From our founder…
November 1, 2011. That’s my date — the day my whole life changed. That’s the day my mom called to tell me she had been diagnosed with metastatic brain cancer. You would have thought that virtual bomb would have completely devastated me. Instead, I just went numb. To this day, I’m not sure how to describe my feelings. I was in disbelief, as if walking through a bad dream. It took several hours for the reality to sink in, and by that time I had gathered my family to drive up that night to be with mom. Over the next few weeks, we would learn the primary site was breast, and that the cancer had spread not only to the brain but also to the lungs and lymph nodes in the thoracic cavity.
We travelled to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston two days before Thanksgiving. The logo on the building told us we were in the right place. That red slash through the word “cancer” made us feel right at home. They hated cancer as much as we did, perhaps even more. It was during this time at MD Anderson that God began to create a deep love in me for people with cancer, especially as I watched patient after patient riding the elevators alone. I wanted to throw my arms around them, give them money, wrap them in prayer, do anything to let them know they were anything but alone. No one should ever walk through a cancer battle by themselves.
Over the next six months, I walked with my mom through her cancer battle, learning of the great challenges that people with cancer face. Mom came to live with us, and I went with her to every doctor’s visit, scan, and chemo treatment. I went with her to pick out a wig, pushed her wheel chair, loaded her walker into the car, and manned her oxygen tank. My whole family trudged through the low sodium diet with her when she was on one, and we made sure she had her fill of Boston Market chicken-pot-pies and Auntie Anne’s pretzel dogs when that was all she wanted to eat.
The hardship of her side effects, depression, and sickness became for me a driving force in ensuring the best of care. On top of the physical struggles came the financial woes. We scoured the internet to find organizations that offered financial assistance, but were discouraged to find mostly copay replacement programs or aid with highly specific criteria. Either she didn’t qualify, or the aid wasn’t large enough fast enough. I was perhaps most surprised to discover how lonely cancer can make a person, and their caregiver, and their family. Just eight weeks earlier, mom managed an office, lived in her own home, drove herself where she wanted, bought her own groceries, and socialized with her own friends. By the time the new year started, none of that was true.
People were unsure of how to talk to mom or to me. So, they didn’t. Of course, we were all in when it came to treatment, which meant we were all out when it came to the rest of life. So, while not many in our communities approached us, we didn’t approach them either. Still, we both needed them to be there, to be present, to bring food, to give hope, to say they cared with practical help. I learned that cancer can take so much more than health.
We returned to MD Anderson in late March following a three month chemotherapy program. In spite of our expectation of good news, we were devastated to learn the cancer had spread to mom’s liver and bones. We returned home, not realizing we had just 18 days left with each other. I spent the last three nights of her life sleeping on the floor next to her bed, not willing to abandon my post. In all my years of life, she had never left hers. On the afternoon of April 16, 2012, she died in my bedroom, laying in a hospital bed surrounded by her family. Her spirit went to be with the Lord. We await the eventual resurrection of her body.
It is this six months of struggle that God is redeeming, having given us the vision for Freedom Cancer Foundation that we might help others.