Hannah Efird: My mother’s story

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 30, 2016

When you hear the word “cancer,” your life changes. Suddenly your world is filled with doctor’s visits, chemotherapy, new drugs, operations and the unknown. This word can change your life in so many ways, but this word cannot define who you are.

My mother, Deborah Efird, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer Dec. 15, 2013. Then 54, she never had any health issues up to this point. She had three children and a husband of 34 years.

Mom felt different for about three months leading up to her diagnosis but overlooked her symptoms as a part of getting older.

“We knew something was wrong with Mom but we had no idea what it was.” Jason Efird, Deborah’s youngest son, said.

For a few weeks, Mom had been rapidly losing weight. She felt bloated with no energy and had suddenly become a shell of the woman she once was.

Her sister, Elaine Beaver, was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years earlier but had been in remission for six years.

“You just have to keep having your faith. Keep holding on and never give up. The more you fight it makes you stronger,” Elaine said.

“It makes you think about life more and how thankful you are to have your life. It makes you want to help people. You feel for people who have cancer and identify with them, especially when it’s your sister.”

Mom was the youngest daughter of 11 children. Her father was a minister and her life was surrounded by faith, family and love. Mom and Dad were married on March 25, 1978, and she is someone who devoted her life to taking care of others.

Mom is not the kind of person who gives up easily. It took her and my father five years to have their first child. Jessica, is my oldest sister, and Mom and Dad were beyond thrilled to have started their family. My brother and I came along over the next five years.

Mom would do anything for her children, and now we understood those feelings. We would do anything to take her pain away and make this cancer suddenly disappear.

She knew that this disease carried with it hard days ahead, but she also knew she had the support of the ones she loved the most.

Not long after diagnosis, the cards and letters came in the mail. In the traditional Southern way, casseroles and cakes started making their way from friends’ and neighbors’ ovens to her front door.

“Our family had never felt so much love, but maybe it takes that to really understand life and what it takes to make it through. I don’t know what our family would have done in those early days without the support of the community,” Mom said.

The word cancer carries with it many things. The sudden feeling that your loved one is not invincible, life is at the forefront of your mind and living is the reason you keep going. Through chemotherapy and the hard days, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Harper Lee wrote that you never really know a man until you understand his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

Although, it is hard to understand when it happens to you or your family, everyone’s life has been touched by cancer in some way. We continue to fight and talk about what can be done and how we can end it for good. This is how we make a difference. This is how we beat this disease.

It is so important to show the ones you care about that you’re there and will continue to be there.

As a daughter who has stood by my mother’s side through this horrible disease, I know what it means to live and love to the fullest. It’s important to remember all the great things that make this person who they are. They are more than a diagnosis.

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Be aware of your body. Look for the symptoms. Be vigilant. This disease is a silent one.

The signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are: bloating, change in bowel habits, indigestion or nausea, becoming full faster when eating, pain in the abdomen or pelvis, pain during sex, fatigue and loss of appetite.

Mom continues to fight. As she always has. We stand beside her. As we always will.