Just like on The Flintstones, when we married men get together, we often complain and groan about the mother-in-law, if for nothing else, than it's a classic and never-ending source of comedy. As mother-in-laws go, I did well. Mine loves sports, can dig into a rack of baby back ribs like nobody's business, and plays a mean game of racquetball. The only thing that scares me about Sandy Shuster is her strange fascination with procedural crime shows and murder mystery novels, which leaves me to suspect she is somehow secretly plotting my death. CSI obsession aside, my mother-in-law, is very kind and unassuming most of the time-- unless you forget to make her "cuppa tea" or dare interrupt her during an Eagles game, then she turns into Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction and strikes down upon thee with "great vengeance and furious anger."
Most relationships with in-laws, no matter how great, probably wouldn't exist if not for marriage, and therefore, love and respect build over time (if at all). I realized I loved my mother-in-law, when she was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer. I should have felt love sooner-- but you don't know how much you love something or someone until you're faced with the prospect of losing it.
She found out something was wrong because she volunteered at her doctor's for a medical study being conducting on patients with acid reflux. After initial blood tests, standard for those volunteering for the study, they found out that she was near renal failure--a reaction to a drug she was taking for her reflux. Additional tests found something that looked like cancer, but the cancer was elusive and the test results inconclusive-- and every doctor knew something was wrong, but couldn't locate the problem. There was a period of time when Sandy was suspected to have colon cancer, bladder cancer, ovarian cancer and rectal cancer.
My wife, who was pregnant with our second child at the time, went into war mode. She was up before dawn on the West Coast, researching and talking to East Coast physicians before my daughter and I woke. She and my mother-in-law shared a fierce determination that brought them together.
My wife found a team at the University of Pennsylvania Abramson Cancer Center who saved her mother's life. Doctors Najjia Mammoud and Christina Chu conducted a successful surgery, identified the problem and outlined a rigorous treatment for her. There was a wonderful, dedicated woman at the hospital, Sandy Blackburn, who guided my wife and her mom through the system, which can often times be half the battle.
The surgeries were awful but the chemo was rougher. It's heart wrenching to watch someone nearly kill themselves just for a chance to live. Sandy is by nature an energetic, athletic person-- a woman who looks ten-fifteen years younger, than she is. We flew back for the holidays, to find a skeleton, the chemo brought her down to about 80 pounds, maybe less-- she lost most of her hair and wrestled with an awkward wig-- when my daughter went to hug her-- she fell. It was more heart-wrenching to see a human being try to move forward, paralyzed by a war raging inside her body. The LIVESTRONG bracelet on her wrist fell off because her wrists had grown too tiny. My father-in-law was hiding car keys for fear Sandy might attempt to drive-- as she was defiant all the way.
Having lost many friends and family members to the disease, I began to gently prepare my wife for the worst. She wasn't having it. There was a new baby coming in a few months, and there was no question she would meet him. Defiance runs in the family.
I watched doctors bring my mother-in-law back from the brink of death's door. It's been a slow recovery. Every visit showed signs of progress. Four years later, there are still remnants of the cancer-- like severe numbness in her hands and feet. But my mother-in-law is back, munching on ribs and cheering for the Eagles. The cancer lingers like the boogeyman in the background, with every three month check-up. But knock wood, she remains cancer free.
For as defiant as mother-in-law is, I know she is also very lucky. 1500 Americans die every day from this awful disease. My mother-in-law's experience, and later having the chance to work with the courageous and determined women of Stand Up To Cancer and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, has made me a believer in science and medicine. I have seen scientists from different disciplines collaborating together, and there is a sense the tide may be turning and a cure now seems possible for this generation. Twelve million other American cancer survivors like my mother-in-law are living proof progress is being made.
On this Mother's Day, let us remember all those moms we've lost and all those in the fight. One out of every three women is affected by cancer. Today we stand up in memory of all those moms we've lost, and all those moms who are in the fight against this vicious disease. Launch a star in memory of someone you love here.
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