When I was twenty-three, my mom was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Before that, she had smoked a pack a day for nearly twenty years. Growing up, I remember bringing her that all too familiar red and white Marlboro box with the cheap BIC lighter rubber-banded around the middle. Looking back, I wish I’d thrown them away or hid them somewhere where she’d never find them. Then maybe she’d still be with us.
But my mom wasn’t a quitter. No siree, she never gave up on anything. She fought cancer with everything she had in her. Too bad it wasn’t a fair fight. The cancer metastasized so quickly in her lungs that the chemo and radiation she received just couldn’t contain it. It spread, making her follow-up PET scan light up like the night sky on the Fourth of July. It was everywhere, all through her body from her intestines to her brain. The invader had taken hold with no intention of yielding to whatever modern medicine had to throw at it.
And that made me angry. I blamed the oncologists for not being good enough to cure her. I blamed the technicians for putting her through all that torture for nothing. I blamed myself for being a terrible daughter, turning to destructive means to cope with the fact that I was about to lose my mother.
In my mind, someone had to be held accountable for all of this pain and suffering. I just didn’t want to see whose fault it really was. But she knew. She bore the burden, coming to terms that she’d imposed this self-inflicted death sentence on herself. She didn’t chalk it up to the addictiveness of the nicotine that had coursed through her veins. She didn’t bemoan the cigarette companies who made smoking seem so hip and cool back when she was a teenager and all her friends were doing it. Instead, she bravely accepted the consequences of her actions, and her honesty just made me cry even harder at her bedside, losing myself in her emaciated embrace.
She related that she had smoked to stay thin, and at the end of her life she weighed less than eighty pounds, a veritable human skeleton. She told me that when my sister, Erin and I were little, she’d take a drag on the back porch every now and then to steady her nerves whenever we’d get too rambunctious, or whenever we’d give her lip once we got older. It was her form of stress relief that in her final days left her without enough strength to lift her head off her pillow. If I could only go back in time and stomp out all those ciggies she was turning to because of the spoiled, snotty remarks that fell from my lips, I’d tell her not to do it and that I was sorry for causing her grief because deep down I didn’t mean it. If I could, I would in a heartbeat.
But that’s the thing with cancer, you can’t go back. Because once it gets its hooks in deep enough, the only direction it marches is forward.
That’s why the last year of my mom’s life made it feel like all of the others never happened. I could no longer remember the vibrant woman who’d belt out “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” louder than anyone else in the stadium. I had a hard time picturing the playful grandma who’d spend hours outside with Erin’s boys, teaching them how to swing an aluminum bat. I couldn’t recall the fun-loving woman who’d tease my dad at every opportunity whenever he’d forget how many outs there were in the game they were watching on TV. Because all I could see was her wasting away before me, and how scared I was to watch her go.
But the part of cancer that no one can prepare you for revolves around the years that are still to come. Before my mom got sick, I had always imagined her at my wedding, fluffing my veil and straightening my train. Whenever I daydreamed about that perfect day, I’d see her sitting next to my dad, smiling up at me as I walked down the aisle. I never thought that she wouldn’t be there, that wasn’t part of the scenario. Until, it was.
I feel lucky that my mom got to meet the man I married before she passed away because they got along so well together, Chase and my mom. They’d team up to tease me, and I was no match for the two of them. My mom was a shameless flirt and Chase ate it up. Yeah, my husband turned out to be her favorite ballplayer on the New York Kings, but I think she would’ve fallen for him regardless. Seeing how much they enjoyed each other’s company, even in the few short months they had together, makes me ache to think of the numerous holidays and special occasions ahead when I won’t have the both of them there to celebrate. The first half of my life was dominated by the love of my parents and sister, especially my mother, the second half by the love of my husband and the family that we’re creating together. I only wish I could combine the two splintered halves of my life again, if only for a day.
Because I’m a mom now, too, and it’s scary not having my mom around to help me whenever I feel lost or confused about what to do. She wasn’t in the delivery room with me when I gave birth. She wasn’t there to welcome her new granddaughter into the world. She wasn’t there when Nan took her first step, or said her first word, or cut her first tooth—and things like that hurt. All of those missed opportunities add up to one giant void that can never be filled.
