“When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does, too” – Terri Clark.
Cancer is a burden that more than one carries. It affects not just the patient, but the whole periphery of those around them.
This was brought to a whole new level in the case of Kira and Jackie Hodgson. At the end of 2019, Kira Hodgson was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Just a few months later, her mother, Jackie, was too diagnosed with breast cancer.
In one instant, Kira and Jackie’s lives were changed forever. Then they were changed a second time.
Meanwhile, a global pandemic started catching fire.
“Incomprehensible”. When these two lovely ladies blessed me and Sharon Kim and ‘sat down’ with us over an Instagram call, that was the word that came to my mind. It is incomprehensible that these two women-- devastated by devastating news-- could be so strong.
But the more we talked, it became apparent why: they aren’t going through this alone. They have a beautiful, complicated, and deep familial bond that was there before cancer and before quarantine. So even apart, they are together. And they brave this fight together.
But before the fight began-- before the cancer took it’s hold-- they were strong all the same.
The Cancer Discovery
Kira spent her days at a startup in the foggy, paved hills of San Francisco. She was content with life—stressed at her hefty pile of work, but happy to have good work to do. Then in the cool evenings, she’d go out to eat with friends.
She looked after her health: watching what she ate, and practicing yoga everyday.
Jackie was—and still is a dedicated special education teacher. Before COVID 19, she worked 50- 60 hour weeks. The job was rough, but it was needed. On her off- hours, she spent time with her husband, children, grandchildren-- and even volunteered at her church.
They were two career- driven, strong women, trying their best to be there for their friends and family alike.
Then the bitter cold hand of cancer introduced itself.
First to Kira, after she discovered a dimple. You’d think it would be simple to get an answer out of doctors after telling them your concern about a suspicious cancer- like mark, but that was not the case.
She went back and forth between a few doctors who continually said she was ‘too young for cancer’ and that ‘it was probably nothing’. After some scans and a mammogram Kira had to fight for, the doctors scheduled a biopsy.
Kira called her parents to talk about her concern, and they immediately flew Kira’s father out to be there for the next week’s biopsy.
There, the doctor spoke those dreaded words: ‘we see a mass. It doesn't look good.’
The intense, stomach- churning shock set in. She was only 31, and was intentional about living a healthy life. She was a pescatarian. She worked out.
But cancer never discriminates.
Through talking with her oncologist and doing a little research into the lives of breast cancer patients her age, Kira caught a glimpse into what life with cancer would entail.
It would mean loss. Loss of peace. Loss of hair. Loss of fertility. She saw that cancer is the great thief that comes to take whatever it can—and that realization was met with anger and with sadness.
This fear of the unknown set in, as she tried her best to adjust to the already fear- inducing known: she had cancer.
Jackie then flew out to San Francisco, sitting with Kira through all her various appointments.
The same month-- January, Jackie felt a lump.
But was it fibrosis? Surely, it wasn’t something to be worried about.
Nonetheless, she scheduled a mammogram.
They found a mass.
She told her coworkers that week that she couldn’t even imagine that it was cancer! That thought was just too surreal.
After flying out again for Kira’s last AC treatment, Jackie had a sinking feeling that it was indeed cancer.
When she went to the ultrasound, the doctor confirmed that feeling. But Jackie still clung to the hope that she might have an estrogen- driven cancer (a slower- developing case).
But then she got the call a few weeks later. She had triple negative cancer: not a hormone- based cancer, but a highly aggressive and fast developing kind.
While this news was settling in, the impending threat of COVID 19 had locked Kira and Jackie in their homes, miles away from one another.
“I think the most upsetting thing (..) is the fact that I can’t be there for her [Kira]. That’s definitely the worst thing. You never want to see your child have cancer (…) knowing that I couldn’t help? That’s hard”.
On the other hand, Kira was wrecked knowing everything she had gone through would be experienced by her mother, too.
“It’s one thing to have cancer and experience what we go through (…) but when it happens to your mom—that’s so unfair”.
Kira knew what feelings her mom would have to face, and saw that this was ‘a worst nightmare situation’.
The Cancer Journey
Getting cancer yourself is one thing, but for your mom or your daughter to get it too? At the same time?
How they were able to handle this and not go insane is a common question they get, Kira said.
She remembered the days when she first got cancer, and was trying so hard to get cancer ‘right’. To always be a champion for positivity, and to always keep her head up. But she soon realized that couldn’t happen. You can’t be positive all the time, she concluded. It’s not going to happen.
That’s her advice to cancer patients: “Let go of judgements of how you think you should deal with it… and how others think you should deal with it”.
Don’t be afraid to be more than a ‘positivity seeker’. You can be an ‘experience seeker’, Kira says.
“When you get cancer you have a right to be angry. To be sad. To be positive. It’s okay to laugh; it’s okay to feel it all”.
