If there is one thing that my mother always stressed to me growing up, it was the importance of education. It is fitting, then, that the two things that I've learned that have most shaped who I am as an adult, I learned from watching my mom.
The first thing that I learned from my mom was how to be tough. Mom doesn't get enough credit for it, but she's one tough lady. She's faced a lot in her life. She was the second oldest of seven in a family that didn't have a lot of money. After graduating from SUNY Potsdam with a four year degree in English, Mom embarked on a winding career path that would ultimately include stints as a bank teller, computer programmer, FTZ administrator and finally, self-employed consultant. At each step in her journey, Mom took advantage of every opportunity that was presented to her, always fighting for the next rung on the ladder of life. She has started her own company not once, but twice. When she felt that her original business partners weren't acting in good faith, she stood up to them even when they brought a lawsuit against her. Her current company, FTZ Consulting, has flourished as a result of her hard work and commitment to her clients. You don't get to be as successful as my mom without being tough and standing up for yourself when the situation calls for it.
Mom and I at Jen's wedding in 2005
Mom isn't just tough when it comes to her business. Her strong convictions and determination are quintessential to her character outside of the office as well. Nothing illustrates this better than how my Mom has conducted herself since first learning that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer in early 2007. Over the course of the next 16 months, Mom battled through chemotherapy, surgery and radiation with a mental resiliency that is to be admired. That July, we thought that her surgery was to be the end of her treatments. When we learned that she would have to undergo almost another full year of chemo and radiation, Mom simply held her chin up high and did what had to be done. Throughout her treatments, Mom was adamant that her "regular life" would not change. She continued to work, often times alternating 20 minutes of work with 10 minutes of rest in her bed just to get through the day. She also kept up her outside commitments, especially as a board member for the Center for the Arts in our hometown of Homer, New York. Knowing what she dealt with over all those months, I am in awe of her strength. She may not admit it, but Mom's seriously tough. Anyone that watched her over those endless months of treatments can attest to that.
The other thing that my mom has taught me is to get involved, especially with the causes that you really care about. When I was younger, I was involved in everything. I'm not kidding. Girl scouts, softball, gymnastics, dance classes, school plays, marching band, choir... you name it, I was probably in it. And if I wasn't, my brother was. My parents both felt that it was better to do things than to sit at home and I loved every minute of my busy life. Alongside us at every turn were my parents. I watched my mom volunteer for one thing after another, often in support of my interests and activities. She coached my softball team, sorted marching band uniforms and served on various committees in our school district. She worked at countless bake sales and concession stands during my gymnastics meets and marching band shows and she sewed too many dance costumes to count. She is the only person I know that suffered a broken foot from over-enthusiastically pulling out our floor mat before a color guard competition. Back then, most of Mom's volunteer activities revolved around what my brother and I were doing. Nowadays, Mom's volunteer work is more focused on her own interests; namely, her work on the Board of Directors for the newly created Center for the Arts. I can't remember a time when my mom hasn't been involved in some form of volunteer work, something that has had a huge impact on how I live my life today.
When my mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew I needed to do something. I didn't know what, but I knew I couldn't just sit back and watch Mom fight this huge fight without doing something myself. My childhood friend Mel, who had walked in the Boston 3 Day in 2006 had the answer almost instantly. She called me up and without even asking me said "That's it, I'm coming down there to Atlanta and we're walking in the 3 Day together. It will change your life and you need to do it." And I knew as soon as she said it that it was the right answer. As I said before, volunteer work is something inherent to who I am as a result of watching my mom over the years. To be able to advocate on behalf of cancer patients and the biomedical research community of which I am a part seemed like the perfect fit; a very real way for me to help not just my mom but countless men and women that would face cancer in the future as well. Over the next few months, I followed Mom's lead and learned a bit about just how tough I am. I pushed through endless training walks by myself and raised over $8000 in that first year. Along the way, I discovered my passion for scientific advocacy on behalf of scientists and patients everywhere, especially those undergoing treatment for cancer. Conquering a challenge that requires mental and physical toughness while discovering a passion for volunteer work and philanthropy? That first 3 Day walk truly proved to me that I am my mother's daughter.
Mom and I at Opening Ceremonies for the 2007 Atlanta 3 Day
This year, my mom has once again had to dig deep into her reserves of toughness. In January, we learned that my mom's cancer had returned after less than two years in remission. Pain in Mom's hip led to a series of diagnostic scans and ultimately a biopsy that revealed cancerous lesions on her liver. Chemotherapy started up again almost immediately. The road since then has been up and down. Throughout it all, Mom has remained strong in the face of uncertainty. She is an inspiration for me about how one should respond to a truly difficult challenge. When I am struggling to make it through that 57th mile, it will be thoughts of my mom's strength in the face of something so much more daunting that will get me through. This year, I am walking to honor the memory of Marcia, our team angel. But it will be the lessons that I have learned from my mom that will truly carry me through those long 60 miles.
I love you Mom! Thank you for everything you have done for me and for everything you have taught me, whether you were aware of it or not. It has truly helped me to become the person that I am today!
Mom and I at the 2008 Atlanta 3 Day
If you would like to support me in honoring my Mom this year, I encourage you to donate to the Susan G. Komen 3 Day for the Cure in my name by visiting my personal fundraising page here.
(PS - I would be remiss if I didn't mention that my propensity towards volunteerism and philanthropy has also been strongly inspired by my Dad. But his story is for another day!)