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My mom died 14 years ago from breast cancer that metastasized to her lungs.
She believed in her community, and she worked tirelessly to make it better. Everything she did was centered around advocacy for people who believed they did not have a voice. And her work was special because it was twofold. She spoke boldly for people while simultaneously showing them how to speak up for themselves.
The third time my mom was diagnosed, in 2001, the cancer tried to take her voice. Her strong, always-proper tone was replaced by barely more than a whisper. Even though her physical voice was almost inaudible, this was the moment her words rang loudest. They were the most clear, the most insistent and the most vibrant of my memory of her.
We were told that patients experiencing cancer for the third time did not have great odds for survival. We were told to prepare. But my mom had a brand new grandchild, a scared daughter and a lot of work to do. There was a legacy to consider, and failure was not an option. So, she lived three years after the diagnosis.
My mom found new ways to use her voice. She started emailing in the way moms do — by sending a lot of forwards, usually with a note saying, “Make sure you read this” or “This is why it’s so important to vote.” Eventually, she started just telling me about her day, what was happening in town or something she wanted to do. I enjoyed those emails, especially since she always ended them with “Hit me back.” Because she thought she was cool.
When I was reflecting on her life last week, one of my dear friends said that our moms, “tarried, triumphed, failed, but got back up and never let it beat them. We are very much them.” I sure hope so.
Many of my peers are now starting to bemoan the idea of looking or sounding like their mothers. My mother was beautiful, and the best compliment a person can give me is to say that I look like her. I don’t know if I sound like her just yet, but I’m working on it.
I know she would be thankful to women like Ruby Deans and Veronica Morgan, who courageously told their stories during a program my mom organized to raise awareness and money for resources to eradicate breast cancer and continue to tell their stories 15 years later. She would be cheering on Sandra Barnes and Lisa Skinner, who are such strong advocates for monthly self-exams, regular checkups and yearly mammograms.
If my mom were still here, she would encourage you to do everything in your power to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. She would push you to stand up for injustice by actually being a part of the solution instead of just talking about the problem. She would demand that you vote, register you on the spot if you hadn’t done so and drive you to the polls on Election Day.
On my best days, I speak truth to power and look good doing it, like my mom taught me. Mom, I promise to use my voice until it completely gives out.