October is breast cancer awareness month, and I wanted to shine a spotlight on the cancer warrior who taught me so much by her life and death how to show strength amidst one of the hardest adversities – breast cancer.
My mom passed away in March 2016. Unlike so many individuals who receive the dreaded cancer diagnosis and have five or less years before the end, Mom fought for close to 16 years. She outlived every treatment available to fight breast cancer and, in the end, passed away from it metastasizing throughout her entire body.
I was a junior in college studying for mid-term exams when my mom called to tell me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She made it through the first surgery and following year able to hold the cancer back with just dietary changes before having to take more drastic measures of treating the disease. When I arrived home late at night for Christmas break my senior year, I set my bags down inside my bedroom and turned to find my mom standing inside the doorway holding a light bulb above her bald head and a huge smile on her face. (Her version of Uncle Fester.) It was the first time for me to see her after she had started chemo treatments having lost all her hair. I wanted to cry, yet she had me laughing uncontrollably when she gave me a big hug and welcomed me home. Not once did she make a huge deal about being bald. Instead she remarked that it was extremely nice not having to shave her legs anymore and she could finally have the exact hair style/color she wanted wearing a wig. She found the positive in every situation!
Cancer treatments were so hard on Mom’s body, yet through it all, she refused to sit back and let life slip by without a fight. Whether it was dragging herself out of bed every Wednesday evening after having chemo/radiation treatments so she could play piano for church service or continuing to teach piano lessons throughout the week along with working as the office manager at Dr. Joe’s chiropractic office, Mom lived her life to the fullest. At different periods during her battle, she would have to stop during the days to run to the bathroom and be sick, but then she’d go right back to work. Her reasoning was, “I’m going to feel sick lying in bed so I mine as well feel sick while doing something productive.” She never quit!
Even though Mom/Grandma had to wear a face mask to attend birthday parties, she made it a point to drive down to Arkansas to be here for as many birthdays and special events as possible. She made it a priority to be with her grandkids and to build happy memories with them. The last time Mom was at our house visiting, she was so sick she could barely move, yet every evening she would push herself to get up and sit at the kitchen table so she could play a game with the older grandkids or sit on the couch watching a cartoon with the little ones.
My kids don’t remember how sick she was, they remember all the fun times they had with Grandma. They remember her hiding candy all over the yard and letting them hunt for it. They remember all the homemade pajamas she would give them every Christmas. They remember the surprise packages arriving in the mail filled with special little things unique to each of them that Grandma had thought to send. They remember her sitting at the kitchen table or working in the kitchen laughing or telling jokes. They remember Christmas times with Grandma letting them decorate or make special cookies with her. They remember how much she loved them. She made every moment count!
Yes, cancer won in the end, but Mom still feels like the real victor. She took those 16 years and made the absolute most of them. Cancer tried to hold her back, but she fought with everything she had and ended up gifting all those lives she touched with love and memories.
No, she is no longer here on earth physically, but she lives on in our memories and shared stories. She was a warrior!