Editor’s Note: This is a part of a collection of stories SDNN will publish throughout the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. Join us as we recognize Women’s History Month by sending in your stories too and checking SDNN every day for stories from other women in our region. Happy Women’s History Month!
I got the call a few days ago. I softened my voice with compassion while the sound of her tears traversed the airways. More than 1,800 miles away, she couldn’t tell me in person that her mom has ovarian cancer, again.
After the sobs slowed and the call ended, I did what I often do to ground myself. I sat in my garden along the canyon’s edge. And I did what I seldom do. I smoked a clove.
Reflecting, feeling and strategizing, I pondered the weight of the news and my role in it. Then I bought potting soil, gathered my pots and started planting. I had collected geranium clippings, in remembrance of my own mother, when I got the news. My mother died when struck by a drunk driver on her way to buy flowers for her first home.
How odd that I started my SDNN articles for National Women’s History Month with a reference to Mindy, my friend who is a history professor. How unforeseen to close this month with news of her mother’s struggle. Both Mindy and her mom, Elayne, were there for me when both my parents died. The threat of another untimely struggle for life seems almost unbearable, yet Elayne is too strong to view it that way.
She’s petite in height, robust in build, yet physically active with a mind that gladly keeps up with her demanding life. Always willing to talk, always happy to work, especially happy to entertain, Elayne has worked from home as an independent saleswoman in the beauty industry for as long as I can remember. She continues to toil when most women would have retired. I used to think if she could bottle her own feminine beauty, she’d never have to work again. But, she loves to be busy.
My own mom was fair, feminine, petite and fit. She was still bright blond when she passed away. She worked with a German ethic that put many to shame, and although she didn’t like to share much and didn’t care for company, she successfully guided others in their quest for progress with her business in drug rehab counseling. I think she helped others because it was easier than helping her family or herself.
Since I was a teen, Elayne has done what my mother couldn’t. She’s remained true to her strengths, and gave the best gift a less-than-perfect mother could – she’s made amends to her son and daughter for the things she did wrong as a parent. Now successful and well adjusted, her children have recovered from their broken family to create solid lives for themselves. They hold no resentment of the past, because their mother opened-up and has been real about it. They’ve even attended therapy as a family.
Elayne took the chance of being a friend to her grown children. My mother was never a friend to me. She didn’t know how to be a mom, much less a support. Years after she died, I learned from a sibling that she suspected I was being molested. I had all the classic symptoms, she observed, I had debilitating migraines, I was quiet, withdrawn and pensive. But, she did nothing to help me and she never asked if I was being abused.
Conversely, Mindy’s mom took me into her fold. My mom wouldn’t allow friends to come over. Mindy’s mom had an open-door policy with a hidden key she told me I could use. I adopted her policy and today, most of my friends have keys to my place. I believe as Elayne does that any friend, at any time is welcome to show up, make themselves at home, help themselves to the kitchen and stay as long as possible.
Also unlike my mother, Elayne has always been interested in what I’m doing. She’s always encouraged me to get ahead. She taught me the difference between being strong and being spineless. I remember several quotes she posted on her kitchen cabinets; one from a Conservative was a real-life statement that read, “I like my women the way I like my tea, weak and sweet.” She would laugh and explain that a true woman’s strength is marked by how she handles the ‘hot water’ of life.
The best I got from both our mothers is that they were the first Democrats I’d ever known. Both had married Republicans, and it seemed to make them more intent on us girls also becoming Democrats. My mother was a German citizen, unable to vote, but educated on the issues and a believer in governmental intervention in uplifting the individual. Elayne remains true to her Southern Democratic ways complete with her hospitable, neighborly tendencies and progressive ideals for independent women who can raise families and run businesses. She’d be quite happy to have women run the country.
It’s interesting to me that a prominent Democrat, Rep. Susan Davis, is largely responsible for requiring that health care insurance policies allow direct access to obstetrical and gynecological physician services without referrals, including tests for ovarian cancer. Although ovarian cancer screenings are not always conclusive, some of us believe any test is better than no test. We all know early detection saves lives. Because of Davis, many more women have the ovarian cancer screening option.
I suspect Elayne will probably defy the odds, just as she did with her first rounds of chemotherapy four years ago. She starts again tomorrow, and she’s announced her confidence in winning another long remission.
With time bought or time stolen, it’s painful to witness someone so in love with life have to work so hard to keep the romance going. It’s especially mind boggling to comprehend that a woman who has given so much, to so many, has to fight so hard to keep on giving. Her perseverance is impressive, and I’m grateful for the lesson.
Tryce Czyczynska is the co-founder of 51%: A Women’s Place Is In Politics and host of “Coffee & Conversation with Cool Women.” She is an SDNN contributor. Follow her on Twitter.