I wasn't sure what to think when I was first asked to write about my mom. It's extremely difficult, weird, and emotional putting my story and my feelings down on paper for the first time in 4 years, but I think it's time to open up and share the life of the most loved woman I have ever known. This one's for you momma.
Growing up as the only girl amongst three brothers, I obviously clung to my mom a lot. However, she wasn't just your average mom. She was very intelligent, a paralegal for my grandfather after graduating from JMU. She was sporty, she knew everything from a comeback route in football to a pick and roll in basketball. She was fun (and sometimes embarrassing), always singing and dancing everywhere we went, bringing joy to everyone she was around. She was caring; she was constantly making dinners and deserts for anyone and everyone she knew if they ever had anything hard going on in their lives. Hell, she oftentimes fed other families before she did her own. Every single day spent with her was special. Most of all, she was my best friend. The best friend I have ever and will ever have.
Life in high school was good. I had good grades, good friends, was kinda athletic/extremely talented at breaking my leg 3 times, and had an incredible family to come home to everyday. One average morning my junior year of high school while I was fixing breakfast, my mom asked me how to use the microwave. I was very confused but didn't think much of it because I just assumed she was really tired and out of it. I went to school that day and everything was back to normal. However, while my older brother, Brandon, and I were at our high school team's basketball game that night, we got a text from our dad that my mom was in the hospital and they found out she had a brain tumor. Not just any brain tumor, but a stage 4 glioblastoma. This meant that it was cancerous, fast growing, and likely to spread. I honestly don't even remember walking off the court that night after reading that text since my mind and body just went numb. I was in complete shock and especially felt my world crumble around me when I looked up the life expectancy of a brain tumor to that degree. "Only 20% of glioblastoma patients survive more than one year, and only 3% survive more than three years." Two statistics that I will never forget.
They released my mom from the hospital a few days later and she came to my room, which I hadn't left since I heard the news. She told me to look at her, see that she is ok, and to know that we would get through this. She was the most brave person I have ever known and never once shed a tear.. not once. She was the one telling me that it was going to be alright, when she was the one suffering. She explained to me that the doctors will treat her with intense chemotherapy and radiation, but she wanted to be "treated normally" by us. She did not want us to pity her or act scared and nervous all the time around her; she just wanted to live a normal life with her family and I told her I would respect that. She told me she would fight like hell, and she sure as hell did. That, right there, gave me hope.
With weekly chemo and radiation treatments for the next year, we continued to see improvements at each appointment. She may have lost her hair and energy, but it still to this day amazes me how she not once complained or lost hope that entire year. She did not tell me she felt sick, even when I could hear her throwing up in her room. She did not complain about losing her hair; instead she rocked her cute new hat with fake yarn braids that a nurse made her. I am still amazed how she never let herself lose her smile or her faith. The doctors at Duke specifically said, "The life expectancy of a brain tumor to this degree is never good, but if anyone can beat it, it is Cathy." They were right, and I had full faith that she would beat this. She would be that 3%. However, one snow day in February, my mom and I were watching the bachelor, our guilty pleasure. It was our favorite show to watch, just us girls, and she asked me what the main character's name was.. one which she knew very well since we were months into the show together. As soon as she asked that question the second time that episode, I knew something was wrong. These little episodes continued to happen and it just got worse and worse. Two days later, she didn't even know my name. My dad rushed her to Duke and we received the news that her tumor had spread throughout the majority of her brain out of no where and they gave her a maximum of three weeks to live. I remember when I got that news I just ran outside, sat under a tree and wept for hours. I really did not believe it was true because that entire year my family had so much hope and faith that she would get better that we had begun to truly believe it would. I had so many emotions running through my mind and I kept thinking of all the scenarios that I wouldn't have her there for anymore. She wouldn't be there for my senior prom, my high school graduation, my college graduation, my wedding day, or in the delivery room to hold my hand while I gave birth to my first child. I would never have that again. I really thought in that day in time that I would never be happy again, that I would never be able to leave my house or see my friends or even smile around anyone ever again. How do you recover from losing someone that special to you at just 18?
