I’ll never forget how excited I was the day I graduated from high school. Nothing could stop me; in three months I would be off to college, with so much freedom and opportunity ahead of me. If only I could have been prepared for what was to come. Two weeks after my high school graduation, my sister and I started noticing a change in my mom’s behavior. She began forgetting small things like how to get to the drug store, what the date was, or where she had placed her glasses. At first, we thought she was having an off day, but the symptoms continued and worsened as the days went on. We decided to take her to the hospital and I remember one of the nurses asking her questions about where she was and why she was there, only to consistently receive the response “I don’t know.” Within 48 hours, she had gone from a proud mother having watched her daughter receive her diploma two weeks prior, to a woman in the hospital not remembering her own birthday.
That day, the doctors found a brain tumor in her left frontal lobe, the area of her brain that affects her memory and word recall. After 13 hours of surgery, they removed as much as they could, but she was still left to battle the most invasive, malignant portion of the tumor. I’ll always remember one of the first things my mom said to me after hearing the news that she had brain cancer; “It is what it is.” That’s the kind of woman she is. She could tell that the people around her were upset and worried, but instead of joining them in their fear, she was strong, and has been strong every day since.
I never expected anything like this to happen to my family; no one does. But it did, and it made me look at life in a completely different way. It made me realize how short life is, and how nothing should be taken for granted. I regret all of the times I fought with my mom about going out or about my grades, but I treasure even more the goods times we’ve had together. I cherish the cookies she had waiting for me when I got home from school, all the lunches she packed for me, and all the times she helped me with my homework. I cherish the family vacations we took, the family game nights we had, the walks in the park with my dog. As Robert Brault once said, “Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
As her memory continues to quickly fade and her speech has become almost nonexistent, she remains strong. I know deep down she’s scared, but she puts on a brave face. She has taught me what it truly means to be courageous. Not knowing what the future holds is one of the most frightening things in life, but she rarely shows any kind of fear. She continues to wake up every morning to walk the dog and take care of the house, as if she is still leading a normal life. I will never know what’s going through her mind every day, but from the outside, she exudes bravery.
Not only has she taught me what courage is, she has taught me the importance of family and having that unbreakable support system. For 18 years, my mom was there for me whenever I needed her, and now it’s time for my sister and me to be there for her. Driving her to the grocery store, making her meals, keeping her company while she watches her favorite movies are things she has done for us our whole lives. I took for granted the little things my mom did for us, and now that the roles are reversed, I’ve never been more grateful for those 18 years. I couldn’t ask for a better mom, and every day that I spend with her, I realize how thankful I am to have someone as amazing as her in my life. She has always been my biggest supporter, my role model, and my hero. I hope and strive to be as incredible of a person as my mom.
As hard as it is to be away from home, Relay for Life has given me a chance to make something positive out of something so negative. Sometimes it’s hard to try to be happy all the time and go on with my days like nothing’s wrong while my mom’s in and out of the hospital. But with Relay, I feel like I’m doing something to help her even while I’m at school. The American Cancer Society provides millions of dollars a year to cancer research, with a large amount going to brain cancer research. I’m not only relaying for my mom, but I’m relaying for the millions of people affected by cancer every day. I want to help end the fight against cancer, and get people celebrating more birthdays.