Jackie felt that—as awful as it is—Kira going through the same thing is what has helped her. It was Kira’s handling of her diagnosis that empowered Jackie to face her own diagnosis. She’s obviously devastated that her daughter has cancer, but it afforded her a way to deal with it.
“I think it would have been different if I hadn’t seen her go through it”
Kira’s take on balancing everything that inspired Jackie is that you tackle one role at a time. One day she’s the daughter that needs to call her mom at midnight because she’s just so overwhelmed by having cancer. Another she’s the ear for her mother who feels the same pain. Another day she worries about COVID and all that could mean for the future.
“Just one of these things would have been the hardest things I’ve ever done. But they’re all at once”.
It’s for that reason that Kira and Jackie sometimes agree to avoid talking about certain things some days.
One day cancer may be too much, or chemo may be too triggering. Emotions revolving around cancer are ever- changing and vary from moment to moment. One minute you can talk about something as easily as you can read a picture- book.
Another minute, the same topic triggers some crushing memories, and you just can’t go there. Sometimes you just need to take a step back from something and process it later on.
But when they do talk about hard- to- breach topics, it makes for an extremely shared experience. They both know how astronomically unfair and painful cancer is. They both know the feeling of loss attached to losing your blood cells, your hair, your breasts. They both know the pain of the known, and the fear of the unknown.
Jackie thinks that is what makes the relationship so much more raw. Though you never want anyone you love—and especially your child-- to have cancer, there is some solace in the deep connection forged. This unique situation leaves room for them to both truly understand what trench each other is marching.
“This has opened my eyes more to what she’s going through. Before I was looking in, but now I am in. And though we were close before, this has definitely brought us closer”.
Being in it together has brought out many opportunities to be there for one another.
They’ve sent each other care- packages and birthday presents. They’ve been there to talk... or not talk.
Though they are apart… they are together. Through every hard moment, they are together.
Jackie and Kira were there for each other in a defining moment on the cancer journey: saying goodbye to your hair.
Kira hated having to shed her hair, and Jackie hated having Kira relive that….when the time came for Jackie to shave her head—though it was sad—the worst part was making Kira go through that moment again.
They both knew just how hard it was to go through that sinking moment of loss. To say goodbye to part of yourself for possibly forever. To say a hello to looking more like a cancer patient. They both knew not only how to sympathize with one another, but how to empathize. And as hauntingly beautiful as it is, there is comfort in that.
“[Before my mom got diagnosed too] I felt isolated… cancer is isolating. I wish she wasn’t going through...I’d give anything for her to not have cancer. But I feel like I’m not alone anymore”.
“Cancer feels unfathomable. You lose your fertility, your friendships… I lost the ability to work for a year. I remember thinking, ‘there’s just no way I’m going to get through this” (…) But you can get through it. I wish this never happened. But I can still lead a good life and be infertile. I can still lead a good life and have cancer. You can live a good life after something really horrible happens.” – Kira.
Kira found through this how strong she can be. She didn’t know how strong she was until she decided to brave each day with her having cancer and her mom having cancer and the world being held under siege.
Kira and Jackie both have lost much, and even though cancer is certainly not a gift, it did provide an opportunity to rethink who they are and what matters to them.
Before the cancer, they defined themselves by their careers—Kira was a designer, and Jackie was a special- needs teacher.
Kira and Jackie both absolutely loved their jobs, but cancer has helped them reevaluate what they define themselves by. Having cancer makes you take a step back and question what you really want, and who you really are.
Though family was a value to them before cancer, it becomes the first priority after cancer. Suddenly a career advancement is nowhere near as valuable as an evening with your grandchild, mother, or sister.
They are both extremely proud of their family, drawing power from it.
“I think we’re fierce in our love and fierce in our loyalty”—Jackie.
And it shall be that love and that loyalty that will pull them through this. Through Kira’s cancer, through Jackie’s cancer, and through being immuno- compromised during COVID 19.
“Us both having it (…) has helped us think we got this. We can conquer this.”—Jackie.
Their love of each other, the world, and other cancer patients is what drives them to share their story on their platforms, and on ours.
“I want to help other people in some way. I think that we can take our experience, as much as it’s horrible (and it is!) but it’s a choice that we’re making to make something good of this.”—Jackie.
There is so much to learn from these two beautiful, and strong women. Though they’ve lost so much, yet, they still seek to give.
Their story is heartbreaking, but it is also awe- inspiring. Their story of pain also gives great hope: hope to look for the good in every bad situation, and hope to keep on moving, no matter how rough the terrain.
Your strength can endure far beyond what you ever thought it could, as your hope can, too. Good can be found in a pile of bad, as stars can be found in a sea of void.
If you want to find Kira and Jackie, here are their handles:
They’ve already done so in the past, but wish to do another live stream soon to talk about their story.
Jackie also has a Gofundme if you feel inspired to give: