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‘The Big C.’

No one wants to discuss it. It’s whispered and not talked about. Mother Nature can be a real bitch when she decides to eat your body from the inside out. I think the worst part isn’t what it did to me, but what it did to my family.

My oldest, Greg, I never really worried about. He was always the trailblazer and looked out for his little brother, David. When I told him about my illness, I could see the sadness in his eyes, but he had bigger things to worry about, like a new family.

David has always been my sensitive one, my people-pleaser with a ready smile. He gets that from his dad. He’s also hard-headed, which he gets from me in spades. My heart almost broke when I saw how the news of my cancer affected him. I knew he wanted to fix things; that’s just like a Dawson man. I honestly think that if it weren’t for him, I would never have gotten the treatment I needed.

For me personally, the news that I had cancer was almost expected. I hadn’t felt right for some time, but hadn’t been checked because of my own stubbornness. I just couldn’t imagine it could be more than I was just worn out. That, and we’d gotten ourselves in a bind with our health insurance. Rob’s work had decided to cut back hours, making him part-time, and wouldn’t provide health insurance to its part-time employees. We were caught in a perfect storm: my husband’s hours had been cut; I wasn’t feeling well; it affected my sales in real estate; and we now had to buy our own insurance.

It was because money was tight that David decided to get a part-time job. Unlike most teens, he didn’t go down to the local grocery store to be a stock boy or some other job they get. An opportunity had opened up for him and he decided to try modeling. Thank God he did, because he has essentially carried our family financially through the worst of it. It allowed my rock, Rob, to be at my side during my darkest hours.

We never shared with the boys how serious things got. At one point they gave me about a ten percent chance of making it. I watched people with the same type of cancer I had not make it. It’s a sad how God decides who He’s going to take and who He allows to survive this terrible disease.

My experience with ‘The Big C’ made me realize that other families go through the same things mine had gone through. I decided to turn my experience into something positive and help others. I founded a charity to help families of cancer patients. I saw it all, up close and personal, when a young woman had to go through her treatment alone because her family couldn’t afford to travel to be with her except for weekends. Even then, they couldn’t make every one.

What I could do was to help families who didn’t know what to say to their loved ones. We aren’t really given a road map on how to deal with a family member who’s this sick. My charity was founded not to find a cure, but to support those around the victims of this disease.

I met Rob during my junior year at State. He was in the AGR fraternity and I was a Chi Omega. My sorority sisters were all excited about this womanizing farmer whose daddy was some big wheel in politics. I had zero interest in meeting a farm boy and almost missed our mixer to study. Karen, my best friend from high school, dragged me to the party.

I adopted a wallflower stance and just watched a bunch of awkward farm boys as they talked to my sorority sisters. Then this good-looking guy walked in like he owned the place. I watched as he went around the room and met everyone. He had a ready smile and quick wit. This had to be the guy everyone was gossiping about. I wasn’t about to be so easily swayed, or so I thought.

He saved me ’til last in his circuit of the room.

“Why so glum?” he asked.

I gave him a look that froze him, and then he smiled. What was up with this guy? I’d never had anyone smile when they received that look. Like I said before, I have a stubborn streak, but Rob took it as a challenge. I kept having visions of him dragging me off to a farm and keeping me barefoot and pregnant. That was not happening.

At the time, I was dating Steve Herndon as an on-again/off-again type of thing. He and I had dated in high school, but I thought he was a little bit of a jerk. At the end of my junior year, he got a baseball contract and was off to the minor leagues as a pitching prospect. Somehow, Rob heard and tracked me down when I went home for the summer. In a moment of weakness, I accepted his offer of a date. As they say, the rest was history.

Rob received his degree in Recreation, Sport and Tourism with a concentration in Recreation Management, and found a job in my hometown. I graduated with a degree in Business Administration and went to work for a local bank. We moved into a small, crappy apartment. Shortly thereafter we got married, and seven months later, I had Greg. It was funny how our boys never put together that Greg was born ‘early’ but still weighed a healthy eight pounds. Now he was the one that had a baby ‘early.’

My husband and his brother, John, were quite the pair growing up, according to their dad. Rob was the more serious one and tended to get things done. The women loved John.

John and my oldest have a lot in common. Greg almost caused me to go gray with his escapades in high school. Like John, even after he broke up with a girl they were best friends. He was just the kind of guy that didn’t ever have any enemies.

