I told myself I was taking a break from column writing.
I mean placing my thoughts, opinions and randomness in these pages each and every week can be a bit much – even for me. Oh sure, I get that readers have an option not to read, the eyes can skim over and move on, yet for some reason it just felt like the right thing to do.
The intention was to break the entire month of June, regroup, reset and let the opinions lie for a moment.
Some moments and some lessons however, I feel, should be documented in the moment for which they happen.
So last week, as I sat with a few girlfriends, a simple text from another dear friend began the column wheels spinning.
It was a simple text with big impact. In short; her mom had finally gone to be with the Lord.
The news came following one of the most tireless battles of cancer I’ve personally witnessed. In the final months, my girlfriend would be her caregiver. Moving her into her home, caring for her as well as her young family all while remaining true to her husband and career.
My response to her was multi-fold, yet what stood out to me most about her mom in that moment was not the word “warrior” which is so commonly used in the context of cancer. The word which resonated most was “hero.”
The word hero is defined as, “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievement or noble qualities.” That was her mom. A true fighter with a smile full of grace and eyes which still held light when she would be out in public.
Her road was a long and exhausting one by anyone’s standards, but to be in her company one would never have known that.
The irony came earlier this year, when I began having treatment at UCSF weekly and so was she. My girlfriend and I quickly exchanged texts to see if we may have stumbled upon a carpool opportunity, but to no avail.
As a patient myself, I always tried to encourage those who loved and supported me to do the same or more for my family. Both remembering and recognizing myself, holding the hand of someone fighting this exhausting disease it just seemed important to me.
As the patient, you (or at least I) felt I had a purpose and a job. To do everything my medical team offered, as well as read and research how each option would be suited and help my given diagnosis.
In the meantime, the support often sits feeling helpless and in awe of how we forge forward, because we must.
When all my treatments were finally over, I asked my children what they remembered most from that chapter. My daughter shared seeing her mom weak for the first time and feeling helpless while my son shared knowing that I was strong and would get through it, as I always have.
Cancer brings a lot of emotion, uncertainty and perspective. Learning to live with gratitude sort of reaches a steroid level when you’re in the battle and once given the green light to return to life as it once was.
Yet it’s never quite the same.
That holds true also for the caregiver and that’s perhaps one of my greatest memories with my girlfriend as she did so much for her mom. A love so deep, that we would do absolutely anything to ease the pain and bring a smile.
The caregiver role, however, alters the relationship, which is not always easy on the patient or the loved one. We talked about that as well.
Yet “heroes” are a special type of people and her mother was indeed that (as is my girlfriend, quite honestly).
Shortly before Christmas we spoke of how she didn’t know if “mom would make it to Christmas.” Followed by recognition that it would probably be their last together. The irony is we had had that same conversation two years prior, I reminded her of that.
My thoughts on all this were simple and I shared with her a lesson I had learned 10 years ago, as I watched a close friend fight one of the most impressive battles with this disease to date.
The mind and the heart are amazing things. While the patient’s body might be failing, they remain determined to be here for certain things. I learned that 10 years ago and it was echoed by her mother. There were milestones she did not miss and for that her family will forever have her in those memories. Hero.
So now as we look to the days, weeks, months and years ahead as a community we have lost one more hero. It’s a void which will be felt, a legacy left and one more battle succumbed to. God bless this family and all who both loved and learned from her; we are the lucky ones.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 209-847-3021.