Several years ago, as I was settling in for a Friday family movie night with my husband and kiddos—clad in weekend wear, make-up off, contacts out, glasses on—the phone rang. My mom’s voice rang out through the receiver, “Feel like a road trip?” she asked.
“Um . . . no,” I answered. “I’m resting on the sofa, I have my glasses on. We’re watching a movie. It’s 8 p.m., Mom.”
“Come on, let’s go surprise my sis,” Mom pleaded. “It has been a rough couple of years; it’s time for some fun.” I begged her to let it go for the night, and schedule something else some day down the life road.
Her sister, my Aunt Val, had been battling ovarian cancer, the same horrid disease that my mom had battled a couple of years before. The same horrid disease that had killed their mother when they were little girls. The same disease I face as a possibility after inheriting the same BRCA1 gene mutation that has run rampant in the women in my mom’s family.
Aunt Val was on a break from treatment, and feeling better physically and emotionally. Mom had spoken to her earlier in the day, and learned she was planning to go out to see her favorite local band play at a venue in Moscow, Idaho.
The pleading continued until I agreed to go. I begrudgingly peeled myself off of the sofa, freshened up my face, and pulled on some party pants to get into the spirit of things. Twenty minutes later, Mom was rapping at my door, breezing in to kiss her grandkids, and then rushing me out to her car. The wear and tear of a hard life—losing her mom so young, growing up socioeconomically disadvantaged, enduring two difficult marriages ad the resulting divorces, conquering disease, tragically losing my brother a few years earlier—had often placed her, quite uncomfortably, in the passenger seat of her life. As she hopped in the driver seat that night, I knew we were embarking on a special adventure.
The banter was lively as I perked up and Mom drove the dark gravel back roads; roads, I learned, left littered with stories of her rambunctious teenage years and early adulthood adventures. She shared stories that made me gasp, repeatedly. The image of Mom in my mind transformed into the perfect mix of human loveliness and naughtiness. She had certainly lived, right alongside her sister and their friends—all women to celebrate, appreciate and love.
As we entered the venue to surprise my aunt, a mutual friend recognized Mom and shared that Aunt Val had run out of energy and had gone home. A short chat with the owner of the venue along with the band, and soon enough someone was putting a call into my aunt, hoping to tempt her back to the venue with an autographed piece of band memorabilia.
Aunt Val’s eyes looked tired as she walked back into the venue, her focus on the floor. When she looked up, her eyes catching ours, she blushed with a refreshed energy. The three of us squealed as we wrapped our arms around one another. We hugged and danced and laughed while toasting to life, to the now, to being brave, strong, fierce women, to facing disease eyes wide open and conquering it. We encouraged the band to play on, long after their set list had expired. I’m sure they played a record number of encores that night. And although our bodies began to wilt, we carried on into the wee hours of the morning.
It wasn’t long after that spontaneous rendezvous we received news that Aunt Val’s cancer had stepped back into high gear. The diagnosis of a new blood disorder prevented a potentially life saving surgery. She was delivered the “get your affairs in order” blow soon after. With three to six months of life left, according to doctors, the wicked cancer swept in and took her away in just. three. weeks. And just like that, she was gone. I was heartbroken—still am—but I have held on to the nugget of that night of dancing and merriment . . . to the evening I had tried to get out of, the one I had nearly put off for another day.
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