“When I was driving to work, I suddenly felt this terrible sharp pain in my breast.” Thus my cousin Cathy told me how she knew something was wrong. The pain in her breast was diagnosed as inflamatory breast cancer.
Ten years younger than I, Cathy was only in her mid thirties. A full-faced, smiling young woman, she was an artist and had developed a career designing needlework. She was not only developing a following, she had several patents and had won awards for her designs.
I had called Cathy because her mother, knowing I had also recently been treated for breast cancer, asked me if I would talk to her. Thus I became engaged long-distance (she lived far from me) with her in her struggle. I was the far luckier person. Cathy’s kind of cancer is aggressive and very hard to treat successfully. More than 20 years later, I’m still going strong.
Her treatment was harsh, including a bone marrow transplant, but she died within two years of her diagnosis. She went, when she had to, from her home in the town where she worked to her family home, but she would go back to resume her life when she felt strong enough. She was always creating a cross-stitch project for someone during this time.
I think of Cathy often because we have displayed some of her paintings in our house. She was talented; we are both sad and enriched when we look at her work. I am also reminded of her mother, my Aunt Gloria. The youngest of three, Cathy’s mother lost her own mother at the age of 4. Her father quickly remarried to a smiling, warm woman whom we called Mama Clo. My aunt and she got along fine; my aunt grew into a sturdy, matter-of-fact woman with a hearty laugh and a wry sense of humor. She married and had two children, Cathy and a younger brother. When they were about the age of Aunt Glora when her own mother died, her husband died of lung cancer. She married again to the local postmaster, outliving him after a long marriage. They were together with her when Cathy died, and together they cleared out her apartment and folded down her life.
The last time I saw Aunt Gloria, she was living alone in the house she had lived in with her late husband. Her son had built a house next door. She welcomed us with pleasure and we spent lunch together reminiscing, catching up, remembering the family members we had lost. When we asked if she had any of Cathy’s work, she gave us some of Cathy’s paintings.