Today I’m doing something I’ve never done before – I’m posting a guest post. As part of the Yahoo! Motherboard‘s recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month I wanted to write something that would resonate, be authentic and affect people. The only way I could even fathom doing this was to have my friend Shari write about her incredibly strong, dynamic and loving mom. I met Shari 6 years ago when our daughters started preschool and I don’t think I ever knew her mom as a non-breast cancer patient. I am one of those people who believes that good people – truly honest, sincere, rock solid people don’t just happen – they are formed in the best way by their parents. Shari is one of those people and there is no doubt that her mom helped make her so. (Her dad’s pretty great too but that’s a whole other side of Shari I won’t get into here…) I hope you will read Shari’s guest post and be moved in some way to donate or participate in the fight to find a cure. At the very least, take 5 minutes to reflect on the women in your life and the way they’ve influenced the person you’ve become.
Throughout the years, my mom was always within arms reach. Whether it was setting up my new dorm room, fielding a helpless phone call after a lackluster term paper, or providing that last supportive hug as I whisked off for my honeymoon, no matter what was happening in her own personal life, she never once dodged any of the emotions, needs or complaints I so often (selfishly) hurled in her direction – even while she was battling terminal metastatic breast cancer.
Five years is a very long time to live with metastatic breast cancer. There are only so many brain radiation and chemo treatments one can handle before they start taking their toll. Unfortunately, I remember Mom’s very last hospital stay as if it were yesterday. Outside, the day was crystal clear. We were all in her hospital room (the 3rd one in two weeks) and the grandchildren were on the floor obliviously making “Get Well” pictures to hang on her wall. Mom asked me to comb her hair and to gently apply lipstick and blush so that the kids “Wouldn’t be able to tell” that she was sick. After I finished, she let out a sigh and stared out longingly at her grandchildren and watched them play. It would be the last time she would ever see them play.
Mom was my beacon: a role model for me throughout grade school, college, marriage and motherhood, a friend with whom to share triumphs and fears, a confidante to my innermost feelings. Home-cooked meals graced the dinner table every single school night. Her sideline cheers and support buoyed me through every field hockey game and tennis match. When I swallowed a bottle of pills at age four and was hospitalized for a week, I’m told mom kept vigil by the bedside. When I transferred schools in sixth grade and feigned illness for a trip to the nurse’s office (and potentially a ticket home) Mom drove in every time and convinced me to stay.
It’s amazing how much about my mom’s life I learned through her death. I always knew Mom was a very private person. Yet, her funeral boasted myriad outsiders who were somehow touched by Mom; it was my window into her true depth of compassion for others, even during her personal cancer struggle. The receiving line represented grieving people from all walks of her life: the Russian manicurist who looked forward to seeing my mom every week for the last eight years (even during her marathon chemo infusion days), the dry cleaning lady who loved receiving my mom’s crafty hand-written recipes each week, teachers from my grade school (over 35 years ago) who worked with her as class mom and were still kept up to date on my milestones, my high school friends from near and far–one of whom finally told me at the funeral that my mom had taken her to get an abortion her senior year in high school – mom never told me she did any of this.
Mom’s quiet strength prevented most people from even knowing she was deeply suffering from a terminal illness. She always drove herself alone to her multi-hour chemo treatments at the hospital. Devoid of emotion, she’d “Plug into” her chest port and start reading her favorite book or finish a crossword puzzle. When her hair fell out, she always had new wigs lined up ready to be styled. When her eyebrows fell out, without hesitation new ones were tattooed on. With the fifty -pound weight loss came new, vibrant zany outfits. She didn’t outwardly pity herself. She wasn’t willing to allow herself to give in. She was always a pillar of strength to her friends, to her family and to cancer. After her funeral, I vowed that I would do anything I could to not only preserve her memory but, to also raise money to help fund breast cancer research, awareness and screenings. So, for the past two years, I’ve amassed a team of courageous women to walk beside me and a thousand other strangers in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day 60-mile walk.
Participating in the 3-day walk is a vicious physical challenge. The medic tents at every stop are always overflowing with people suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, severe “road rash” and blisters—yet, the physical challenge pales in comparison to a cancer patients’ struggles. The inspirational journey that takes place is beyond overwhelming. I meet the most interesting people, from motherless children to 3-time survivors. I hear their intimate struggles with the disease and how it has affected them or someone close. Complete strangers become instant friends; we bond through something we despise – cancer. Along the road I laugh with them, cry with them. We support each other. We never forget each other and the constant pain this disease has caused.
I walk the grueling 60-miles with Mom by my side, in my head, and in my heart. I walk attempting to feel just a small part of her pain and her struggle. I feel her life force as the wind carries me along the winding route. I walk because I am so angry that Mom is missing years of my life and my children’s life. There will be no more handwritten notes, no more phone calls on my birthdays, no more fresh banana chocolate chip cake awaiting my Thanksgiving arrival. Her comforting smell is now only preserved in a sterile perfume bottle I took when cleaning out her medicine cabinet. I walk with a searing pain through my heart remembering my 5-year old son declare he “couldn’t really remember my mom, “Meema. “
I believe that Mom truly benefited from the anonymous effort of strangers who participate in these fundraising events. Thanks to advancements in drug research (due in part to funding), Mom definitely lived longer than anyone had anticipated -with a decent quality of life. How can I not be a part of something that can possibly, even remotely, help others live long, fulfilling lives?
The way I try to live my life is the greatest testament to Mom. She will be an inspiration to me always – in life and in death.
I walk because everyone deserves a lifetime.
I walk because I can.