Greg was also good to his younger brother, David. David looked up to his older brother. He wasn’t quite as social as Greg, but he had two dorky friends, Alan and Jeff. And then there was Tami.

When David brought her home, I was amused he’d brought home a female friend instead of a guy. At that age, Greg had been like most young boys and thought girls were yucky. David was a different kid. It was almost as if he had blinders on. He never looked at someone as a label, but as a person. Looking back, it shouldn’t have surprised me that he would decide that a girl would be his best friend.

I met with Tami’s mom to make sure she was okay with my son claiming her. She was happy for it. Tami’s mom had moved them here for a promotion and her daughter needed someone to be her friend. It wasn’t easy being the new kid when you moved in during the school year.

Tami decided that David needed someone to guide him through life and that she was the one to do it. I’m not sure my son knew what was going on, but he was easygoing and her bossing him around never seemed to faze him. Over time, Tami became the daughter I never had.

While Greg took after his uncle, David didn’t really seem to take after any one of us. Not that he didn’t show the tenacity or openness of his father; he had both in spades. But he also seemed to have something that made people pay attention to him. In that way, he reminded me more of his grandfather than anyone else.

More recently, he’s shown a fondness for women that reminds me of his uncle. I hate to say it, but he has also shown he can be hardheaded. I think he picked up traits from all of us.

I know there are times when he and I clash. The worst was last summer when he broke into one of my real estate listings and threw a party. A young girl almost died. I was so mad at him that I made Rob send him to John’s for the summer. After he was gone I missed him terribly, but Rob told me that John was working with him and helping him become a man.

When he came back home he was a different boy. He’d had a growth spurt, and John had worked him until his body was hard as nails. My slightly chubby nerd was gone. Then John talked him into playing football. Neither Rob nor I thought it would be anything more than a hobby for him, but he’d come back from the farm changed in more ways than just physically. He had a new focus, and even life goals. Both Rob and I had to laugh when one of his goals was a healthy sex life. We thought John might have been a bad influence on him.

That was not the case, though. With his changes, David seemed to blossom. He took school more seriously, and with his new body, he actually made varsity on the football team. He seems to be really good at it, if the ravings of people I know are true.

My oldest son had his own set of problems. He’d managed to fulfill the prophecy of more than one irate mother and gotten his girlfriend pregnant. Angie’s parents had disowned her when they found out. Greg did the right thing and invited her into the family. I wasn’t ready to be a grandmother, but little Kyle was a perfect little boy.

Rob and I talked to them about the timing of the wedding, and they’d agreed to wait until they were out of high school. We’re looking forward to the event. John has agreed to have it on the farm.

If I know Rob’s mother, she’ll have every big shot in the state attending the wedding. Davey Dawson, David and Greg’s paternal grandfather, had been someone people looked to in state politics for years.

Davey’s death had been hard on everyone. You never expect someone as young as he was to leave us, and I know it left a big hole in her life. I knew Rob’s mother saw David as the continuation of the Dawson political dynasty.

I think we all knew it wasn’t going to be Greg, and Rob and John both didn’t want any part of it. I don’t think David has any idea of what his grandma has planned for him. All I know is it’ll be his choice whether he does it or not. I will see to that.

I know that no one wants to hear about your cancer, but it did do one thing for me: it made me reevaluate my life. You quickly realize what’s important to you and what is just bullshit. The illness and the prospect of dying changes you. Family and true friends become very important.

My youngest also faced his own demise, and I faced my worst nightmare, when he was trapped after the avalanche in Colorado. One of the absolute worst things a mother can face is the thought of one of her children passing before she does.

For me both things were intertwined. I felt so completely helpless as they searched for my son. I faced my own mortality. When they finally found David, Rob went to him and he tried to be chipper about it, but I knew: my son had almost died.

When I was finally able to see him, I could tell he’d changed. He seemed more serious, and I cried when I felt he’d had to start growing up too fast. The one thing I admire about him is that he seems to be bouncing back. I don’t think he will ever be a normal teen, but for David that’s okay. What I do know is that family will always be there for him, just as it was for me.

I watch my boys, and they’re growing up so fast. Greg will be off to college and David will be a sophomore next year. I know that you do your best to prepare them for what’s to come, but at some point, you have to let them go. Are you ever ready? I don’t know. I just know that we’ll always be family, and that will be enough to get us through anything.