OFFICIAL COVER REVEAL:
CURRENT IMPRESSIONS by Kelly Risser
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF NEVER FORGOTTEN NOW:
“Meara, come visit the ranch. I’m sure Uncle Jake won’t mind.”
It was the second to last day of my junior year. I sat on the low, brick wall in front of Cedarburg High with my best friend, Kim. We were waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up. I didn’t care for Mark. I kept my opinion to myself, so I wouldn’t hurt Kim’s feelings.
Kim would be working at her uncle’s farm in Minnesota this summer. I was staying here. We wouldn’t see much of each other, unless I visited her.
“I don’t know, Kim,” I said. “I’m scheduled to work most of the summer at the shop.” My mom’s friend owned a sewing and fabric store in downtown Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Mom and I both worked there. Rebecca and Mom taught classes, made quilts, and ran the store. I maintained the website and worked the cash register.
“You could get away for a week or two,” Kim persisted. “Just ask your mom, Meara. You’ll never know unless you ask.”
“All right, I’ll ask!” I laughed at her scolding tone. I said it to appease her, but the idea was interesting. Why couldn’t Mom and Rebecca run the shop for a week or two without me? They did it during the school year.
“I’m heading home.” I stood up and walked down the sidewalk. Mark pulled up to the curb in his crappy, old truck. There was no point exchanging words with him, so I avoided eye contact.
“Don’t forget to ask!” Kim yelled after me.
“Mom? Hey, Mom, I’m home!” I yelled into the house as I always did, tossing my backpack on the bench in the front hall. When she didn’t respond, I figured she wasn’t home yet. Sometimes she stayed late to help Rebecca restock or change the window display. Heading to the kitchen to get a snack, I found Mom standing at the sink.
“What’s for dinner?” I asked and kissed her cheek. Not waiting for an answer, I took a carrot off the cutting board and opened the refrigerator. I was so preoccupied in my search for something tastier than a carrot, that it took me a few minutes to realize she hadn’t responded. I turned and looked at her. “Mom?”
She didn’t respond. She washed the same dish over and over, staring out the window. What was going on? My mom was many things, but a daydreamer wasn’t one of them. I walked over, placed my arm around her waist, and gave her a small squeeze.
“Meara!” She jumped and squealed. “You startled me. I didn’t even hear you come in.”
“Are you okay?” I asked. Her eyes were shadowed and sunken with dark circles. Mom never looked this exhausted. She was the most optimistic, dynamic person I knew. She exuded so much energy that she tired me out.
“Fine.” She wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Why do you ask?” “Because I’ve been talking to you, and you didn’t answer.” “Oh, sorry,” she said. “I didn’t hear you.”
She looked startled. “I guess I was lost in my own thoughts.”
I touched her arm. “What’s going on, Mom? You’re not acting like yourself.”
She smiled at me. My mom had a great smile, but this one worried rather than comforted me. It was fleeting, and it never reached her eyes. She touched my hair and motioned to a chair. “Honey, why don’t you sit down? I need to talk to you about something.”
Uh-oh. Whatever this was, it wasn’t good. Mom sat first and waited until I was seated. She took my hands in hers, holding them so tightly that it was painful. I resisted the urge to cry out or pull my hands away. She seemed to need the contact. We sat in silence while she clenched my hands, then she sighed and closed her eyes. Tears escaped in a trail down her cheeks.
“I saw Dr. Maxwell today.” Her voice was so quiet that it took me a moment to understand what she said.
“Dr. Maxwell?” I was confused. Dr. Maxwell was my mom’s oncologist; he treated her breast cancer five years ago. “Why didn’t you tell me you had an appointment today?”
She sighed and touched my cheek, “I didn’t want to scare you. I actually went in for some tests about a month ago, and he asked me to come back.”
I couldn’t believe that she kept this from me. “You’re okay, right?”
