I couldn’t do it. There’s no pithy way to talk about this subject.
September was Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. Unlike October in all it’s pink Breast Cancer Awareness glory, it passed with little notice. There aren’t a lot of Go Teal events, and there are very few teal products to buy. As a designer, it strikes me that choosing fuchsia may have garnered more attention for the cause. Color changes everything.
Today is the first anniversary of the death of one of my beloved aunts. I was blessed and honored to hold her hand as she left this world for a better one. I want to honor her by sharing a bit of my family’s story and some important information with you.
My mother is the seventh of eight children; six girls and two boys who I will identify by their initials. (My aunt D caught pneumonia and died in my grandmother’s arms, so you won’t see her represented here.) The family was very poor. So much so, that while Grandpa went to find help, Grandma gave birth to my mother at home. Alone. My aunt MF stood outside the closed door of the bedroom, and swears to this day that my grandmother never made a sound. She says my mother meowed like a kitten!
My grandmother was made of steel, fortified by faith, and blessed with a soft center that words cannot describe. The love her descendants feel for her was not diminished by her passing. It has only intensified. As we all face life’s challenges, we often do so through the filter of her eyes and are amazed by the optimism with which she managed to face each day.
|MY MOTHER’S FAMILY, BEFORE SHE AND AUNT S WERE BORN
FRONT ROW: B
SECOND ROW, L TO R: E, R, MF
BACK ROW, L TO R: MY AMAZING GRANDMOTHER, AND J
My grandmother became very ill after having her last child, Aunt S, so one of my grandfather’s sisters and her husband took care of the baby while she recuperated. They were unable to have children of their own so by the time Grandma healed, they had become very attached to S. Knowing that her daughter would have a good chance at a better life if she stayed where she was, my grandmother made the gut wrenching decision to let them adopt my aunt. She had no idea of the repercussions that making choice would cause for her family for years to come. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for her.
|L TO R: MY BEAUTIFUL MOTHER, COUSIN D, INDEFATIGABLE E, COUSIN L, AND UNCLE R|
As I said earlier, D died of pneumonia at nine months. Aunt J passed away from emphysema (now called COPD) at the way-too-early age of 46, and Uncle R died from complications from an enlarged heart. Modern medicine could have saved all three of them, but there are some things they still haven’t found a cure for.
|AUNT S, ONE OF THE SWEETEST SOULS I’VE EVER KNOWN|
Although bloated, bald and weakened by continual chemo she graduated from college (wig and mortarboard askew!), traveled, rode jet skis and took flight in more ways than one.
|This is how I like to remember S, LIVING, just months before her death.|
I was there for her last words as well, but this time there was no lingering guilt or sorrow. She told my mother how much she loved her. It was a fitting, final declaration. E’s covert plan to bring her sisters together had worked in the end!
S had done the impossible. She out-foxed ovarian cancer for 16 years, beating back death and despair many times. Nobody does that. It is an insidious disease because it is so difficult to diagnose. For the most part, the symptoms are no different than those of a holiday food binge. They are so common that it’s often found much too late.
Here’s what the girls would want you to know:
I wish I could say the story ends here. It doesn’t. MF was diagnosed with breast cancer this year. After a radical mastectomy, she is doing as well as can be expected. I’m beyond grateful that my mother continues to receive a clean bill of health. The rest of us have to be vigilant in getting our mammograms, physicals and ultrasounds. We also have to stay informed. So do you. Save a copy of the symptoms chart. Share it with your sisters, daughters and your friends. Be aware, but not afraid.
Life is short. Live it out loud!