Raising My Voice, Like Mom, About Ovarian Cancer

September 27, 2016

It was 1978. Peoria, Illinois. 

This is what it looked like: me, 13 years old; my three brothers, 10, 16, and 18; my sister, 15. Larking around our house, being loud, being kids. Going to football and baseball practice. Everything as a team.

And my mother. It was the year she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given only three to six months to live. Inevitably, it was a year of chemo visits, sick afternoons with the curtains drawn, and us kids worrying our butts off. She had always taken care of us, but a lot of those duties flipped, and sometimes, it was us taking care of her.

But because this is my mom we’re talking about, it was also a year of wonderful normality. My mom was a fighter. I mean a real fighter. If she was knocked down one day, she’d be up early the next morning making lunches for us, chatting about baseball practice, and going on as if nothing had changed. Mom had a zest for life, and not even cancer could affect that.

My mom didn’t have a “bucket list,” per se, but there were a couple of things she wanted to see before she left us. She wanted to see my older brothers get into med school, and she wanted to watch my sister, Maria, graduate from college after missing her high school graduation because of a surgery.

She got to see all three of them take those steps. She fought her way past those six months and stayed with us for six years. Shortly before she died, she traveled to Santa Claire in a wheelchair and watched Maria walk across the stage at her graduation. Then, she was ready. God’s arms were open, and she went home.

The biggest lesson my mom passed down? She taught me how to persevere. My mom grew up on a farm and wanted us to be hardier than the average townies. She taught me how to fight and how to give back to the community, even while fighting her own battles. She was a child psychologist, and she had a vision that every child — not just her own — would have the opportunity to succeed.

Mom also taught me the value of education. It was number one in our household. Boy, did we love sports, but if we didn’t do well in school, we couldn’t play. Simple as that.

The memories I have of my mom are long and vivid. She was with me every step before she passed, and she gave me all the memories I’ll ever need. Sitting around the kitchen table playing Uno, she’d get mad at us for cheating, but she wouldn’t stay angry for long; chasing my little brother and me around the house with a piece of cooked liver, she’d try to get us to at least lick the damn thing. It’s these smaller moments with Mom that have stuck with me over the years.

My mother wasn’t a person you were quiet around. You can’t keep quiet about ovarian cancer when my mom’s involved; it just doesn’t work. She was the glue that held us together. When I think of our family — the way the education was pushed, the way our laundry was always done, the way we always got to our games — I think of my mom, the glue. And when that glue is thinning, everyone notices, and you have to speak up about it.

Thirty-three years have passed since ovarian cancer took my mother away from me, yet not much has changed in the fight against it. It is still the deadliest women’s cancer, with 22,000 women diagnosed and 14,000 women losing their lives to the disease each year. No screening test exists for ovarian cancer, but we know that earlier diagnosis can impact a women’s survival rate. In the past three decades, diagnostics have improved, yet many medical reports have found that most women do not get proper care for ovarian cancer even though it is available. Awareness of ovarian cancer and its signs and symptoms must reach the same magnitude as other forms of cancer before we’ll have any chance of beating this disease.

We have to look after our moms, just as they look after us. We have to be loud about ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer strikes not just moms but can attack our sisters, aunts, daughters, and friends. It is not as uncommon as you one might believe. We all have a reason to spread awareness. Everyone knows someone impacted by ovarian cancer. Who do you know?

 

New York Yankees Manager, Joe Girardi, partnered with ASPiRA Labs for the national campaign “Everyone Knows Someone,” which in support of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month aims to highlight that “everyone” is impacted by ovarian cancer. “Thirty-three years have passed since ovarian cancer took my mother away from me, yet not much has changed in the fight against it.” According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 22,000 women are diagnosed and 14,000 lose their lives to ovarian cancer each year. There isn’t a screening test for ovarian cancer but an earlier diagnosis can impact a woman’s survival. Join Joe and share #WhoYouKnow that has been impacted by ovarian cancer.