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A mother's love still can be the best prescription

July 16, 1998

When a child gets sick, parents worry. Standard colds, upset stomach or whatever particular germ floating around, we parents handle it as best we can.

But, what do you do when your child is stricken with cancer?

For Jean Clark, my cousin and dear friend, the answer is love and sacrifice. She and her husband, Robert, raise their two beautiful children, Katherine and Jonathan, in a small town in Virginia.

They have a wonderful life in the tiny community. Robert, a minister, leads a church with an ever-growing congregation. Jean helped develop the church and continues to assist with its mission. Jean also has a career in social work. The Clark family had storybook written all over it. Until 21 months ago, when 17-year-old Jonathan was diagnosed with cancer.

A malignant tumor was discovered in his right hand. The operation to remove the cancerous tumor, his index finger and neighboring affected tissue was scheduled immediately. But that was only the beginning. Six weeks of grueling radiation and 48 weeks of aggressive chemotherapy followed. All of the ugliness of treating cancer revealed itself to this undeserving teen.

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Jean always has been a great mom to her family, gracefully balancing work and family. When cancer entered the Clark house like a demonic test of faith, she never questioned the Lord that the Clark family serves faithfully. Instead, she shrouded her family in courage and sacrifice.

I spoke with Jonathan recently about his mother. He's 19 now. Even though his cancer is in remission, a constant vigil is kept on his health.

I asked him some tough questions. Tough to ask because I am very close. And tough for Jonathan to find just the right words.

"Did your mom surprise you?" I asked.

"Not really," he replied. "I knew she could handle it. She's always been tough mentally. I guess I never doubted her ability to do all that she had to do when it was needed."

I continued, "Was she a source of strength?"

"Yeah, I would have to say so," Jonathan revealed. "She never showed me how she was getting down and stuff when I knew she was."

During the most difficult time of the illness, Jonathan says his mother adapted well to the changes hitting the family fast and hard.

"She quit her job," Jonathan remarked. "She quickly learned how to become a nurse and she stayed with me almost 24 hours a day for an entire year."

"She had to give medicine to a sick kid for a year, whereas, most moms only deal with sick kids for only a short period of time. Plus, I think being a deadly disease made it extra hard for her to deal with, too."

As we talked, there was an unspoken gratitude and devotion from a son to his mother. You just felt it.

It was through Jean's incredible level of giving and sacrifice that Jonathan says he started to really notice all the things his mother had been doing for so very long.

"I don't take her for granted anymore. I mean, I never really took her for granted, but I just never noticed the little things before. Just the cleaning and cooking and washing and all the other stuff that makes my life better and easier."

Jonathan says the most important thing his mother has taught him through his battle with cancer is optimism. Her uplifting spirit and strong, steady belief in him was contagious.

Jonathan's junior and senior years in high school proved remarkable. While he missed more than 100 days of school during his junior year, he kept up with his studies from home.

Last month, Jonathan delivered an awe-inspiring speech at his high school baccalaureate. And not to be defeated by cancer or a missing finger, he regained his position on his high school baseball team - not by sympathy, but by merit and determination. He begins his college career next month studying architecture.

They are closer now. The entire family is closer. That's easy to understand. It does everyone good to know that mom's love is still the best prescription available.

Jo Ellen Barnhart is the working mother of three young boys. She teaches at Frostburg State University and Hagerstown Community College and consults in public relations and marketing. Write to her in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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