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My Mom

It’s Mother’s Day, and that means it’s our special moment to thank our mommas for all the great things they’ve done for us and for all the love. We all tell our moms that they are the best, and they are. They propelled us to be the people we are, they love and support us endlessly, and they are our go-to person in times of both struggle and joy. Before I update you on Chemo Round 50 or talk any more about what’s going on with me, I want to tell you some things about my mom.

My mom has been my hero since the moment I could breathe. Quite literally, while I was in the womb, my mom – 20 years old at the time – had the foresight and wherewithal to read to me. A 20 year old, reading Shakespeare to her unborn baby. She talked to me, too. She told me how much I was loved and how I was going to be so special – she talked to me all the time. She played classical music for me, and probably threw in a little Elton John in there, too. Most of all, she knew in her heart that her baby was going to be a force to be reckoned with, someone amazing, and she treated me like the most precious thing in the world even before I was born. And I think I felt that love and that fierce belief in me even before I emerged from her womb and met this world. I was ready to go right from the get-go because I already had a warrior in my corner.

It’s one thing to have your mom support you, or help you when you need it. But to know that someone so deeply believes in your ability to be anything, to do anything, to accomplish anything…man, that’s a shot in the arm. And I’ve never felt anything but my mom’s absolutely unbending and unyielding belief in me as a human being.

My mom taught me how to read when I was three years old. Can you imagine that? A 23 year old, working full time, busting her butt to make ends meet, frickin’ teaching a three year old vowels and consonants and all the rest. And she taught me well. I became a reading machine. I became a top student later that year when my mom put me in preschool, and I continued to have a leg up in my studies because of her vision and leadership. Understand that nobody in my family had gone to college, and here was my mom, forced to drop out of college on account of me, emphasizing education and supplementing my schooling. We went to the library every single weekend. She’d get one book and I’d get about 20. We’d tear through them on Friday and Saturday nights. Instead of hitting the club and finding a babysitter for me, my mom hung out with me. She’d crank the 80s music, have dance parties with me, and then settle us down to read and read and read. When I asked my mom one of those “why?” questions about the world, she’d take at least 10 minutes to fully explain the answer. She’d play songs for me and explain the lyrics and the meaning of the songs. With subtlety, so I could figure it out myself, she told me to pay attention to how many women CEOs and women doctors and women U.S. Presidents there were. She taught me about money and how to break a 20 with 4 5s or 20 1s. She did all of this before I got to Kindergarten. Before Kindergarten! It’s no frickin’ wonder I’m so damn smart. My mom did that.

As I grew up, my mom continued to be my best friend. I never had a “rebellious” period in my life, because why the hell would I? My mom was the most open, honest, fun, and supportive sidekick I could ever have. I had no intention of straying from the things she had taught me. My mom believed in me and I believed in my mom. She pushed me to get into club volleyball in high school, so I could hone my skills and potentially market myself to colleges as a student-athlete. Where the hell did she even get that brilliant idea? I remember my first try-out for club volleyball, when I slinked into the gym at Harvard-Westlake (a pretty fancy prep school where my club team practiced) and looked back at my mom and said, “Come on, mom! Do I have to?” My mom said some version of “hell yes,” and about 20 minutes later, I was the happiest kid in L.A., mixing it up with my future teammates and knowing that I belonged. My volleyball career, which spanned from the time I was 13 until the end of high school (I decided I wouldn’t walk on for a team in college although best believe your girl had a few schools interested in her), was one of the more rewarding and character-building things I’d done in my young life – tons of practicing, tape watching and strategizing, and balancing my commitment to the sport with my schoolwork. And I wouldn’t have had that career had it not been for my mom, identifying my talent and pushing me to do more with it.

