Because she had quite a crush on the host of show, Emelia Chadwick would frequently cozy up to the television to watch Nightly News with Brian Williams. She’ll never forget one particular story being discussed when she turned on NBC, which suggested that women did not need to conduct self-exams for breast cancer until a later age on the basis that so many young women were getting stressed due to misdiagnosis.
She was irate. Chadwick sat down at the computer and crafted an angry email. But before she could hit send, she punched a wrong button and the message was lost. She lacked the energy to write another and instead headed for her bed. She’d had too many sleepless nights in a row after her double mastectomy. Battling breast cancer wasn’t easy, especially at 25.
Every time Mary Chadwick sees fireworks, they make her sad. The night after her oldest daughter was diagnosed with cancer, the family went to a 4th of July celebration at a local golf course. Now whenever she sees explosions in the sky, the thinks of that day. Her mother died of the illness at 57. She begins to cry when she thinks of the effects the disease has had on her family.
“At that point I had wished it was me,” Mary said from the living room where she spent countless hours with her daughter during her recovery.
Mary Chadwick lost her job as a nurse during the recession of 2008. If she could have chosen the best time for it to happen, this was it. Emelia had moved into an office converted to a bedroom in her parents’ home for the year of her diagnoses, and found herself with a 24-hour nurse and a full-time friend.
“At the time I was really upset, but I told myself this was meant to be because I could be with my daughter,” Mary Chadwick said.
It allowed her to attend Emelia’s appointments with her, cook, watch back-to-back comedy movies, and simply just be there.
Allen Chadwick sniffles quietly in the chair next to his wife as soon as the word cancer is brought up. He calmly walks over to grab a tissue and takes his seat again.
“When I found out, I was crushed and really afraid for Emelia because I assumed that she was frail and I thought this would ruin her life,” Allen said. “I was just totally overwhelmed by how mentally strong she was or could be and turned out to be. It was hard to be as positive as she was.”
The tears soon turn to laughter as the Chadwicks reminisce about the silliness that was a result of the restlessness inside their home.
Both Emelia and her parents can vividly recall the story in which Allen came home from work to witness his wife and daughter sitting next to the electric fireplace with cotton balls poked through by skewers as if they were roasting marshmallows. Emelia had found comic relief that year in a series of commercials for a product called Snuggies featuring a family laughing gaily around a bonfire in their Snuggies – basically blankets with holes cut out for your arms. Emelia and her mother decided to recreate the scene after an aunt had sent a buy-one-get-one-free pair in the mail as a gag gift.
“You two got goofy,” Allen says to his wife. “I never knew what I’d find.”
Any time Emelia would feel uncomfortable on the couch during her treatment and recovery, her dad would throw pillows on the floor and lie on the ground with her. They called it camping. It even had rules.
One evening, after watching a horror movie, Allen, who did not handle them well, resorted to his bedroom. Emelia and her mom got the idea to cut holes out of paper towels in order to resemble the villain and scare their unsuspecting victim.
“He jumped so high,” Emelia Chadwick remembered with a smile. “It’s moments like those that just make you forget just for a moment that you’re sick.”
When Chadwick ached, which she did often, Mary would rub her back and Allen would rub her feet. The days weren’t easy ones for their daughter, but the parents tried their best to massage the pain away in every way they knew how as well as in ways they didn’t.
There came a point when Chadwick made her parents go out on Saturday nights for her sake, for their sake, for the sake of everyone’s sanity.
At the worst times when she was feeling sad, ugly and afraid, she would yell at her mom in reaction to nothing justifiable. Mary would just sit and listen while Emelia stomped off to her room only to return 15 minutes later for apologies and hugs. Her mom would hold her and whisper that she loved her.
“It’s really hard on relationships, spouses and friends and families because they have to deal with it, too,” Chadwick said of her fight with cancer. “I constantly felt like I was a burden. I constantly felt like everything had to revolve around me. I tried to make it easy for my parents. I didn’t want to push them away in any kind of way. I needed them.”
Ever since her childhood, she thought of her parents as strong, powerful people. She remembers her dad being there in one hop anytime she’d run off as a little girl. It was strange to see them being overcome with so much emotion.
“I don’t think my dad ever wanted to cry around me because he thought that would make me sad,” Chadwick said.
A lot of tears have fallen on the living room campground. Cancer has made Chadwick emotional, she claims. There are some shows she no longer watches because they are too sad.
“Sometimes commercials make me cry,” she says, laughing at herself. “There’s this one right now that gets me. I don’t even know what the commercial is for.”
It was sometime around the end of middle school that Chadwick heard about the powers of cauliflower. It prevented breast cancer. Why would a 12-year-old not believe that? Knowing that her grandmother had died from the disease before she was even born, Chadwick would spot the pale vegetable at a party and go to town on it like it was the last platter on earth.
“I remember thinking when I got diagnosed, ‘But I ate my cauliflower,’” she said.
While Chadwick, now 27, has come to terms with the fact that the edible plant may not be the magic solution, she has taken the idea of self-exams very seriously since she was a teen. She began conducting them on herself routinely starting around the age of 16. Combined with her mother’s advice, learning that the disease was genetic in her high school human biology class had her taking her health seriously. She made a point to get to know her body, what was normal and what was not.
The day she found the lump, she knew immediately it did not fall under the ‘normal’ category. Even though it was in the family, she thought of herself as being too young to possibly have cancer. She visited the same family practice doctor she had seen since childhood just to be safe.
“She just had this look in her eyes and I just knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to hear,” Chadwick said.
Within three days of the initial visit, she received the news.
“You never expect them to say, ‘Yes, it is cancer,’” she said.
She had done everything right and ever eaten her cauliflower, but at 25, Emelia Chadwick’s young life changed. At least she caught it early. Had she listened to what she remembers hearing on the news report, who knows what might have happened?
“When you’re sick, you never think you’re going to get back to normalcy,” Chadwick said.
With a bald head, pale skin and dark circles under her eyes, Chadwick felt down on herself. Then there was the double mastectomy and the scars.
“I considered myself mutated,” she said. “It’s not mutated like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That’s kind of cool. I didn’t like to see myself in the mirror.”
She remembers watching movies of a genre she labels, “stupid, corny, fairy tales,” and crying.
“I would sit there and think nobody’s gonna want me. Nobody’s gonna want this body. I never thought I would be back to what I used to be.”
She was single before her cancer and had gone on a pair of dates with a guy who told her, “Call me when you’re all good to go,” after she told him of her diagnoses. Needless to say, he never heard from her again.
His loss. As Emelia Chadwick sits in a coffee shop present day, with beautiful blue eyes, relatively long brown hair, a contagious smile, and a boyfriend of a year, she makes an interesting point.
“You never think of who had cancer because they just look normal,” she said, looking the epitome of normal.
She’s gained confidence. She’s learned to like her body. She’s getting back in shape. She’s going to Nepal this week to hike to Mount Everest.
The only things that seems to linger from her cancer are the heart-warming memories of the antics that took place in that living room during 2008.
When asked if they still have the Snuggies, Emelia’s parents shake their heads.
“I hope we don’t,” her father says. “I hate those things.”
Emelia knows right where hers is. It’s on the top shelf in her apartment closet. She’s thought many times of donating it to Goodwill, but she can’t bring herself to do it.
“It’s the cheapest thing ever made,” she says. “And it doesn’t even keep you warm.”
But she keeps it because it used to. And in a way, similar to a fake fireplace, she can still feel its heat.