If you haven't already, be sure to read Our Story.
The following is a speech I wrote in 2016 as the keynote speaker at Relay for Life Harrison. Every year, caregivers and survivors in our community share their stories surrounding cancer, and I was honored to be invited to speak. Moments like giving this speech are great reminders of why I do what I do.
Hi my name is Taylor Graustein I'm a senior here at Harrison High School. This Monday will be the 4th anniversary of my mom’s passing, so telling my mom’s story tonight is especially significant for me.
I’ll take you back to the beginning...
I was only six years old when a tumor exploded in my mom’s brain. She had dropped me off at school and returned home with a painstaking headache. Luckily my dad was home and recognized the signs of a stroke in time to rush her to the hospital for emergency brain surgery.
That night my mom was still in the hospital undergoing procedures in the ICU. Not knowing what was going on, I called my dad scared and asked him to come home. My dad left my mom in the ICU that night, to come home and be with me. That must have been one of the hardest decisions that he ever had to make, not knowing if he would ever see his wife again alive.
My dad decided to tell me that my mom was on some sort of long doctors appt, and I vividly remember being very angry that she didn't say goodbye to me before leaving. My parents decided to not tell me the truth about what happened, so that I wouldn't have the burden of worrying.
The doctors were telling my dad that my mom wouldn’t live for another year. When my mom woke up she repeatedly told doctors, “You have to help me, I have a little girl at home I have to raise.” That's just the kind of caring woman my mom was, she didn't know if she would die at any minute and she was worrying about me.
I found out many years later that when she miraculously made strides in her rehabilitation and recovery, she spent her days in occupational therapy learning how to use her left hand well enough to make me scrambled eggs in the morning before school.
When I was younger, I was pretty oblivious to everything involving her cancer, and my parents did everything they could to make life normal for me. In that first year, my mom had another brain operation, 33 sessions of radiation, and a year of chemo without me even knowing. I did, however, figure out she couldn't see out of the peripheral vision of her left eye and I, would hide out of her sight and playfully jump out and scare her .
When I got older, my dad told me the story of everything that had happened to my mom years before. I was outraged that they kept it from me, and I cried when my dad explained the miracle that my mother had lived so many years more than any doctor could explain.
When I learned this I developed an intensely strong sense of hope and trust that everything would turn out alright. That hope stayed with me and allowed me to ignore the cancer and look forward to the time when everything would be okay.
4 years later...
My mom had become unstable on her feet. I remember noticing she wasn’t as well as she could be and I became more affectionate and protective of her. I developed a lot of patience with my mom after I understood what she had been through.
As my mom’s balance got worse, eventually one day she couldn’t walk. I remember being the only one that believed her...that she couldn't walk and that there was something wrong. Everyone thought she wasn’t trying hard enough or losing hope, but I could tell she was trying her best and I insisted that we get her help.
That November in 2010, my mom had a tumor pressing on her spine, paralyzing her from the waist down. My mom was in a hospital or rehab facility for the next 6 months following her diagnosis.
This time around, cancer wasn’t something that my parents could hide from me. I spent my time after school driving to whichever hospital she was at to see her. Being in a hospital every day, and seeing people who were so ill, forced me to face the reality of my mother’s illness. Every time I visited my mom, I was so glad to see her but I also couldn’t shake the feeling that life shouldn’t be like this. My mother didn’t deserve to be sick and alone in a hospital. Through those critical years of my life, it was really hard not having my mom home. My dad, however, told me that my only job was to stay focused on school and dance, so that’s what I did.
When we were finally able to bring my mom home, we had to learn how to take care of her: getting her in and out of bed, and getting her everything she needed. My dad slept downstairs on this tiny little bed every night in my mom’s new room to be with her and make sure she was okay. I watched my dad give up his life for my mom, and I knew that through all of this hardship that life was worth fighting for.
In the last 3 months of her life, my mom began to visibly decline: she lost function in her left arm, she started speaking less, and she looked dazed. It was too painful for me to even help out at home. I knew my mom wasn't giving up, but the cancer was getting the best of her. It just wasn't fair. One day she had a bad seizure and was back in the hospital. I knew at that hospital visit that I was losing my mom, the part of her that was really her. They gave her anti-seizure medicine, and on the way home from White Plains hospital, my dad told me things should get better now, and she wouldn't have seizures anymore. Hesitantly, I asked my dad, "will this medicine kill the cancer?" and with tears in his eyes he told me "no, honey, it won't." At that moment, I remember saying, "she will never be the same, will she?" and when I got home I was distraught. Sitting on the couch crying and hugging a picture frame of her and I. I brought that picture into my room and it's still hanging on my wall.
One morning in school, I was called out of Ms. Griffo’s 8th grade math class to go down to guidance. I knew immediately that there was something wrong. As I walked into my guidance counselor’s office, my dad stood up and, with tears in his eyes, he told me that mom had passed away.
That night I remember laying in bed thinking to myself that I don't have a mother on this earth. I would never see her again or hear her voice. The next morning I woke up with balloons in my room, a tradition my mom started when I was little to celebrate my birthday.
I’m endlessly thankful to the supportive community that helped us through that time, bringing me balloons, a birthday cake, bringing us food in the following weeks. All my friends' mothers have since been like mothers to me and meant so very much, so thank you all.
I didn’t get enough time with my mom, but in the time that I did, this is what I learned:
- Her battle was a lesson in overcoming adversity, and through it I found hope and strength.
- You have to find the goodness in everything bad that happens.
- There are people who wish they could be living the life that you are so blessed to live. So, you should make something of it and help people who are battling cancer. That is why we are all here tonight.
- My mother’s experience moved me to create a charity for that very reason. I began Candles for a Cure in her name to support the fight against cancer.
Let’s celebrate the amazing people we are here for tonight and keep them in our hearts and minds as we Relay.
This is our 'why' at Benefiscent. This is why it is so important to my dad and me, to do what we do. I am proud of how far we have come, from Candles for a Cure as a high school project, to Benefiscent as a thriving business! We would love Benefiscent's Blog to be a space where we share your cancer stories. Email me at email@example.com to share!