Going to Duke University was always my dream, one that started because my mom followed Duke basketball and had me in front of the TV when they won their National Championships in 1991 and 1992. But going to Duke also posed serious financial challenges for my parents. They made too much money to qualify for financial aid but not enough to make paying tuition comfortable, so we were sort of in a pickle. Tuition, travel, and living expenses were going to make the next four years really tough on my parents if I was, in fact, going to attend my dream school. My dad, quite reasonably, was concerned. We were pretty sure that I could get an academic scholarship at a handful of schools, but not a school that saw as many incredible candidates as Duke did. My mom cleared things up for me quickly. She promised me that if I got into Duke, I’d go there. She said she didn’t care what she had to do to get me there and keep me there. She said she’d sell the house and live in an apartment. She said she’d get another job. She said she’d sell a bunch of her stuff. Lovingly, selflessly, and fiercely loyal to her little cub, my mom was adamant that I would live my dreams. And I did. My mom and dad worked their butts off, supplementing their income with some nice overtime cash, and they made it work. Without my mom’s unhesitating leadership, it may not have happened. Without her stalwart and unbending desire to make my life as great as humanly possible, it probably wouldn’t have been. Every beautiful memory at Duke, every friendship, every triumph at my gorgeous alma mater can be directly attributed to my mom. I am a Blue Devil because of my mom, and that’s one hell of a gift.

I’ve told this story before but I’ll tell it again. The night before I was diagnosed, my mom asked me what I’d do or think if I had Stage IV colon cancer. We were assured by my doctors that it likely wouldn’t be Stage IV, but my mom had the vision and preparedness to think of having that potentially difficult discussion with me. It wasn’t a difficult discussion, though. I told her without blinking that, if my diagnosis was Stage IV, I’d beat the disease. I believed in myself with the same unshakeable certainty that my mom had demonstrated throughout my entire life. This was the moment where my mom’s strength showed stronger than ever in me. I told her that I’d beat it. The next day, when my surgeon met with my parents and Will, and tearfully recounted all the cancer he’d seen and projected that I’d almost certainly be dead in two years, almost everyone in that room crumbled. My dad was a mess. Will was a mess. My surgeon was a mess. But my mom was most certainly not. She continued to take notes feverishly, not missing a detail because she knew that these details would be relayed to other medical experts in hopes of finding a treatment path for me. She didn’t cry in that moment, and moments later, she grabbed my dad by the shirt and spoke like a harsh coach to him. She told him to go to the bathroom, get his tears out, and come out strong. She then addressed my group of 25 or so family and friends, telling them about what the doctor said but assuring them that I said I’d beat the disease and that they had better get on the positivity train or else they weren’t coming with us. She told them that if any of them thought they’d cry when they saw me in the recovery room, they were not to come in the room. She called my colleagues at O’Melveny and my friends from all around and told them that if they wanted to pity me or cry at my bedside, they’d be kicked out of the hospital…by her. To be honest, I think she scared some people. But that’s my best friend. She had my back before she had any idea what an ass-kicking I’d give cancer. She heard the odds and she didn’t flinch. She believed in me, and in the moment when not believing in me and believing in the statistics quite frankly made more sense. She believed in me, and she believes in me. Throughout every round of chemo, she is by my side with bags of food and pillows and anything else I could possibly want. If I can’t get to the grocery store before a round of chemo, I can guarantee that my fridge will be stocked with everything I could ever want because my mom is on the job.

She stayed up all night with me in the hospital in the days following my Sugarbaker surgery, and walked with my freshly scarred body through the halls of Good Samaritan Hospital, Washington Hospital Center, and Keck Hospital of USC. She has looked every surgeon in the eye and listened to every tough prognosis they’ve given, fiercely taking notes and knowing, in her heart, that whatever doom and gloom they might be saying isn’t actually going to happen because her girl won’t quit. She has lived in a pretty scary world over the last two and a half years, the world in which one’s only child is facing and fighting a deadly diagnosis, and she’s emerged tougher, stronger, and more resolute because of it.

She is the strongest person I know. The smartest person I know. The most loving person I know. The most loyal person I know. The most fun-loving person I know. She is solid, she is beautiful, and she is the biggest hero and champion of my life. I am who I am only because of her. She is my mom, and I am the luckiest person in the world because of that.

Happy Mother’s Day, Momma. I am quite certain I’ve made you cry with this blog post and that pleases me endlessly. Looking forward to having a fun-filled day with you today. I love you with all of my heart. Thanks for being my ride or die best friend and my all-time road dawg.

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