Stigma to Strength – My Mother’s Story
The last day I saw her healthy will forever be burned in my memory. It was another beautiful morning in Oxnard, California, and my mom was watering her yellow roses in our courtyard. I could hear the ocean waves crashing as my mom’s smile and long hair glistened in the sunshine. She waved goodbye to me and I zipped off to work at the local Starbucks. A few hours later I received the call that made my heart drop to my core. My mom had a seizure in a salon chair and was in an ambulance headed to the hospital. I’ll never forget the image of her when I arrived; young and vibrant, sitting up with her hair draped over her shoulders and trying to reassure me with a smile when I started to cry. A series of tests revealed a brain tumor that spread from her lungs; and a world shattering diagnosis of terminal stage 4 lung cancer.
My mom encountered many challenges with her cancer battle; including the toll it took on her emotionally, physically and spiritually. Throughout her journey, she exuded unbelievable strength, kindness, determination and even humor. An ongoing joke was she really wished M&Ms cured cancer! She continued to work as a journalist and traveled the world between treatments. But one challenge she did not expect was the stigma of her disease. She did not smoke, but found herself defending her cancer. I had just started college when she was diagnosed, and interviewed her for a thesis on stigma. My mom actually wished she had a different cancer so she could feel part of a greater community that would show her unconditional support without questions or judgement. After all, cancer is cancer.
After a courageous 4-year battle, my beautiful mom passed away but her story continued to brew in me. What is the awareness ribbon for lung cancer — the leading cancer killer in women? One is clear because it’s an invisible disease, another is PEARL. And The Pearl Project – think pearls for lung cancer awareness – was born. Custom jewelry from the project supports lung cancer research and awareness funding through charity partner The American Lung Association, and we are challenging others to change the way they see lung cancer. There is still a lot of work to do, but we are headed in the right direction — forward. And the next time you see pearls, I hope to you, too, think of lung cancer awareness. In memory of my mom, and for every other cancer warrior out there, I am on the sidelines cheering for you today and every day.