The summer before my mother, Lynne, was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Colon Cancer, she seemed perfectly happy and healthy. She read a plethora of books while sunbathing (one of her most cherished summertime activities), went on a romantic and fun filled vacation in Charleston, SC with my father, and helped my sister get situated in her new home in Kansas. Everything seemed right in the world in both her own life and her family’s.
When she went in for her annual medical check-up before her school year started (she is a grade school teacher), the doctor was concerned that she was anemic and referred her to a GI specialist. Medical tests unfortunately revealed that she had internal bleeding due to a large tumor in her ascending colon that was on the verge of obstruction. The news caught my entire family off guard, because my mother had a completely normal colonoscopy less than five years before this harrowing discovery.
On September 29, 2010, my mother had a foot of her ascending colon removed at U Penn’s Pennsylvania Hospital. Although the surgery was a complete success, the surgeon told my family the news that we never wanted to hear: my mother’s cancer had metastasized to her liver. Although the surgeon didn’t sugarcoat her diagnosis, I foolishly googled “Metastatic Colon Cancer” later that week. (**Please note: I do not recommend EVER doing this, unless you sadistically want to give yourself a panic attack.**) I saw the frighteningly low mortality statistics and the floodgates behind my eyes burst open for the first time. My mother and I have always been so close and the news was truly devastating beyond comprehension. Picturing my mother not in my future was such a lonely and depressing feeling and I feared what the next year would bring.
I am happy to report my mother was declared cancer free in June 2011! Her latest CT scan from January 2013 showed that she is still cancer free — which is a statistical miracle (she’s in the lucky 20% club). Her road to health and recovery, however, was not a walk in the park. My mother endured six rounds of chemo, a liver resection, and another six rounds of chemo. The strength and determination that she manifested during her battle with cancer was truly admirable. She went to work and the gym during her treatments and never let her sickness slow her down.
My mother wrote a blog practically every day on Care Pages to let everyone know how she was doing. She even forced herself to write on the days when she was getting her chemo treatments, sick and weak from the side effects of chemo, or in the emergency room due to dehydration. Her daily therapeutic blogging ritual inspired so many of her family members, friends, and acquaintances. It was amazing to see the amount of people that religiously read her blog and wrote encouraging letters to her every day. Their support and love served as a lifeline that helped keep her spirits high.
My mother also always managed to make her chemo treatments fun. She would joke and have animated conversations with me while she sat for hours hooked up to an IV. She also always made sure to have one last good meal before the chemo side effects set in. I remember her defiantly walking up to a mile in the freezing cold — even when she had neuropathy in both of her feet — to explore Philadelphia’s eclectic food scene and eat at her favorite restaurants.
The way that I coped with my mother’s illness was through art (and a lot of yoga). Before she started her chemo treatments, I decided that I wanted to make her something special to wear. I created a beautiful pair of earrings, a bracelet, and a necklace with semi-precious gemstone beads that I thought would have a soothing, nurturing, and positive effect on her. I luckily had just enough beads left over to make my sister and me a matching bracelet. Since all three of us were living in different areas, we promised to wear our jewelry whenever my mother had to endure her chemo treatments, recover from surgery, and didn’t feel well. The jewelry became such a hit that my aunt and grandmother also commissioned me to make a similar jewelry set in honor of my mother. I can truly attest that the jewelry I made became a talisman that helped us harness hope and stay united despite the distance that sometimes held us apart.
Several months after the original jewelry gift set for my mother, sister, and me was created, I learned that the University of the Arts’ Corzo Center for the Creative Economy was awarding artistic grants to seniors and alumni that were aspiring to be entrepreneurs. I decided to submit a grant proposal and business plan that was based off of my original jewelry concept. My conceptual jewelry design scheme, paired with a heartfelt story and philanthropic aspirations, received high marks during several rounds of judging and I was awarded the grant.
I officially launched my jewelry business, Bonded Forever, in the Fall of 2012 in stores in Philadelphia and online at www.bondedforeverjewelry.com. My father, who was an amazing and dedicated caretaker to my mother during her bout with cancer, helped me create Bonded Forever’s name, logo, and overall brand identity. We are currently in the process of prototyping an affordable and eco-friendly new line of jewelry as we speak…so stay tuned! Even though my mother is no longer sick, we all still wear our original jewelry for good luck. I hope that my jewelry gives support, love, and strength to people that are effected by cancer and helps raise a lot of money for cancer research and patient care.
I am so excited to be participating in Philadelphia’s Get Your Rear in Gear walk/run this year. I am thrilled that the money raised for the event will be benefiting the local community where my mother received her treatment. I hope that everyone will be able to have the same type of stellar medical care that she did.
I decided to sign up for the Get Your Rear in Gear 10k, because I wanted to challenge myself. I have been documenting my training via Instagram, Twitter, and my blog to keep myself motivated and to motivate others. I have three fun fitness oriented charity events scheduled during the month of March to raise money for Get Your Rear in Gear and spread awareness. If you are in the Philadelphia and Princeton area and would like to attend a yoga or Zumba event, I encourage you to view my event pagefor more information.
My mother is the epitome of what it means to be a cancer warrior. I hope that her positive attitude, willpower, and bravery inspires you to have faith and encourages you to “Get Your Rear in Gear.” Whenever my feet and muscles get sore from fatigue during a long run, I think of her and it propels me forward towards the finish line.
I hope to see some of you at the Philadelphia Get Your Rear in Gear event!
Bonded Forever GYRIG Team Page: http://events.getyourrearingear.com/goto/bondedforever
My Personal GYRIG Page: http://events.getyourrearingear.com/goto/bf-cassandrahoo