I know my mom didn’t smoke to punish those she loved, or to punish herself. She just didn’t believe it would end up killing her. It was a habit she just couldn’t shake. I’m sure if she fully realized what it would do to her, she would have stopped a whole lot sooner looking back on the dozens of times she tried to quit, and not just because the cost per pack went up or her favorite restaurant no longer had a smoking section. She wouldn’t have given in to the temptation, if she knew ahead of time what it would ultimately cost her. But in the moment, I guess it didn’t seem possible until it actually happened. I suppose it’s hard to fathom that everything can be taken away just for making the same bad decision, over and over again.
I know before she died, my mom regretted her choice to keep smoking through the years. I could see it in her eyes. For a woman who never cried uncle, cancer was the only thing that packed a great enough punch to defeat her. The sticks of tobacco she stuck in her mouth, provided the means, one puff at a time. Everyone has a weakness, hers just happened to be deadly.
I cannot accept the years that have been taken away from us, but I can forgive her for the mistakes that she made. Whenever I feel her looking down on me, I plead with her to forgive herself, too, because no one was harder on herself than my mother. I only wish she had gotten to know Chase better. I wish she had gotten to see my daughter, Nan, and Erin’s boys, Randy and Jacob, grow into adulthood. I wish she had gotten to spend retirement with my dad, so he wouldn’t have to wander through his golden years alone.
But above all, I’m grateful for the time that I had with her, and the type of person she influenced me to be. Someone good. Someone strong. Someone not afraid to love with all her heart.
And I know if you’re reading this, she’d want you to take her story and learn from it, too. If you’re a smoker, she’d urge you to stop because of what it did to her. I know she couldn’t bear the thought of someone else going through the terrible ordeal she had to go through at the end. If you know someone who smokes, she’d want you to get them to quit, if not for themselves, than for you and all of the loved ones they’d be hurting by cheating themselves out of a long and healthy life. She wouldn’t want what happened to our family, to happen to yours. She had too much heart for that, and that’s something that cancer will never be able to take away from her. It might have destroyed her body, but the love she shared with the world goes on.
Nancy Kelleher, cancer victim, could never be her lasting legacy. Her abiding love is so much stronger than that. I felt it then, I feel it now, and I know I’ll continue to feel it every time I see her smiling back at me through my daughter’s eyes.
If you’re blessed enough to still have your mom with you, give her the hug I can no longer give my own, and if you’re a mom who smokes, please quit for the sake of your children. Don’t let cancer steal any of the precious moments that you’re able to spend with them. Life’s too short to waste one second with your lips wrapped around a cigarette. Use them to kiss someone you care about instead. I’m sure my mom would want you to do the same.
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Night Games Synopsis:
The moment Grey Kelleher locks eyes with All-Star shortstop Chase Whitfield, she’s a goner. For years, she’s watched him play on TV, and now she’s gazing at his hard, lean body across a bar in her hometown.
Grey’s crush on Chase goes all the way back to his rookie season. So when she approaches him for an autograph, she’s startled by what a jerk he can be.
Chase is no mood to humor his fans, even one as alluring as Grey. He’s in the last year of his contract and stuck having to prove himself on a minor league team. He’s only there to rehab an injury, nothing more.
But when Grey tells him off, Chase realizes her fiery spirit may be just the distraction he needs to take his mind off not being in the majors. His heart is safe. No one’s going to break his streak as baseball’s most eligible bachelor. Not even someone as irresistible as Grey.
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Game Changer Synopsis:
Young, rich, and unaware of how seriously hot he is, Brooks Davison is tearing it up as the latest shortstop for the New York Kings, despite his tendency to blush whenever girls scream his name.
When a health scare forces his best friend, Kyle Roberts, off the team, no one can stomach the thought of replacing him, especially so close to the playoffs.
Until Kyle’s sister, Sasha, steps in, convincing management to let her take his place. The idea of signing the first female player in Major League history proves too tempting for the Kings to resist.
Nevertheless, Brooks doesn’t want any part of it. Sasha is Kyle’s little sister, not some sideshow.
Yet when Kyle takes a turn for the worse, Brooks promises to do everything in his power to help Sasha win a championship for him. Because there’s no way he’s letting either of them down. Not now, not ever
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