Why I PMC - Claire and Bob Conerly

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Bill Alfano

Why I PMC - Claire and Bob Conerly

Guest blog by Clair Conerly, introduction by Bob Conerly

Why do I ride?  For my wife, Beth, a 7 year survivor, and my kids that together endured the fear, the battle, recovery and life after the diagnosis.  We never quite realize the impact.  As my wife says, “you don’t really get it until you get it.”  After all of these years, my daughter Claire, now fourteen, asked me to read a recent homework assignment (attached).   As I read it, the emotions from years ago came rushing back and I was reminded that all of us learn to live with the diagnosis, treatment and apprehension that comes with ever check-up.  It never goes away.  Claire has always been and will remain there for Beth.  Claire has never ridden in the PMC yet she is as Committed as those of us that ride and volunteer in support of the PMC and the reason it exists.

Survivor by Claire Conerly

“Sam! Pass I’m wide open!” He did a quick fake to the left, cut right and took a shot.

“Nooo!” he bellowed as he collapsed to the ground like an over-dramatic FIFA player would fall.

“I was wide open! You never pass to me you jerk!” He always did this even if we were on the same team. Just because he was a year older than me, and in second grade didn’t mean he was better than me. Frustrated as I was, the growls of hunger coming from my stomach called me inside. As I stepped across the threshold of our mudroom door, it occurred to me that my dad’s Volvo was parked in the garage. That’s weird I thought,it was only 5:00 p.m. and it was a weekday.​ ​He was standing there whispering to my mother who had her back facing towards me. I heard a sob and swiftly ducked behind a wall so they wouldn’t see me. My curiosity got the best of me as I stepped around the corner only to find my mother’s and father’s tear streaked faces looking back at me.

“Mom, Dad? Is everything alright?” They glanced at eachother and then to the floor.

“Yes, everything is great. Wash your hands. We are going to have a special dinner in the family room tonight. I’ll go get Sam while you’re cleaning yourself up.” Mom finally said breaking the awkward silence.

I was excited we got to eat in the family room instead of at our granite top counter that reminded me of colorful marbles. I walked back into the kitchen to find my favorite meal sitting on the table. Sushi! Dad grabbed his drink and asked me how my day at school was.

“It was alright. First grade is getting tough these days you know?” He chuckled and told me to grab some placemats. By this time I was too preoccupied with the sushi and rare dinner arrangement that I wasn’t thinking about my mother’s tears and quiet sobs that took place just a few minutes earlier.

“Ok, who’s ready for some sushi and a good old family talk?”
“Family talk? I thought we were going to get to watch a movie.”
“Claire, after we talk you can watch all of the movies you’d like.”
We all sat down at the wooden coffee table placed in front of the T.V. and waited 
patiently for someone to start this “talk”. “Beth, are you good to start?” My father gave her a look, which I now understand to be a look of reassurance.

My mother took a deep breath and looked at me and Sam with hesitation.

“Alright kids. You might have noticed that I’ve been gone more often lately and there is a very specific reason for that. Just know that I’m going to be ok;; it’s just going to take some time.” I looked at my dad and then back to my mom;; I’m not going to lie, I also snuck a quick glance at the delicious sushi sitting right in front of me too.

“I have a pretty serious illness that is called cancer. I’m going to be sick for a while now and I’m going to have to go to a lot of doctors and the hospital, but I’m going to be ok. The doctors I have are very good and experienced with this type of sickness so they’ll take good care of me.”

“You’re sick? How badly? Is it worse than a cold or flu?” I could tell that Sam was nervous by the shakiness in his voice.

“Yes it is, but I’m getting the care I need and the treatments will make me better. It’s just going to take a while.”

I couldn’t believe that my mom was sick. I didn’t quite know what exactly cancer was, but I got the point that it wasn’t good and would take a while to get rid of. I started crying even though I was pretty confused. My mom started to cry when she saw my tears although she was trying to stay strong for us. She held me in her arms and rocked me until I stopped my cries. We talked for a little while longer and ate until we had a better understanding of the news.

