I have lost someone very dear to me to ovarian cancer. In June of 2004, my mother Mary Frances Boehning, long time resident of Tinton Falls, NJ, devoted parishioner of St. James Church, Red Bank, NJ, supporter of many Monmouth county based organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Pop Warner, Little League, succumbed to her battle with ovarian cancer. Mom was that quintessential sweet Irish lass (she emigrated from Quilty, County Clare, Ireland at age 17) who was famous for her Irish Soda Bread, lilting accent, and boundless energy. Mom was the neighbor, team mother, troop leader, volunteer, class mom, sideline cheerleader, booster club manager, St. James/RBC parent who assisted without question, who helped without asking how, who executed random acts of kindness without ever asking for, expecting or even needing recognition for her efforts. She held no plaque, received no trophy, held no handshake for the gratuitous ‘photo op’…she gave from the bottom of her heart and her reward was knowing the satisfaction of making a difference.
Unfortunately for my mom, she was diagnosed Stage IIIC since her symptoms had remained “masked” as other ailments for so long. No one, even in the medical community, made this connection until the symptoms progressed to a more obvious state and until she had insisted that they explore further. Her body could not tolerate the only effective chemotherapy drug for this very aggressive stage. Her loss, two and a half years later, was a tremendous one for my entire family.
I am still reeling from this tragedy now, 7 years later. Every time I look at my kids, I think of what a tremendous Nana they missed having. I think of my aunts and uncles not having their sister to lean on in their own times of need. I think of my Dad who finally retired to enjoy time with his wife of 40 years only to face the hard reality that she had a 20% chance of living 5 more years. My heart goes out to my four siblings who each have felt the pain of her loss and the impact of her absence as they forged on with their lives, got married and had kids. I think of myself as a mom of young kids finally stepping out of her professional working mom life into a stay-at-home mom life and not being able to ask my mom how to navigate this world she knew well–by then, she was already gone. Tragic.
So, through adversity my family banded together and sought purpose to salvage this tragedy and somehow turn it into a mission. At Mom’s wake, we distributed awareness cards to educate others on this difficult lesson learned. As a result, we spared one family in our neighborhood the same fate of losing their mom/wife/grandmother to a form of cancer. Her middle son wrote a letter to my Dad thanking him for sharing the symptoms at the wake. If his mom had not read this info she would have not realized how deadly the symptoms could be and quite possibly would have continued to ignore them. We are delighted that another family, especially so close to home, did not have to suffer a terrible tragedy thanks to early detection through awareness. A few years ago, by chance, we discovered that there was a walk (her favorite activity) promoting Ovarian Cancer Awareness in Avon, NJ (where she took us to the beach every day in the summer) on, get this, HER BIRTHDAY! We were on it! Our first year we had a good showing–the second year we took it to a whole new level! Twice the walkers, three times the money, top team honors…letters to the APP…picture and story in the Press. Mom would be so proud!
Team Mary Frances, a team close to 40, forged in my mothers name, comes back each year as a unified front with other teams who were formed in honor or memory of survivors or victims of ovarian cancer to bring funds, awareness and attention to this cause! The idea is: until there is a test, awareness is best! We want everyone to know what a teal ribbon is for! We want all to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer so this tragedy will not affect other families the way it has ours. Ours is only one story, unfortunately there are many more…too many more.
Now you know why I continue this battle to increase awareness and promote funding research and why I feel a Community of Awareness is so important. If I can prevent other families from suffering this tragedy, I gain incredible personal satisfaction. My mom’s spirit cannot be captured in a few short words–it does not seem to do her justice. She was someone who was truly one of RBC/St. James’, Tinton Falls’ and UDelaware’s BIGGEST cheerleaders. She cheered for football, basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, track, cross country, Klondike derbies, pinewood derbies, school plays, 14 graduations, like a million cheer competitions, and ‘just a few’ other events. Yes, she was that spirited Irish lady on the sidelines wearing green and gold, black and gold, or blue and gold with the loud voice. Any who knew her knows she was a kind and generous spirit–her random acts of kindness known only by those she helped and her dear Lord. She embraced the community and those in it wholeheartedly because she came here from another country and adopted this one (and those in it) as her own. I miss her tremendously and her absence is a black hole in my heart and my children’s lives. This picture with her on my wedding day was truly one of the best days of my life and one of hers as well. It reminds me to treasure the time I had with her. Miss you Mom!