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Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Monumental Occasion "Running for Mom"

                Hundreds of white plastic cups are crunching beneath my soggy running shoes.  The road is paved with water puddles, water cups, and thousands upon thousands of runners. This is the Ukrop’s Monument 10 K. One of the largest races of its kind in America, the Monument 10 k draws thousands of supporters and runners each year. Each runner and supporter had their own story for being out there on that warm, rainy April day. For me it began one year ago, as my family and I sat comfortably in our Virginia Beach home. My mom was on the couch. My little brother Jimmy was leaning over a leg rest. My boyfriend and I were cuddled on the couch. All of our eyes were on the television as we finished watching another crazy episode of the reality show “I Love New York”.  I turned off the television as we prepared for bed, a chilly, awkward silence filled the room.

                “I have something to tell you”, my mother said. I was ready for my mother to tell me something silly or crazy or maybe even something to piss me off. Our little military family had overcome some hard family times in the past three years. For the first time in years we as a family felt normal again. My mother and father’s divorce was finally FINAL. We had all made peace with the hurt of the past and to top it off my mother was able to get a home in the neighborhood we grew up in. I was thankful to God for our new life. And, then she said the words that would change our world. “I have breast cancer.” Short, declarative, and bold. I can’t tell you how it feels when your whole world stops. It’s not the kind of love struck heart pounding, earth shattering stop. It’s the sickening scary kind. All of the air in the room was sucked from my lungs and I couldn’t even look at the woman who now was telling me she was not afraid to die.
Me and mom at Sara's graduation

Me, Mom, and Sara

“Hold my baby”, my mom said to my boyfriend Shannon. I couldn’t breathe and nothing could stop me from rocking myself to sooth my pain. My mom lived a life better than most and had made peace with the cancer that was now slowly taking her away from us. The clock just wouldn’t move. 11:30 PM felt like eternity in the new home where we were supposed to build our new life together.

            To know my mother is to feel the warmth of the brightest summer day.  Her smile radiates an entire room.  I’ve watched her Mississippi charm woo many a person to relax, to open up themselves to her, and share their deepest secrets. Banks tellers in our neighborhood give extra lollipops to Ms. Compton as she inquires about their family or love life. High school friends loved my “cool mom”. The mom who let us stay up till 3 AM during sleepovers. Picked up every band member in our neighborhood after band practice and never once complained we when blasted our music or jumped over the seats. She came to school in costumes for every season. Easter she was a white bunny with a red nose; something my high school friends found amusing and cute, as I ducked into our red minivan after school. She dressed as Aunt Jemima for Halloween, and a green tree complete with bells for Christmas.  She praised God for all things small and big. “Thank you Jesus”, she would yell as she swerved into a front Walmart parking spot.  “Lord have mercy”, she would say as we passed a car accident on the highway. She prayed for her patients in the nursing homes whose family wouldn’t visit them. She spent extra time listening to lonely patients reflect on their life.  She is everything happiness is meant to be. Free, unbridled, contagious, thankful, and always trying to brighten the lives of others.

                After learning my mother had breast cancer, I lost myself.  Who was I without her? My mother and I have a unique relationship. It teeters on friendship and parental. When I was younger my father, the honorable Navy man, traveled the seas several times during our childhood. My mother in her twenties now had the responsibility of caring for three little children. Being the oldest I had the strongest urge to be there for her. In some many ways I felt we grew up together. She taught me tenderness and compassion, as she told me to not treat my Down Syndrome sister any different because of her disability. I learned to be selfless as she had, while my father was away. We were each others confidants. While what I had to confide was merely childhood crushes and gossip at school, my mother gave (maybe at times too much) adult perspective on issues. “How would you deal with this Lauren?” She made me responsible.  Her opinion mattered most and she always gave it to my straight. She didn’t lie when she thought my two year crush in high school was a bit much and always challenged me to live life in faith instead of fear. She’d come eat lunch with me at school if I needed a little confidence boost in the lunch room. I’d stay home from school if the verbal beatings I received the previous day were too hard to face.. She is not only my mother, but my best friend.

                More than anything I wanted to change my life. If my mother was ready to fight cancer with all her life to stay with us I wanted to do the same. I wanted to stop making excuses for not taking chances, for being overweight, for letting fear run my life. My mother’s diagnosis pushed me over the edge.  I know now that I have cancer in my family history which means there is a great chance I could fight her same battle one day. There is nothing I can do to change that. I wanted to take some control now. I looked in the mirror just two months after hearing my mother’s diagnosis and I knew something had to give. I was overweight, unhappy with my appearance, and I felt helpless. My mother was going through chemotherapy and the thin cat like hair we used to laugh at was slowly falling out. I couldn’t stop the hair from falling, I couldn’t make the pain go away, and I couldn’t forget just how dangerous this disease could be. I felt helpless. So I decided to take control of something. My health! For the next few months I met with a trainer, began working out, eating better, reading nutrition books and rediscovering the athlete within me. By December I had lost 12 lbs and I gained a new confidence. By then my mother’s hair was completely gone. She lost about 20 lbs and was growing weaker as the chemotherapy went through her body. She would have a double mastectomy and was prepare for radiation treatment; a process which basically burns her body inside and out. Whenever I thought about the battles my mother was facing I ran a little harder, dug a little deeper, and I wanted to be better for myself and for her.

Surgery Day

                When my brother, sister, and I  walked into my mother’s hospital room I felt empty, not knowing what to expect. My mom woke had the biggest smile on her face. Watching my mother awake from a double mastectomy with a smile and laugh made me realize life still had so much joy in it.  She joked about how bald her hair was and how she sounded like a horse. Tears fell from my eyes and I had to hide my joy, my fear, and my deep belief that we were going to make it. That moment taught me that everything is possible through faith. 

“I’ve got a lot more living to do Lauren. Hey I’ve still got to see my grandkids”, my mother would say. If my mother could smile cancer in the face, I knew anything was possible. I began training for the Monument 10k, because I never believed I could run 2 miles let alone 6 without passing out. I would dedicate my run to the one woman who fearlessly taught me to LIVE. No matter what life brought your way God could get you through it.