By Arick Forsyth, Process Engineer II, Process and Analytical Development
Honestly, I’ve been putting off writing this down for a long time. I’ve played it through my head so many times in the past year, what I would say and how I would say it, the right words to use and emotions to convey.
But I never brought myself to commit words to paper. Just the idea of it would fill me with dread, the king of feelings that would make your skin crawl and your stomach, ache. Writing it down would make it feel too real, conceding to my reality. Almost a year ago, my mother lost her two and a half-year battle with breast cancer. Wow, writing that down stings. She passed on Christmas Eve, a normal time to be merry was anything but. This story isn’t so much about those emotional details, so I will spare you that, but I would like to divulge what happened soon after, something that left a lasting impact on me, something I found worth sharing.
To rewind a bit, near the end of summer last year I was looking to change jobs. I was seeking a new challenge that a new position and company would bring. Throughout the anxiety of numerous interviews and follow-ups and communications and negotiations, there was one person that always gave me her unwavering support. You may have guessed it already, but it was my mother. For those of you who don’t know, I have 11 siblings and each of us are about as demanding as the next. Yet somehow, amidst weekly treatments and hospital visits, my mother was able to allocate her own time to pick up the phone whenever I called, calm down my anxiety, and help me prep for interviews. These calls happened almost daily, and she picked up immediately, never letting my calls reach her voicemail.
My mother was the type of person that would call you if she didn’t hear from you for 2-3 days just to check-in. She was more focused on helping us with our problems than ever asking for help with hers. Anyway, I eventually landed a new job, and I was elated. My first week came and went, and when I told her about it she was even more excited than I was. A few weeks went and I was issued a stack of business cards. Maybe insignificant for others, but for me this was a first. The first time I had my name issued on hard card stock, something physically tangible that I could show off with pride. I handed these out to some friends immediately and some others were given away at a conference soon after.
One day near the end of November, by some strange intervention of fate, I popped a flat tire on my morning commute. With rain pouring down on me, I managed to put my spare on and head to my local mechanic with nothing more than a bad mood. The shop is down the street from my parents’ house, and by the time I dropped the car off the rain had stopped, so I decided to walk over and spend the morning with them while the tire was being repaired. As it turns out, it was just my mother home. We spent the morning catching up and chatting about current happenings in the NFL over some coffee. A seemingly normal day, but one that we’d unknowingly have so few more of. At some point during that day, I had shown her my business cards for the first time, and I must have left one with her before I took off to pick up my car and head into the office.
Back to Christmas Eve, most of my family was at the house trying to make sense of what was happening and doing our best to prepare the house for the holiday. As we worked through the night, the motivation to keep us going was that at least my younger siblings would have something to look forward to the following morning. During our preparations, my father decided to tidy up some of my mother’s things, in particular her drawstring hospital bag. My mother took this bag with her everywhere. It held all sorts of items that she needed throughout her long weekly trips to get treatment. Amidst magazines, snacks, water bottles, and her wallet, sitting at the bottom of the bag was one small item – my business card. I didn’t know she had one, I had completely forgotten ever giving one to her. In its condition, it was barely recognizable. Only weeks after it had even been printed, it was so bent and worn down from her repeated showings to the nurses and doctors at the hospital. Something so small and seemingly insignificant had meant so much to her and became an object of pride. My dad told me she was always looking for an excuse to bring it out and talk to the people in the hospital about me. I tried to keep a brave face for everyone, but seeing this card put me over the edge then. It still does as I am writing this. I kept that card, as wrinkled and worn as it is, it means more to me than any freshly printed card could.
Why am I sharing this? Is there some greater meaning to this story? Maybe. You could say that the lesson here is to cherish what you have before its gone. Or that you never know all the ways in which you can affect the people in your life. Or in a professional light, you should recognize that there are some people that are just as invested in your career and well-being as you are.
While I work on a therapy for leukemia, cancer is more than my job, it’s more than a problem to solve. Cancer is an empty chair at the dinner table, it’s a presence lost during the holidays, it’s a birthday text you won’t receive, and a phone number that’ll keep ringing. I am sharing this for all those that have lost someone to breast cancer. For all the memories that can no longer be made, treasure the ones that were.