There is an old tree outside my house which serves as a starting and finishing point when I go running outside. I rarely gave much thought to the tree, although I appreciated its simple beauty and shade. Recently that changed. Starting last year, branches started to fall from the tree. After a while it became clear that part of the tree was dead. As more branches fell, we realized that we would have to cut off many of the branches if we would save the tree. Early this week, the deed was done. When I first saw the tree, I felt sad, although I was unsure why. Then it hit me. It made me think of my mom.
Growing up, I always had cancer on my brain. Not in a pathological sort of way, to the point of being a phobia, but certainly more than the average person. How many teenagers come home from school with a bump on their head and ask their mother to take them to the emergency room, convinced that they have cancer? (Of course, my mom, being who she was, was willing to take me there despite the unlikelihood of my fear). I suppose it was inevitable that I would have somewhat of an obsession with cancer. After all, it claimed my maternal grandmother’s life and struck my mother as well. On top of that, my father was a two pack-a-day smoker. My mother always warned him that he was going to get cancer. (There is some level of irony in the fact that when he died, he had many ailments and illnesses, but his lungs were fine).
As the teacher that she was, my mother taught me more than to be afraid of cancer, a word that she was hesitant to say. She taught me that cancer could temporarily slow you down, be a real pain in the tuches and cause a lot of pain, but it did not have to stop you, even as we knew that ultimately it would do just that. The first day after she got home from a double mastectomy, she took me and my sister to the movies, just to show us she was still the same mom we knew before. She might have had to visit the doctor more than the average person, but that didn’t stop from travelling all over the world and doing innumerable kindnesses for friends, family and complete strangers. Just last week, I ran into one of the guards from the school where she used to teach, who told me that as my entered the building each day, she would ask him if he needed anything. She had cancer, it did not have her.
The tree looks a bit strange, less than complete. Still it stands tall and, at least to mind, proud and unbent. As I aim to get back to running, (an activity that my mom always asked me about, even if she didn’t quite get it), I will try to run outside tomorrow for the first time in almost two months. As I stand under that familiar marker, I will recognize its new type of beauty and remember to keep pushing forward despite obstacles that might stand in the way.
PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer: