Mary Ann Swafford, Castle Rock, CO

What makes my mother special? She gave me life…kept herself alive for me…and took her last breath of life in my presence. How many children can say that?

My mom, Mary Ann Swafford, was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer in January 2009. As those familiar with the disease know, ovarian cancer has an unfortunate propensity of being detected at a late stage. Therefore, this prognosis demanded immediate surgery and treatment option discussions.

The thing that weighed heaviest on my mom was how she would explain her diagnosis to her 2nd grade class at Hygiene Elementary School in Longmont, Colorado. She did not want the children to be scared of or sad for her state of health. What did she do to overcome these obstacles? She was honest with them. She told them she was optimistic, she told them she was scared of feeling sick and she told them that she was counting her blessings – namely all the wonderful people she had in her life. What neither my mom nor her students realized at the time was that they taught each other priceless lessons – how to love and how to be loved without reservation.

My mom endured countless types of chemotherapy during her battle with cancer – Gemzar, Taxol, XL 184 to name a few. She experienced significant hair loss as a result of one of these treatments, and I distinctly remember taking her to my hair salon to get her head shaved. As the sparse strands of hair fell from her scalp, I cried…and yet she looked at me stone-faced and said, “Can we go to Macaroni Grill after this?” The courage that my mom exhibited throughout her fight was immeasurable. Sure, there were glimpses of fear and defeat, but the nerves and tears were constantly replaced with smiles and laughter…because that was my mom – bright, witty, and funny.

Family was the number one priority in my mom’s life. She adored her children and truly believed that her grandchildren could do no wrong. She was notorious for sneaking candy to my niece and nephew, and when caught by my brother or sister-in-law would merely state, “They are worth it.” When she was diagnosed, I was a newlywed without any children. The idea that my mom might not live to see my children born absolutely terrified me. Now, looking back, I have come to the conclusion that she fought the great fight to calm my nerves and table my fears for she was able to meet and spend almost two years as the most wonderful grandmother to my son.

My life significantly changed on January 9, 2012, when my mom lost her battle to ovarian cancer. I tried over the years to express to her how much she meant to me, but don’t know that I’ll ever be able to truly explain the magnitude of my love for her. She was my best friend. My confidante. My mom. My therapist. My number one fan. My rock. When my world was upside down, she was the one that turned it upright. She taught me how to be strong. She taught me that life will go on. She taught me that it is okay to admit defeat, and then make the most of the situation. The fondest memories of my life all include her. She provided me with a fabulous example of how to be a mother, and I hope that I can create the kind of loving environment for my son that she provided my brother and me. Every benevolent quality I possess I attribute to her influence on my life. I am my own person, yes, but she provided guidance to me that allowed me to create a solid foundation for my being.

Now that my mom is no longer by my side, I find myself thinking of her every day. I continue to seek her company and her advice. I continue to strive to make her proud. This world was a better place because my mom graced it with her presence.

At the funeral, the following sentiment was continuously expressed to me, “I would call your mom to check in on her, and she dismissed my inquiry to ask how I was doing. And she meant it.” So why was my mother so special? Because she cared about how YOU were doing. My mom… always my hero and always in my heart.