It was Christmas in 2004 when my mother started complaining about an upset stomach that would not go away -- she thought it was just from all the hustle-and-bustle of the holidays, so she brushed it off. It persisted into January, so my father insisted she see the doctor. She went through a battery of tests and they discovered ovarian cancer. My mother was always a tough person. All my siblings believed she’d get through surgery and chemo.
At this same time, my brother-in-law, Ray, was fighting his own battle with liver cancer. It was metastasizing to other parts of his body. I felt helpless living 400 miles away, but decided to do something to help. So, when I could, I drove home every other weekend to help out - my battle was the snow that seemed never ending from Cleveland to Rochester, but, that was nothing compared to what the two of them were going through.
I was home the weekend that Ray fought his last battle -- I have never felt such heartache in all my life -- it was incredibly devastating to lose my older brother. I felt completely lost. Being from a large and very close family, we all supported my sister to help her get through these rough days. My mother was so sick from the chemo that she could not even attend Ray’s funeral -- I know that really bothered her, but we all knew she had to get through her own battle.
My mother fought her battle with ovarian cancer for 5 more months, but it was not enough to overcome the speed at which the cancer was spreading. She was still not ready to give up -- she loved to garden but was told by her doctor it was too strenuous for her -- but she did not listen and the day before her last hospital stay, my father found her in her garden, where she loved to be.
I’ll never forget the day we had to move her to hospice -- no words can explain how I felt. I was still in a cloud from losing Ray - how could it be that we’d lose my mother as well? At the time, my youngest sister was engaged to be married. She decided not to put it off, so she was married in my mother’s hospice room -- it was the last time I saw my mother smile. The next night, she passed away with us by her side. I still remember this like it was yesterday. My mom was so loved by everyone she met and more than 300 family members and friends came to her funeral. She made a huge impact in many people’s lives - she was always there to help, even if it was just to listen.
They say that “something good always comes from something bad.” My mother used to always tell us that if we wanted to do something, to do it and not be afraid. After a year of walking around in a clouded state of disbelief, I started to think about what she said and really looked at my life. I was not really happy where I was so, I decided not to be afraid and just make the changes I wanted. Within a year, I met someone who I fell in love with, and I found a great position in New Jersey and moved. I actually began to feel like I found what I was looking for in my life.
Losing my mother and Ray helped me to realize that as heart-breaking as it is to lose a loved one to cancer, we still have to continue on and be happy in our lives. It’s something they would want us do and I know they are both smiling down, knowing that I have made my life better.
World Cancer Day