Today’s blog is from Judy Pearson. Judy has written nearly two decades worth of newspaper and magazine articles, and has published three books. In 2014, she was named one the most inspirational women in Chicago. A triple-negative breast cancer survivor, she is the co-founder of the Women Survivors Alliance, and the editor of NOU Magazine. SURVIVORville, the Women Survivors Alliance annual event, is June 5-7 in Nashville, TN. Register here for this can’t-miss event!
Most people consider themselves lucky to have one great mother. I had the amazing fortune to have two great mothers. Always one to search for purpose in all of life’s events – even the bad ones – I realize these women taught me valuable lessons that have guided me throughout my life, especially through my cancer diagnosis and treatment. While these brief words hardly do them justice, I hope you’ll gain strength from my moms as I have.
My biological mother was beautiful. She was a petite fireball, with laughing blue eyes, a great command of the English language, and a deep love for the Chicago Cubs.
Having been born in 1925, she was very much a woman of that era, and therefore a long time smoker. That horrific habit gifted her with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease at the age of 60. Still not curable, it is far more manageable today than it was at her diagnosis in 1987.
For six years, an oxygen cannula was her constant companion. But that burden became the source of these three precious gems.
1. My mother wasn’t a vain woman, but she took pride in her appearance. After her diagnosis, she continued to do her hair and makeup routine every day. Then she put on the cannula. I asked her if it was difficult to see her mirror reflection and she shared this brilliant tidbit.
“Did you know you can even eat an elephant a bite at a time? I don’t think about having to put the cannula on EVERY day. I just think about doing it TODAY. I might get better tomorrow. I might not. But worrying about the rest of my life is too overwhelming. I take it one bite at a time, one day at a time.”
2. Months later, I called my mother one night after work. I was furious. An evil woman had deliberately undermined a sale I was working on, claiming it for herself. How could she be so nasty, I wailed.
My mother replied, “Never judge another person till you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins. Maybe that woman needs the money more than you do. Maybe her husband will be cruel to her if she isn’t successful. Or maybe she’s just plain mean. Regardless, it will all shake out in the end as it’s supposed to.”
She was right. A few years later, that woman divorced her bullying husband.
3. And then came the day that I was fired from a job. I was devastated and called my mother from under the covers, where I was hiding with a bottle of wine and BBQ potato chips.
“It’s only when it’s the darkest that we can best see the stars,” mom told me. “This is the perfect time to reconsider where your life is headed. If you could do anything at this moment, what would you do?”
That “mom morsel” eventually led to my career as an author and freelancer, not to mention buoying me up during the dark days of cancer treatment.
Five years after my mother died, in 1993, my brother and I were thrilled when our dad married Joanne, a long time family friend and equal to our biological mother in every way. We and our step siblings agreed we had always felt like family. Joanne had survived colon cancer before she and dad married, but just a year after their wedding, she was diagnosed with oral cancer. As I watched her navigate the cancer journey, she too, shared three invaluable gems that have never failed me.
1. During her own pre-treatment appointments and in conjunction with my father’s heart attack the year before, Joanne always had questions for the medical team.
“You are and always will be your own best advocate,” she told me. “Never be afraid to ask questions or ask for more information if you don’t understand the answers. Your medical team works FOR you not just ON you. You can’t make informed decisions if you don’t understand.”
2. After sharing that first gem, she continued with this one: “Why remember something when you can write it down.” Every answer she got from doctors went into the notebook she carried. She called it “her brain,” as it also included her calendar and address book. Without it, she once said, eyes twinkling, she felt as though she was completely naked.
My corresponding notebook is now not only a record of my own diagnosis and treatment, it’s a great reference for my writing. Chemo brain prevails!
3. Joanne died with the same amount of courage she had lived with. She had buried two husbands (including my father), and endured many other of life’s hardships. When her third primary cancer was diagnosed with no hope of cure or recovery, she made the decision to travel to the next life sooner rather than later, with all of us near her.
Once, alone with her near the end, I asked her if she had any regrets. She told me, “Every day of my life has been the best day of my life.”
That gem needs no explanation. It is the best lesson a mother could ever share with a child. And it, coupled with the others both my mothers gave me, are gifts I will always cherish. They have helped me in co-founding the Women Survivors Alliance and SURVIVORville. And in doing that, I’m paying their gifts forward.