My Mom isn’t the first woman in our family to have battled Breast Cancer.

Her mom, my MawMaw had it in the late 80s-early 90s, I believe.

And, boy, was she a fighter! And a pistol. And a lot of other adorable southern sobriquets.. But, mostly, she was my best friend.

I don’t remember much about her treatment. I remember she wore a bra with prosthetics in the cups. And I remember she wore a wig a lot. She paid her dues, went through chemo and radiation and the cancer was beaten. We thought we had several more years left with her.

My Mom’s father passed away before I was born. He had heart problems and emphysema, so she had a lot of loneliness to fill and couldn’t bear that we were in middle Tennessee and she was in deep south Louisiana. So, she moved up to Tennessee to spend a few months at a time helping to raise us while my father was driving a truck cross country.

That’s how we came to be so close. We shared a bed. She taught me to sew. I helped her quilt.

When we were old enough and required less attention, MawMaw stopped coming to spend those months with us and started rooting herself in a community of her peers back home. She was going to church with her sister when she met a wonderful man and fell in love. They were married and they started visiting us together.

They came up the Christmas I was in the 6th grade. We were studying alliterations, poetry and illustrations in English and I had drawn a turtle wearing a girdle… something my MawMaw never spent a day without. I was so proud of this drawing (that probably went with a poem, but I can’t remember now) and couldn’t wait to show it to her.

We were all so excited to see MawMaw Ruth & PawPaw Mickey. I remember being bummed because I had the flu and missed a lot of school just before winter break. I hoped and prayed that I would be better by the time our honored guests arrived! I wanted to play with them; PawPaw was teaching me how to swing dance and my sewing always needed improvement.

MawMaw woke up one morning not feeling well. She had the same symptoms I had while I had the flu. They were staying in my room and I was camping out in the dining room….I was certain she had caught what was left of my flu bug and I felt awful. I kept apologizing to her over and over. MawMaw had stubbornly sworn off doctors since her cancer, so we tried every home remedy we could think of and nothing was taking the edge off her symptoms. It kept getting worse, so they rearranged their flight accommodations to go back home before New Years.

When my Great Aunt Libby picked her up from the airport, she took one look at her sister and brought her straight to the ER. She was yellow and jaundiced and had lost so much weight while she was with us. She was admitted into the same hospital where I was born and underwent extreme testing.

Her blood work came back showing high levels of Hepatitis C. I’m assuming they were really high because her liver shut down almost immediately. The only thing we could trace it back to was when she had a blood transfusion during chemo. Back then they only checked the blood for AIDS.

They said we didn’t have much time left, so the three of us girls and Mom drove down a few days into the new year and visited as much as Mom could bear to have us in the hospital with her.

I remember trying to give her a hug as she lay in the hospital bed, unable to do anything for herself. Mom was scared that I was going to hurt her because I was on the same side as the IV. MawMaw fussed her for fussing me and let me hug her anyway. “What good is the goddamn IV, anyway?” she asked, sarcastically, through the oxygen in her nose and the rawness in her throat caused by incessant coughing.

I laid there with my head on her chest, making very sure not to put too much pressure on her; I was very aware that she was so thin and frail that the weight of my head could cause her to have trouble breathing. I remember telling her I loved her and she got choked up. Eschete women never show emotion; they’re always strong. She choked on her tears and started another coughing fit. This time, I saw the bright red blood on the tissue that my family discussed in hushed tones while they thought I was sleeping on the living room floor.

She became unresponsive only a couple days later.

I was standing at the foot of her hospital bed when she took her last breath on January 19th, 1998.

We were surrounded by family singing Amazing Grace and she left our world and joined our Heavenly Father.

My dad contracted Hep C a few years ago “from a dirty tattoo needle at a biker rally”. He’s been fighting it off pretty well and has been fortunate enough to have found several different concoctions to ward off the disease; several of which have not been approved by the FDA. I’m not certain what’s made him so lucky, to be honest. He hasn’t exactly lived a good life. I think he still needs time to figure out how not to be so selfish. God needs him to grow up a bit before bringing him Home.
All of us. A long time ago. Mom, MawMaw, me, Misty and Jessica.