In October of 2003 I was asked to write a poem for a Breast Cancer Awareness Candlelight Vigil held near my hometown in mid-Missouri. I was honored–doubly so because Margaret, a breast cancer survivor for over 30 years, would be reading my words. I wrote “Because of this Flare”–a poem of hope for a cure. Later that month, I was asked to read the poem myself at a Breast Cancer Awareness luncheon. The timing was perfect as my mother-in-law was visiting from Massachusetts, and I would have someone there for support–someone who would see me through my fear of public speaking.
Mom attended the luncheon with me and I remember how proud I was to be able to share that day with her. We sat at the head table with the director of our local American Cancer Society office and his daughter. Mom was the never-met-a-stranger type and would strike up a conversation with anyone. I, on the other hand, was painfully shy. Yet, thanks to mom, I had an enjoyable lunch. She stood amongst the crowd releasing pink balloons into the bright autumn sky as I read my poem of hope. Neither of us realized the significance that day would hold in the months ahead.
A week after mom returned home, she came down with a cold that wouldn’t go away. By Thanksgiving Day she was in the hospital and before Christmas we received the news she had stage 4 lung cancer. She died on January 25, 2004.
One of the last times I spoke with my mother-in-law over the phone, she whispered four words that I will never forget. “I am so afraid.” I know how hard those words were for her to speak. Nobody likes to admit their fear. And so it is for my mother-in-law, Gloria Rose Heywood–and the countless others like her–that I wrote this poem:
Let's Stop the Fear
She faced the good times and the bad
With courage she had always had
Until one autumn's chilling breeze
Gripped her voice with dread disease
Stripped her of her cheerful way
Frightened her both night and day
And though she tried with all her might
She could not stop the frigid blight
It stole her precious life away
It stilled her voice with its decay
Yet that small voice that whispered fear
Echoes–echoes–in my ear.