As I shared in Part I of “A Daughter’s Love,” in all of the public health work that I do and the hundreds of presentations I have given, whenever I ask the question “is there anyone in this room who has not been impacted by cancer – either yourselves or a loved one?”, I have yet to meet anyone to raise their hands. Some of us have been touched very, very personally by cancer. What happens when it is your mother?
I interviewed Angela Coffey earlier this week as she shared her experience as her mother battled ovarian cancer. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Traci Reed, who lost her mother to lung cancer. I was particularly moved by Traci’s willingness to share her experiences, as her mother had so recently passed. How brave she must be to be able to share her story to help others, when the pain had to be so fresh? What a woman of courage. I will share why “frogs and butterflies” at the end of the interview. It put a tear in my eye!
Here is my interview with Traci:
Unconditionally Her: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Traci, and how cancer has touched your life, particularly with your mother.
TR: I’m the youngest of 3 daughters. My momma, Janie Brown, has been my best friend since I was 15 years old until her passing in August. I rarely addressed her as “momma” since I was a teenager. She was definitely more like a friend to me and we hung out together with my friends, as she was very young at heart. Not to be misunderstood, I still had a lot of respect for her authority, because I knew of her powers of being my mom! I had the “cool mom” who went to concerts and liked having people over to entertain. (She WAS the entertainment, even up until the end). Last November, by accident, while in the hospital for what we’d believed to be a small kidney infection, they had caught a scan of her part of her lungs which later was revealed as stage 4 lung cancer. She had a large irregular shaped tumor near her heart. They gave her approximately 4 months to live if she chose no chemotherapy as a treatment. She opted for no chemo and lived just over 8 months. She made the most out of those months, as most of our small family took full advantage of our time with her.
Unconditionally Her: What are some of the unique challenges your mother’s diagnosis brought to your life as an adult child of a beloved parent with cancer?
Some of the challenging things were to do with balancing my mom’s doctor appointments, the few radiation treatments she took to help with pain, staying with her once she needed someone to keep a closer eye on her, work, home life, sleep time and traveling to and from her house 45 minutes away from mine. She was fiercely independent and resisted everyone’s urge to help her, insisting on doing everything herself until the end. Trying to get the entire family on the same page with a plan was difficult at best.
Unconditionally Her: Our Magazine is called Unconditionally Her (NEW+YOU). When a loved one has cancer, it isn’t just that person who is impacted. We, as co-survivors, are deeply impacted. Because of your cancer journey as a co-survivor with your mother’s cancer, what is Unconditionally Her and different in your life because of that cancer experience?
TR: My mother’s short war with cancer helped me rise to my maximum potential in ways I’d never thought were possible. We both learned that I’m considerably stronger than we’d thought all these years, also that we’re so much alike, which she said was a good thing – and which I was so proud to hear. I learned who will be there for me and who will not. We both agreed that was also a good thing, because I needed to know, no matter how badly it hurts, especially knowing I’d be without her for advice in my future. I am changed in the way I am permanently scarred, and I HATE CANCER. I changed in the way that I go even farther out of my way to help people than before because you never know what’s going on in their lives.
Unconditionally Her: What do you miss the most about your precious mother? Would you be willing to share one of your favorite memories?
TR: Her cheerful demeanor and ability to have fun wherever she was. It’s hard to narrow down one favorite memory. Would it be when she would pet sit for me when I’d go on vacation and actually “care for and feed” our 6′ snakes, lizards, poison dart frogs and tarantulas when she used to hate snakes before that? Would it be the time I took her to “Nissan’s Family Day” getting her to ride the G-Force ride until we were quite sick, but still laughing, or the time I talked her into riding go carts at Hickory Hollow when she’d refused and when finished she wanted to go again, or the time we went Parasailing in Florida? Or the year she took me, a friend and my best friend Travis to Destin, Florida -for his very first trip to any beach- when we were in high school? That WAS FUN! Or all the years we’ve spent on the same beach, on the same week, at the same time in Panama City Beach, hanging out with the “regulars at the condo” and our family friend Cindy, who was so much fun, and who we also lost to cancer some years ago? What about at one of our “Big Game” get-togethers when she kept taunting our cat, Scooter, and I kept warning her to leave him alone and get out of his face until he very gently nipped her on her nose to tell her himself? We’ve had too much fun together. She made everything fun.
Unconditionally Her: Tell us about Traci. What makes you happy?
TR: All animals, reptiles, amphibians, nature, peace and quiet, anything in the great outdoors, helping people, boating, riding on the back of my boyfriend’s motorcycle and hanging out with old friends (& new) and family I love. Did I mention animals? ????????????????????????????????
Unconditionally Her: What would you like to say to our Unconditionally Her readers who may be going through a parent having cancer?
TR: Preplan. My mom got every detail taken care of for us so we wouldn’t have to be burdened with the small stuff as she knew what was coming. No amount of planning will ever get it right, so prepare for the worst and hope for the best. My mom and I were the only realists in our family. We were the only ones to truly recognize & acknowledge this cancer when it was diagnosed (actually beforehand, we JUST knew) with it’s obvious realistic outcome (in just her case anyway) and I’m glad that we did. We developed a very strong bond with our Lord Jesus Christ and each other and had so much fun while she was still up for it. Please take advantage of every day. Write things down. Record things, laugh, love, focus on daily (seemingly) silly things together. For example, my boyfriend Eddie trying to build a squirrel proof bird feeder for her the last few months of her life. Those squirrels used to make her so mad eating all of her birdseed! Then, she and Eddie had a ball fooling those squirrels. We’ve never laughed so hard as we did at them. I love and miss her so much. She requested I be strong for her while she was here so she could “keep it together,” so I sucked it up somehow, and did. However, now she’s gone and my grieving has just begun. I’m so glad she didn’t suffer a long time, and I look forward to meeting her again one day. Until then, I know what her advice is, I should just listen to it. I’m going to miss her on my birthday Monday. My first without her. I cry so much now that I’m not sure if I’ll ever have another Happy Birthday. I’m so grateful to have done this interview, it means so much to me and would make Janie proud too. Spreading awareness, trying to help others learn and maybe cope. Don’t deny your parent of anything they want to do, or places to go (within reason), as it’s their world, we are just blessed to be in it. Be kind.
Editor’s note: The images of frogs in this article are significant. Before Traci’s mother passed away, Traci asked her to send Traci a sign to let her know that she was o.k. Her mom said “frogs and butterflies” and since she has passed, Traci has been bombarded with frogs and butterflies and frequently takes photos of these “signs from above” and shares with friends and family.