Illustrated by Maia Grecco.

Everywhere I go, if ever I meet one of my mother’s friends, I get the same thing. It’s usually some kind of derivative of “Wow! Do you ever look like your mom!” or “You’re just like a little Donna!” or “The resemblance is uncanny”. It’s never bothered me – I have grown used to it over time. Even though both of us can’t really see the resemblance, we get those comments in all walks of life, and it’s just something we’ve accept that we’ll never understand.

My mom has passed a lot of things down to me, figuratively and genetically. I have her realism, her prowess at crosswords, her lack of baking skills (sorry mom), and her love of Thai food and the beach. We have the same curly and unforgiving dark hair, brown eyes lit from within, and angular jaw. She has been a hero to me, a compassionate heart helping navigate life, and a best friend.

My mom has also given me an inescapable risk of developing breast cancer.

We both hoped it would never happen, but realistically, couldn’t kid ourselves. When I was a child, almost too young to remember, my mom watched her mother and older sister roll with the punches, suffer agony and loss, come out ragged but undefeated in their battles with cancer. Just last year, she took her place as victim, as I filled mine as observer. We both knew that this was real, that it was happening and horrific, and that we could only wait to see what could be done. The best I could do was hold back tears and shovel the snow off our driveway before she got back from chemo. My mom held her head high through it all. I never saw her cry. She would pray and tell me “I just have to get through this, El. I just have to keep pushing through.”

It took a mastectomy, four rounds of (preventative) chemo, and five weeks of daily radiation to get rid of the damn thing. It left a trail of destruction in its wake, taking with it a left breast, some lymph nodes, and a head full of black curls; it left a thick, cord-like scar and a very exhausted woman. It was a prominent, drawn-out, and painful act of bravery.

Over the course of six months, I witnessed strength personified, and burned the image into my brain.

This has a happy ending. Today, when I look at her, I see someone still piecing things together, trying to figure out the aftermath and shuffle through the cards she’s been dealt. This new relief (chances of it ever coming back are less than 1%) has been followed by a different perspective on life; a renewal, if you will. She has grown a lion’s mane of hair (I call it her hockey player flow), reads and contributes to breast cancer forums, and makes homemade popcorn. It’s just a new chapter.

So maybe I don’t look so much like my mom anymore. She has just seen so much, and felt so much more. The best thing I have done, and will continue to do, is be whatever kind of support she needs. Her happy, healthy recovery is ongoing, and every passing day heals mental and physical scars. What I have learned and inherited from my mother is priceless, the good and the bad. I’m thankful – this means I have a higher risk of getting cancer, of fighting that fight; but I have a better chance of beating it, like her, like a champion.


Elena Matas is an English and Linguistics student. She’s never met a cat or a coffee she doesn’t like, or a book she wouldn’t read. She can be found at her blog and on Twitter.