-Rag hadn’t passed. (I’m predicting a phone call asking for a removal of this paragraph, so please, enjoy it now).

But even after 47 minutes of giggling, I couldn’t help but end my call with M-Rag by asking a totally dark and twisted question. Did he also think about how I only had nine years with her – and that now if you think about it, you could fit two of my nine year lifetimes with my mom into the eighteen years that I have lived without my mom?

So. I said all of that to say this. Today is eighteen years since I lost my mom to Breast Cancer. But, more importantly, today is also eighteen days since my surgery. And in these past eighteen days, with my saltwater tits now firmly resting where my cancerous tits used to be, I have learned more about my mother than I ever dared to in the past eighteen years. And that, my friends, definitely does not suck. 

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