In life, we all have defining days that make us or break us, or do both. Days that are marked as a distinct line that divides the before and the after.
For me, that day was July 27, 2009, when, in the early morning hours, my mom lost her battle to cervical cancer. There in that hospital room, with her closest family and friends surrounding her, she took her final breath and was finally free of the pain that consumed her for more than a year.
I was 19, had just finished my first year of undergrad at UNC Asheville, and had no idea how her death would impact the course of my life. But the moment my mom took her last breath, my world was forever changed.
Adjusting to life in the days and months following her passing was difficult, to say the least. As you can imagine, nothing was the same.
Going home meant walking into a house that no longer felt like home, and the thing I missed most in those first few weeks was seeing my mom’s bedroom light shining through the windows as I drove up our street at night after work or a party. If I was going to be out late, she would wait up for me (no matter how late I was out) with her bedroom light on. It’s funny what one single lightbulb can mean to a person after such a traumatic experience.
In a way, though, I was lucky. Because she died in July, I was between my freshman and sophomore years at school, and I didn’t have to worry about missing class.
Also, I worked part-time for someone who understood that I needed time to breathe after what I had just experienced, and therefore they did not hesitate to grant me as much time off as I needed. Especially when my dad and I decided, on a whim, to hop in the car and drive until we could not drive anymore.
Literally, we ran out of road — we were in Key West, Florida.
For that time, I am grateful.
When we returned home to North Carolina and life resumed with school starting and me going back to work, I struggled with why this had to happen to me and my family.
I could not understand why I had to be the one to lose my mom. Why me?
Now, eight years later, I have a little more perspective.
I’ll never know why she had to go, and perhaps it isn’t meant for me to understand, but I do know that her death gave me a purpose and a platform.
Because of her and the emotions I struggled with and continue to struggle with, I have felt the strong calling to be a source of support for other women and girls who become motherless daughters at a young age.
I have connected with many who stand where I stood not too long ago and am happy to be the person for them that I wish I would have had when I was 19. We all need someone, and that is why I started Dammit, Hali to get my message out.
Her death also gave me something to fight for — increased education for female cancers (other than breast). I spent several years angry that my mom’s life could have been saved if only she would have had routine Pap tests.
Her cancer was diagnosed at Stage IV, and while she went through surgery and chemotherapy, there was not much doctors could do to save her because of the advanced stage.
“Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. But over the last 40 years, the cervical cancer death rate has gone down by more than 50 percent. The main reason for this change was the increased use of the Pap test. This screening procedure can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. It can also find cervical cancer early — in its most curable stage.”
— American Cancer Society
I don’t want any woman to go through what my mom did or any daughter to lose her mother to this cancer. And if preaching about Pap tests helps save a life, then I am going to spend my time talking about gynecological health — no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
Today, though, I remember how I felt standing in that hospital on July 27, 2009. I accept that I will never escape the emotions of this day. And tonight, when I get home, I’ll pour myself a glass of red wine, admire the flowers that will be waiting on me from my fiancé, and listen to my mom’s music. Because that is what I need on this day.