my mom’s battle | Rachel Vanoven Blog

my mom’s battle

This time of year, especially being at my parents’ house, always makes a knot curl up in my stomach. I remember exactly where I was when I called my mom that day, June 29th of 2012. My older sister Karis had asked if I had talked to her yet that day, because she was sick. Karis didn’t seem worried because she said that mom had been having all sorts of stomach pain lately, and well, when you’ve been blessed with a healthy family, your brain doesn’t jump to cancer at the mention of a few months of indigestion.

I called mom anyways, worried about her. Nick and I were at their house with our kids for the week during the summer while they had left for Florida to visit my little sister and her boyfriend. I was opening their pool for them. I remember exactly where I was when I heard her voice.

My mom is the kind of person who smiles through everything. The kind who will be feeling so sick, but pull herself together to take care of others. So when she answered the phone and it was barely a whisper, and every word was laced with pain…my heart nearly stopped. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. My mom was crying. I can’t convey how scared I was in that moment. I heard her feeble attempt to brush it off as food poisoning. I wasn’t buying it.

The rest of the day is a blur to me, but I can point out the exact spot where I was when I heard her voice so full of pain.

A few hours later I was shaking as my older sister told me it was a “mass”. The doctors were being ominously vague. I remember where I was for that conversation too, I was in their TV room, the kids were watching a Disney movie.

A mass. A mass that was growing around her ovary and twisted it until it ruptured. That was the unfathomable pain. My mom’s ovary ruptured while she lay alone on a couch in Florida, not asking for help because she didn’t want anyone to go out of their way for her. But now the family was rallying. My dad made the drive back from Florida and got her in with a specialist in Cincinnati right away.

Over the next few months we all watched helplessly as my mom was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of ovarian cancer (that was miraculously only caught because of where and how it grew inside of her), and the surgery, hospital stays and chemo that followed.

We watched 4th of July fireworks inside her hospital room, moving her bed so she could watch Cincinnati celebrate…

My mom spent my whole childhood teaching me about God, about how good He is. It’s one thing to be sitting in a cozy home with your kids, in good health, and teaching them this. It’s another thing to still be praising Him while facing the possibility of being taken from this world.

When my mom woke up from surgery, all she repeated over and over was, “God is good. He is good all the time.”

Then there was my dad.

He’s a strong, tall man who has always looked after my mom like she was his precious little bird. He just has loved on her, protected her and provided for her since 1977. But this? He was helpless, and it tore him to pieces. He couldn’t do anything but just be there for her, and that was all she needed. I can’t tell you how many times he told me, “I wish I could take all her pain, all the sickness.” and meant it. His eyes had such a frantic look in them when she would have her bad days, like he was racking his brain for any possible way he could alleviate her suffering. More often than not, the only thing he could do was hold her hand, stroke her hair (and eventually just her head) and just speak positive words to her.

And then there were my sisters 🙂

Lauren at point had been living in Florida, and we started seeing a whole lot more of her after my mom’s diagnosis. Bonds that hadn’t been tightened in a few years were suddenly iron clad. Instead of three sisters, we simply became the four Murphy girls, and the husbands would just shake their heads at our hospital room antics, but it worked. No one could get my mom laughing like when all four of us got together! I don’t even know what’s going on in the next picture, but all I know is that I don’t think any other pre-hysterectomy patient has ever laughed so much before surgery!

There were so many hard days. The woman who felt my head for fevers and cleaned up my vomit was now herself bedridden some days. During the bad, chemo-days, it was almost as if my mom was gone. Replaced by this frail, jaundiced and weak woman I didn’t recognize. I didn’t know what to say to her. Touching her would hurt her skin. She was either too warm or too cold and all food smelled bad and wouldn’t stay down. Most days she just wanted my dad. I’ll never know everything that went on between them, but there was a definitely shift in their relationship. I’ve always seen them as having the perfect relationship, but now there’s this beautiful honesty in the way they love each other.

Today, my mom shared with me a project she’s been working on since the dark days of cancer. As a cancer survivor, she’s got this incredible heart for others facing the diagnosis she did, and has begun writing a devotional for anyone going through chemo/fighting any kind of cancer. I only read two entries, but each one moved me to tears because I not only was dragged back into the emotions of that time, but I saw what it was like through her eyes SO clearly.

I remember when my mom was in the beginning days of this journey, I was scouring the internet for ANY ovarian cancer diagnosis ending happily. She had a grapefruit sized tumor and I was searching for women who were in the same boat and came out victors. So I’m hoping that maybe this blog post can encourage someone facing the beast that is cancer. It’s cathartic for me, to just get these jumbled thoughts bouncing around in my brain OUT, so I can sit by my parents’ pool and not remember that awful day two years ago…watch fireworks without remembering watching them from that cramped hospital room, etc. I don’t want to forget those memories, but I want to focus on the now. And sometimes, blogging is the only way to do that 😉

Mom- I’m so proud of you. I’m proud to be your daughter. Thank you so much for being a constant role model in my life. You’ve been my cheerleader with this crazy photography thing, shown me what an amazing mother does for her children, encouraged my walk with God, supported me during the hard years of marriage, and in recent years really just been my friend. I love you so much and I’m so thankful that your work here in this world isn’t over yet.

  1. rana says:

    Rachel- This is such a beautiful (and emotional) story to share. Thank you for putting this story out there! Rana

  2. margo says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, survived Ovarian Cancer. My daughter shared your post. I don’t think I realized how hard it was on her. I have been blessed with 9 years added to my life, and with God’s healing, I am still cancer free. It is possible to survive ovarian cancer. Severe abdominal pain should never be ignored, especially when is recurs once a month.

  3. jean loper says:

    What an wonderful sharing of such a beautiful person. I’m so happy that she is doing well. God is good, all the time.

  4. Laura says:

    This is so beautiful, thank you for sharing. My aunt was diagnosed about a year before your mom was, she is still fighting every day, but this post gives me hope.

  5. tracy says:

    Thanks for sharing. I tested positive for BRCA2 (breast and ovarian cancer gene). I had a preventive hysterectomy last year because I know how difficult it is to detect ovarian cancer. I am glad your mom is doing so well.

  6. patti says:

    What a beautiful writing. I am a survivor and I can relate to all this. Your mom is amazing and you daughters are amazing. You got her through this! Cancer does a lot but it can never take away the important stuff.

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