Breast cancer taught friendship, and pain

Published 9:06 am Tuesday, October 6, 2015

In 24 years of living, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my mother cry.

February 2006 was the year she lost her best friend to breast cancer. For years her friend put up a fight and even saw the cancer enter remission. I remember the hours-long laughs they shared over the phone reminiscing about their childhoods, how poor they were growing up in Arkansas, and how far they’ve come in life.

I spent the previous summer with my dad in Georgia, and one thing I took from his genes was the urge for adventure.

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When my mom came to take me back to North Carolina, I begged her to make the additional six-hour drive to Arkansas from Georgia — in addition to going from Arkansas back to North Carolina — to see her friend under the guise of not knowing when she’d get another opportunity.

It’s easy for an energetic 14-year-old boy to want to go on an impromptu trip, but life as an adult is busy. Going to Arkansas at the time wasn’t a financially smart decision.

The cancer my mother’s friend was suffering from was worse the second time around and their friendship grew stronger as the inevitable approached. My mom had left for work when I picked up the phone call about her friend being taken to the hospital. I had a feeling she wouldn’t come out.

About 20 hours later we got the news. The booming shriek my mom let out will always stick with me. I held her close and let her uncontrolled emotions roll onto me as she searched for comfort. It was the first time I’ve seen her soul pierced with extraordinary pain.

From the moment she received the news, I’ve taken breast cancer seriously. Three years after the funeral I had my left arm tattooed with a cross, a cancer ribbon, years of life and her name. I also empathize with children whose mothers are diagnosed and wouldn’t wish this particular pain on them.

My mother walked around the house as if all life escaped her body and she had nothing else to do but sulk in the dark depression associated with death.

It’s been almost 10 years since her passing and I know she still misses her best friend. They showed me the true meaning of friendship and what it feels like to lose a piece of your heart.

Alex Swatson is a sports writer. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, Ext. 178, or via email at