When she tried to smile, her lips just quivered. She shook her head and began to cry in earnest. Big, wet tears slid down her pale cheeks. “Meara, he said the cancer is back. Only this time, he found it in my intestines, liver, and kidneys. This new growth is aggressive. ‘Stage 4,’ Dr. Maxwell called it.”
I blinked back my own tears. While my mother, who was so strong, sobbed next to me, I thought about the first time she had cancer. I was in sixth grade, and the severity of her situation hadn’t sunk into my twelve-year-old brain. Mom had been so strong, first going through a lumpectomy and then enduring months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She lost her hair and got so thin. I remember feeling each individual rib in her back when I hugged her. It was agonizing to watch the person I loved most in the world wither away in front of me. Thankfully, the treatments took effect, and she slowly got better. The doctor gave her a clean bill of health a year after her original diagnosis.
“You can fight it, right?” I asked.
“Dr. Maxwell recommends slowing the growth with chemotherapy and radiation.” Mom composed herself a bit, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. I followed her movements, and my eyes tracked the long, black streak her mascara left on her hand. After I handed her a napkin, she dabbed at her eyes and added, “He says surgery is not an option. It’s too far spread.”
“What does that mean?” I was angry now. Why would the doctor advise her not to operate?
It wasn’t what I expected to hear. The horror of it made me jump from my chair and bolt into her arms with gut-wrenching sobs. “Oh, Mom. I don’t want to lose you.”
“Oh, baby, and I don’t want to leave you.” Mom held me tight, and we clung to each other and cried. Her body shook as she sobbed. I held her as tight as I could. I hoped to give her comfort and take my own in return. When we couldn’t cry anymore, we simply sat together, each of us lost in our own miserable thoughts. After a while, Mom straightened up and pulled away. She wiped her face with another napkin.
“We’ll make the most of our time together, okay?” Mom touched my cheek. “And, I’ll do everything I can to fight this.”
“Okay.” Grabbing a napkin, I wiped my nose.
“I’ll be okay, Mom,” I said. “Thanks.” I stood and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you.”
“Love you too.”
Once she left for her room, I put the vegetables away. I took out a container of leftover chicken salad and a Diet Coke, going in the living room to flop down on my favorite recliner. Aiming the remote control at the TV, I mindlessly grazed through the channels. I couldn’t remember what was on that night. I barely noticed what I ate. I was seventeen years old, and my mom was all I had. What was I going to do?
NOT SURE IF YOU WANT TO READ NEVER FORGOTTEN?
A NOTE FROM KELLY RISSER:
10% of the first month’s profits for Never Forgotten will be donated to Susan G. Komen.
My MIL had an amazingly positive outlook. She lived to find joyous moments in the ordinary. She kept a journal, traveled, and visited with friends. The cancer went into remission. Unfortunately, it returned five years later, this time in her abdomen and surrounding organs. With a diagnosis of six months to two years, she passed away within two months, just shy of her 60th birthday. Her name was Sharon.
Yes, Meara’s mom is named after her. It’s one small way for me to keep her memory alive. The other way I want to do this requires your help. We all know the statistics about breast cancer, but I want to stress the important role you play in your health. The year prior to her first diagnosis, my MIL had a mammogram and a spot showed in the screening. Her doctor told her it was small, probably nothing. He would follow up in twelve months. She took his word and waited. When she went in for the second mammogram, it had grown tremendously. A biopsy proved it was cancer. Had she pushed for a biopsy right away, she might still be here today. With a year to grow, the cancer moved into too many of her lymph nodes.
My message to women is this—if you are a man, please share this message with the women close to you: do regular self-exams, starting now. You’re never too young or too old. If you’re 40 years old or have a family history of cancer, get regular mammograms. Don’t be afraid to push for your health. If something doesn’t sound right or you have questions, speak up! Yes, doctors are professionals, but they’re human, too. We all make mistakes. Last, support cancer research. It will only be through research that we will ever find answers to fight this disease that takes so many.
ABOUT KELLY RISSER:
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