Words to Live By


Photograph by Jake Naughton

It’s only while I drink my orange juice that she says the word “cancer” and everything sours.

I learned my Mom had lung cancer in January 2006. She told me while we were having brunch. It’s weird to hear the word “cancer” attached to someone you love. My way of dealing with it meant creating poems and stories out of my feelings. I wrote more than forty in the first three months after her diagnosis.

Both of my parents smoked heavily for as long as I can remember. My Mom once told me she started smoking in her early teens and couldn’t quit. When I was a teen, I hid her cigarettes and begged her to stop.

She lost a lung to the disease by May 2006. Doctors had her try chemotherapy and radiation. But the cancer had spread to her brain. Mom was tired, confused and depressed. I kept writing about my thoughts.

The singe of cigarettes, the clear plastic tail of the wrapper lies on the table. She has not quit yet.

My Mom died before the holidays, just ten months after learning lung cancer would probably take her life. But she also never stopped praising me and wishing me happiness in my life. I continue to write, finishing enough poetry to fill a book. It’s something I never planned on, but it is allowing me to keep her memory alive. I hope that my sadness will also help others to know—they are not alone.

 She shrugs when I ask, “Why?” It’s that shrug, that helplessness, that I hate.

Teri Barr is anchor for “News 3 at 9” on MyMadisonTV Channel 14 and “News 3 at 10” on WISC-TV.

Madison Magazine - November 2008
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