“Can we go back outside and play soccer?” Sam always likes to play in the yard with our half-broken goal and the semi-deflated balls.

“Yeah! Please? Mom, Dad can you come too?” They looked at each other and communicated with their adult language without actually speaking. I never understood it, but it was extremely annoying.

“Alright but be prepared to lose! Just because we are parents doesn’t mean we are bad.” We all ran outside and finished off the night with a good, old game of backyard soccer. It was a nice way to end off an evening full of tears, questions, and hard conversations.

Mom would come home for treatments looking worn out and frail. “It takes a lot out of me” she would say when she saw the look of concern in my eyes. Even though I’m young, I could still tell those smiles that made her look happy weren’t always real and the treatments she went for weren’t easy and harmless.

Looking back at that rainy night in 2008 I didn’t understand what my mother was talking about and how much it would affect her life and all of our’s. I only understood that she was sick. I didn’t think that this “sickness” would lead to her beautiful, long, blond hair falling out in clumps when she ran a comb through it, that it would make her not be able to go for a 20 yard run to catch the frisbee that I never learned to throw well, restricting her from going to the beaches in Cape Cod that I grew up swimming with her at and where she taught me how to dive under a big wave so I wouldn’t get hit. I never thought the cancer would cause her to have to take naps at 3:00 in the afternoon when any other person would still be out and about, make her not be able to stand as long as the other cheering parents at my soccer games, led to our receiving pre-cooked meals that were donated from our friends to eat instead of her amazing meals that she loved to create, all because she didn’t have the energy to mix the herbs with the rubs or season the steaks in preparation for the grill.

I never expected this cancer to touch so many people’s lives in ways that I wouldn’t ever imagine-including my own. This monster we call cancer changed my mother and so many other people’s lives in ways that seemed impossible to my first grade self.

Even today, eight years after the cancer, infections, and treatments, my mom isn’t the same. She isn’t the same person as she was in 2008. Small stuff about her has changed such as her pin straight hair turning into, as she calls it, “chemo curls”, and her skin becoming freckled everywhere. And there are the big changes like her balancing issue which causes her to not be able to run and the aching pains all over her body caused by the medications that were supposed to make her feel better. She has had to sacrifice so much just to beat the living nightmare of cancer.

“Why did this happen to me? I never smoked, drank too much, or ate unhealthy foods. I lived a healthy life and I still got sick. It doesn’t make sense.” She would always say this to me and ponder the thought for a moment before changing the subject. How did this happen to her though? I guess it’s just the “luck” of the draw when there’s really nothing lucky about it.

However in some ways the effect of her getting sick was a good thing. The whole situation taught me to appreciate the life I take for granted sometimes and how to be selfless. There were times where I wouldn’t be able to go to a friend’s house because my mom wouldn’t have the energy to drive me there or when I would have to help with extra stuff around the house so my mom could rest. I would be annoyed and try to fight it then, but now I understand by doing these extra things my mom was able to rest so she could stay up later with us. Now I don’t get as upset to help out and I’m not as selfish as I was before.

The changes in my mom were also not all bad. She became stronger than ever. I remember that she also became more involved in helping others whose lives have been touched by cancer. She would join support groups, have one on one talks with those who were battling cancer, prepare meals for families going through the same struggles we went through when she was battling the sickness, and donated money while also getting involved in charities and foundations to raise money for cancer research.

 

(Claire and her Mom Beth in Time Square)

 

At the time it was hard to see my mom have to go through the phases of healing including the chemotherapy, the radiation, the mastectomies, and the five surgeries. That time was full of worry, concern, and prayers for everything to be ok. It sometimes consisted of sleeping at a different friend’s house every night for a full week and getting rides and care from other parents. However, we got through it. My mother is a survivor of stage two breast cancer and several additional infections post-cancer, but is now able to say “I suffered, I fought, and I beat that son of a bitch we call cancer.” 

(Conerly kids running a lemonade stand to benefit the PMC)