By Nicole Marie DeVoe

The courage and guts that it's taken my mother in order to fight cancer truly makes her a "Moxie" woman in my eyes.

Mom: This one's for you - a truly "Moxie" woman.
Love, Nic

In a time when newspapers and magazines adorning our supermarket shelves talk of nothing but presidential scandals, deception and lies, it is difficult for the average American to find a role model. For fear of being of betrayed, we often find that person with whom we can relate, but keep our admiration at arms length in order to avoid potential let down and disappointment. This task is undoubtedly harder for women.

I suppose I consider myself lucky in this respect because my role model is a part of my everyday life. My mother isn't anyone you may consider famous. She isn't some buxom supermodel whose graced the covers of thousands of magazines or an Academy Award winning actress. She is a mother, a sister, a loyal friend, a dedicated secretary and, most recently, a cancer survivor.

The day she was diagnosed is not one I will forget all too soon. Two days after her 49th birthday this August, she went in for her annual pap test. At about 11 a.m. that day, my phone at work rang and she was on the other end. I could tell by her nervous breathing that she wanted to be hysterical, but kept calm for my sake. She told me I had to leave work immediately and drive her to one of the women's" hospitals in town for more tests.

I remember dropping everything that was in my hand at that moment. I grabbed my keys and met her down in the parking garage where we both parked our cars. Her face was red and I could tell she had been crying hard.

"Nic," she said as she grabbed my hand, "It's cancer. I can't believe it, but its cancer." and broke down in my arms.

This woman--this spectacularly strong and beautiful woman. The woman who kissed the pain away of a hundred cuts and scrapes, made countless bowls of chicken soup for my runny noses and wheezing coughs and stayed up till 2 a.m. enduring bloody fingertips while sewing on the last of the sequins to my ice show costumes. The person whom I told everything to from my fears of my first kiss to the night I lost my virginity. The one who encouraged me to wait for marriage and focus on my career first and taught me to stand up for what I believed in even if it meant standing alone in my beliefs. This woman, this invincible woman--my mother--was staring me in the face telling me she had cancer. Cancer! You know, that disease which is supposed to affect other people. You see the ads, you watch the telethons, you sign your name to a check and send it off hoping they find a cure soon. But then, it happens to someone in your family, and it becomes a whole different story.

So what do you do? What do you do when the woman who, for the past 23 years, has been your pillar of strength comes to YOU for an answer? I racked my brain trying to think of the right thing to say. My mind went blank. Totally blank. Everything she had ever taught me about strength and overcoming obstacles and how God never closes a door without opening a window--everything, all of it--I couldn't remember a damn word. All I could do was hold her and tell her everything would be all right.

The diagnosis was Stage IIB cervical cancer. The prognosis was still good, however, if an MRI detected any cancer in the lymph nodes, her survival rate would drop to 50%.

I sat in the waiting room at the women's hospital staring aimlessly out the window as the doctors continued to run more tests on her. I remember some sort of loud and obnoxious talk show blaring out of the television. It was cold and rainy that day. I remember thinking how much better I would feel if the sun would just peek its head out for a moment, as if it were some sort of light at the end of this tunnel. But it never did. It just continued to downpour.

As more and more time passed waiting, that gave my brain an opportunity to start tossing around the 100 different emotions I was feeling. First and foremost, I was pissed off. I was in such disbelief that someone as kind and loving as my mother had to endure this. I realize that this disease doesn't "choose" its victims, nonetheless, I would've felt a lot better knowing that some convicted criminal or some jerk I've encountered was chosen for this wake-up call.

Secondly, I was terrified. As much as you try to think positive, the thought of death always has a way of creeping into your mind. The war on this disease has progressed significantly, but to this day, I hear the word "cancer" and I automatically associate evilness with it. This thing was lurking around in my mothers body, and I did not like it. I mean sure, I was an adult, well-educated, gainfully employed and living on my own. Still, I wasn't ready to lose my "mommy" yet.

Then, after the emotional roller coaster, I grew up. There was a pinnacle moment in my life that afternoon, right there in the hospital waiting room, when I became an adult. Every childish emotion I continued to burden both myself and my mother with was now history. Something inside me said, "O.K.., kiddo, now it's your turn to be the mother. She's trained you well, so go to it." And I did, with full force.

The MRI results came back showing that the cancer had stayed localized within the cervical area, so it was all systems go for an immediate full hysterectomy and this nightmare would finally be over.

Once again, I sat in that Pepto-Bismol colored waiting room, with the same television blaring out Springer at high volume while somewhere beyond the double doors in front of me, they were making my mother well again. I looked out the same window as I had done once before. But this time, it was sunny and not a cloud in the sky. I knew things were going to be O.K.. from this point on.

After four hours of waiting and reading every magazine available on the coffee table next to me, I heard a voice call out, "Nicole? Are you in here?" It was my mother's surgeon, dressed in the usual green scrubs. He looked tired, sweaty and . . . disappointed.

"Yes!" I shouted, "I'm here."

"Nicole, I need to talk to you for a few moments before I can let you see your mother."

I knew something had gone awry during the surgery, I could tell by the tone in his voice. But, I followed him into this miniature conference room beyond the double doors.

"Nic," he said hesitantly, "I have no idea why this didn't show up on the MRI and it literally shocked the hell out of me, but during the surgery we discovered cancer on one of the lymph nodes behind her uterus."

Basically, what it boiled down to was that they weren't able to complete the surgery because the uterus and cervix not only serve as "walls" to keep the cancer from spreading further into abdominal tissues, but they also serve as conductors for the radiation which my mother was going to have to bear. I knew once she heard this news, she was going to be very upset. All she wanted was for this to be over as quickly as possible so she could get on with her life.

"You can see your mother now if you like. She's on the second floor. Room 2208," the surgeon said.

"Thanks," I glumly said.

I made my way up to her room. In my right hand, a single white rose, her favorite flower. I arrived to Room 2208. The door was closed, so I took a moment to have a few deep breaths before I entered. I didn't know how she was going to look, nor did I know if I was going to be able to keep from breaking down when I walked in. I opened the door and felt a lump the size of an egg in my throat as I tried to hold back the tears.

She was lying there, eyes barely open and pale as a ghost staring at the apple tree which grew outside the window. Tubes and needles were coming out of her everywhere as the heart monitor softly hummed. She was having dry heaves as a result of the anesthesia wearing off. I thought to myself, "O.K.., I'm not going to cry. I'm not going to cry." and with every force in my body I held back the tears.

I sat down beside her and held her hand. It was soft and I thought back to the way it felt when I would crawl up into her lap and she would stroke my hair. I wanted nothing more than to change places with her so that she could be healthy. But it was a fight on the part of both of us. Her physically and me mentally.

Miraculously, and with a bit of her good ole stubbornness, my mother managed to coerce the doctor into letting her go home one day after her surgery. Ever since, we continue to fight daily.

My mother continues to become healthier every day. She has undergone radiation treatment and has since returned back to work where she was welcomed with open and loving arms. I guess now, looking back on everything, I did in fact switch places with my mother. became her role model, her pillar of strength when she needed me most. It's strange when you come to the realization that your role model, the one who you look up to and pattern your life after, is in fact a human being, with thoughts and feelings, the ability to make mistakes and is in no way safeguarded from illness. But, if there comes a day that you can give back to the person who's given so much to you, there is pure joy to be found. I only pray that I've done as good of a job for her over the past few months as she's done for me my entire life.

Copyright 1999 Moxie Magazine All Rights Reserved