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April 4, 2018
We were all sitting around the table for my mother’s 65th birthday. I remember looking at her and thinking to myself, “If I have her vitality and energy at that age, I’ll be doing alright.”
One week later, I got a call from her that she had found a lump.
My mother has been on stage as a singer/performer since she was a little girl. She has a BIG personality. She radiates life. She’s charismatic, loud (sorry mom), and pretty bad-ass. She built one of the most sought after voice coaching studios in Canada from the basement of my childhood home.
I can’t possibly speak to what it’s like to be the one bearing the disease. I can only speak to my experience as someone who had a loved one go through it.
It came six weeks after one of the happiest days of my life; the day I got engaged. But cancer doesn’t care that it destroys your joy. It doesn’t care that your engagement party is coming up next Saturday. It doesn’t care how special of a time it is in your life. Cancer has a total shit sense of timing.
It’s the strangest feeling to know that the woman who gave you life is having her own threatened. It’s like having an anchor you didn’t even know was holding you down ripped out of the water.
I never felt like I was doing enough, ever.
Cancer is a dark cloud that covers everything. You laugh at a joke, but in the back of your mind you hear “but my mom has cancer”. You go wedding dress shopping, “but my mom has cancer”. You accomplish something awesome at work, “but my mom has cancer”. It sucks the joy out of every corner of your life.
But as time went on, I learned that I may not have the power to exorcise the cancer from my mom’s body, but I do have the power to shut it out of my own mind. You can prevent it from stealing your joy. It’s okay to laugh fully at your favourite show and relish in happinesses, even as cancer runs its course through your life.
So I intentionally adopted the “make things feel normal for my mom” role. I couldn’t be around everyday to help (thank god for my step-father), and I certainly couldn’t do anything medically, but I could be a reminder that there is life and a whole world outside of cancer. We went to lunch, we talked about wedding plans, discussed our favourite shows, and commiserated over Trump-era politics. We also got annoyed at each other and bickered. You know, normal life stuff.
Was this the right approach? Hell if I know.
She really is one of the lucky ones, and I’m forever grateful.
So here she is. My charismatic, loud, bad-ass mother, Elaine Overholt, who can now add cancer survivor to her long list of accolades.
But first, let’s all put two big middle fingers up in the air to cancer. I never want to hear from you again.
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