By Dana Amihere
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States. Cancer accounts for nearly one in every four deaths. However, statistics do not account for the countless lives of family members also affected.For every cancer patient, there are fathers, sisters, sons, daughters, and mothers whose lives are also affected. We often forget that cancer has many names, faces, and stories. We always remember to honor survivors, but do not always take time to remember those who lost their lives, and the loved ones they left behind. Their stories give us the events like Race for the Cure and Relay for Life a reason to work so hard to raise awareness and foster a community of compassion and support. In sharing their stories, we allow them to live on through us. We give the tragedy of their deaths some meaning, that they will not be forgotten.
Here is one such story.
“My mother was always concerned with helping others. She seemed to know when people needed help without ever being asked. She was devoted to church activities, teaching Sunday school and working with the choir. She was an opera singer, and traveled to Europe and Israel when she was younger. I sing like her, in Concert Choir. I almost felt obligated to do it after she died.
She had a very rare form of lymphoma, so obscure that doctors didn’t know what it was for a long time. She was diagnosed a week or two after my high school graduation. We knew she was sick. She had been tired and hadn’t been able to do a whole lot for a while. We had been planning a family trip, but had to cancel. Mom couldn’t keep up on a trip, and the doctors were trying to keep her isolated to keep her from catching something with her weak immune system.
We are a close family practically living next door to each other so everyone looked out for each other. I had already been accepted to Wesleyan before she got sick. Everyone told me to go to school because it was the best opportunity for me. Even though things weren’t going well, I should be thinking about my education. She would be taken care of. I know I could have stayed and helped but I wouldn’t have been satisfied thinking I had helped her enough. You realize that what you can do isn’t enough to help the fact your mother is sick.
Before I left for school, my dad and I helped shave her head. She had started noticing her hair falling out in the drain, so she decided to cut it off. She wanted to make it a family experience, which I appreciate. I think she just wanted us to feel like she was thinking of us, that she didn’t just want to go out and have it done. She was including us in her sickness. I stood there holding the plastic bag to catch her hair while dad shaved her. That was one of the harder moments to go through. We were all in tears by the end.
She was improving from chemo by the time I left for college, but went downhill in October.
We think maybe she caught something because she started volunteering back at church. She was trying to live as normally as possible. She died on Halloween, about four months after her diagnosis.
Her death had an impact on my life because up until then the last thing on my mind was someone so close, my own parents, getting cancer. It was the last thing anyone expected but it still happened. I still ask why on earth this had to happen. Everything that could have been done was done to save her, but it wasn’t enough.
I have participated in Relay for Life for the past two years in memory of my mother. I thought, ‘By golly, I’m going to get over that line one way or another. Immediately after that I thought I have to get into better shape.’
Before her death, I didn’t really think about events like it too seriously. But afterwards, the cancer aspect of the event meant more to me. It was something I was hesitant to acknowledge because yes, cancer had now affected my life. It was hard admitting that. Mom won’t be here when I graduate or get married. I think about all the stuff mom will miss out on seeing. She won’t be physically there but spiritually, yes. It’s comforting but still painful.
I can’t promote prevention of cancer but I can advocate trying to adapt to whatever happens in any kind of major crisis. I ended up realizing that I really was a lot stronger than I thought I was. It’s made me more determined to find out what it is I’m meant to do.
You hear both good and bad stories about cancer. Everyone wants to hear about remission stories, because there’s hope in them. But you have to find hope when people die from cancer too.
People are going to die. We shouldn’t assume that we’ll all die old and happy. I think in some senses we need cancer stories like hers. Life really is short for some people and we really have to live life to the fullest, and I think in that sense she did.
What do you I hope people who read about mom will take away? That death can and does happen to anybody. Death shouldn’t be shoved into the back of your mind because it hasn’t happened to you or someone you know. You have to use your time wisely. Whether cancer is a factor or not, you should use that life to the best of your abilities.”
–As told by Helen Likins