My dad brought my mom home from Duke a few days later and told us hospice would take care of her here until she passed away. This way, we could be with her in our home when the time came. The medical staff warned us that she would die slowly but it would be peaceful. When I went in her room for the first time since she was home, I was in shock of the state that she was already in. She was there, but she was not actually there. She laid there unconscious, unable to open her eyes or talk since the brain tumor had abruptly taken over practically her entire brain. All she could do was simply lay there and breathe. I remember vividly just laying in her room with my head on her chest at least an hour a day simply to listen to her heart beat; something I knew I wouldn't be able to hear for much longer. A week and a half later, my dad came in my room at 4 am, and he didn't even have to say anything. I knew exactly what he was going to say. My mom, my mentor, my best friend, lost her long hard battle with cancer. March 5th, 2014, a day that I will never forget.
Even though they gave my mom 3 weeks to live, I still was just not able to accept it and never came to terms with the possible outcome or the degree of the diagnosis. I prayed so hard every night and truly believed that God would heal her with a miracle. I was so angry with God I told myself I would never pray again and that I would never have a positive outlook on anything else in life because the pain of being let down when you were so confident about something is incredibly surreal. I was weak, angry, sad, and numb all at the same time. I never got to say goodbye to her or have a last conversation with her since she was unconscious and incoherent by the time I saw her. Still to this day, I wonder what I would have said if I had a last conversation with her, but I really don't think there's anything that could have been said. How do you say goodbye to someone so special to you? Someone that you feel like you have so much unfinished business with..so much to look forward to with? You simply can't. There is no right or wrong way to say goodbye to someone, but in a way I am thankful that I was not able to look my mom in the eyes, tell her goodbye, and let her live her last day on earth seeing how much emotional pain my family and I were all in. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that I never got that last goodbye.
It took me a lot longer than I hoped, but I can truly say that I am happy again; something I never thought I would be able to say. My mom was the most positive and happy person you would ever know and I learned to come to terms that she would be so disappointed in me if I lived my life with this weight on my shoulders and didn't even try to be happy again. I have found peace in knowing that I will see her again one day and that I can only use this experience to better me as a person. I will never understand why things like this have to happen, but all I know is that I need to try to use it in a way that she would be proud of.
I learned so much from my mom in the short 18 years I spent with her and I am still trying to live by all the values she taught me. The most important thing I have taken away from this experience is that at the end of the day, its not about what sorority you're in, how skinny you are, how good you are at a sport, or how much money you have; what truly matters is making memories with the people you love, and the impact you make on others throughout your life. I want to love and spread joy everywhere I go, just like she did. From our old mail man that now brings us cookies for Christmas every year since she used to do the same for him, to the random Kroger worker that to this day asks me to “say hi to your mom for me when you get home” that I still don’t have the heart to tell.. she made an impact on every single person she ever met. Many many MANY years from now of course, I want to be the mother she was for my three brothers and I. Fun, thoughtful, caring, helpful, energetic, loyal, patient and sympathetic; she was everything you could possibly want in a mom. Finally, I want to find the love that she and my dad shared. 24 years of marriage and not once did I hear them argue in my entire life. They showed me what true love looks like. It sure did set the bar high, but it taught me to never settle and know that love that strong actually is out there. Overall, my mom simply made the world a better place. Even though she set impossible standards, I just hope I can do my best to try to "live a Cathy life". Hell, everyone should live a Cathy life.
Whoever is reading this, just do me a favor; love your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, your friends, your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband, your coworkers, your neighbors, and even complete strangers. Don't just wait to express this on holidays like Mothers day, Thanksgiving, or Valentines day; show others how much you love and care for them every. single. day. I don't care if you annoy them, overuse "I love you". Do nice things for others. Surprise them with cookies when they're sad- everyone loves cookies. Mail them hand written cards- I promise you they mean more than any present you can buy. Be a best friend. Start caring for others more. Bring a smoothie to a sick friend. Ask how others are doing- you never know what someone else is going through. Never judge someone by the color of their skin- we are ALL "fearfully and wonderfully made". Work hard to be successful- but don't ever let your job come before your family. Put your pride aside and forgive others. You never know when the last time you will be with them is going to be. Family is everything. Make memories. Be happy. Smile. Even when life gets tough, push through and stay positive. You will get through it. Make the best of what you DO have! Don't have regrets when God takes your loved ones from you to be with him. Live a Cathy life.