Then you meet 34-year old Tiffany Bennett. This courageous, dynamic and wonderful young woman has experienced more of life’s ups and downs in the last four years than many of us will in our entire lifetimes. I learned of Tiffany’s story by way of her loving mother, Cathy, whom I met during a business meeting a few weeks ago. It was at that first meeting where Cathy and I were discussing the possibility of doing business together when I came to learn of her daughter’s two-time battle with breast cancer.
I was instantly intrigued not only with Tiffany’s perseverance against what has clearly been an arduous fight to survive and thrive beyond the tumultuous impact of stage three breast cancer and a double-mastectomy since her 20s. But what captured even more of my attention was Cathy’s enduring love, appreciation and endless admiration for her beloved daughter as she spoke about Tiffany. Perhaps you’d have to be mother to a daughter to truly understand the depth, breadth and strength of the bond this experience has created between this mother-daughter duo who have been changed forever by the cancer that came into their lives and family more than ten years ago.
As I sat in the Bennett living room by a crackling fireplace listening to Tiffany’s recollections of how the cancer was first discovered, I couldn’t help but wonder how any mother, and particularly Cathy, could keep her composure and strength during a time of life or death illness. At 24, I remember thinking to myself, life is supposed to be about career development, living life, falling in love and not about diagnoses, doctors, treatments, medications and multiple, agonizing hospital stays. Tiffany validated my thoughts with the following statement: “I had just gotten a ‘real job’ with a salary and health insurance. I had a boyfriend. I was 24.”
Yet as many of us know, life often changes at the drop of a dime or as in this case, the call from one doctor. “Suddenly,” Tiffany recalls, “I wasn’t 24 anymore. My life changed. My boyfriend’s life changed. My family’s life changed. Honestly, I look back and think that my whole life was put on pause. It went on a totally different direction from where I thought it was supposed to go. That was tough.”
Cathy recalls those tough times and remembers Tiffany’s sadness and pain. “I remember thinking that if this was the journey we were to be on, then we’d do it together, all the way. We made a pact. I’d be there side by side with her through every step.” And in true devoted mom fashion, when Tiffany’s hair began to fall out during chemotherapy, Cathy made an appointment with a beauty salon to have both their hair styles cut in very short form. Today, Cathy still sports the short hair style inspired from that era of treatment.
The entire Bennett family, in fact, rallied together in support of Tiffany. “Tiffany’s cancer was a family affair,” shares Cathy. “We always traveled in a pack to each and every appointment: husband, wife, brother, boyfriend and other members of the Bennett entourage. We all wanted to do what we could for Tiffany; anything she needed or wanted she got. We also tried to help other patients having treatment along with Tiffany. We did what we could and I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to have been there.”
As anyone can imagine in times like these where both health and stress levels are equally as challenged and taxed, it wasn’t always gravy for the mother-daughter pair. “Tiffany had bouts of anger and depression,” Cathy softly recalls. “I remember not long after the second tumor was discovered, Tiffany—in her frustration and despair—said she wanted to stop all treatment and essentially just give up.” After a slight measured pause, Cathy began again. “That was really tough for me. I remember walking out of the hospital room. I was angry! It took me at least one or two days to be able to take Tiffany’s call.” Looking back, Tiffany feels remorse but explains during the time, she did feel like giving up. “I was angry, too,” she explains. “I did everything the doctors had told me to do during the first tumor and it didn’t matter. I got sick again.” She admits she felt defeated and tired.
Eventually the duo did manage to regain their emotional and spiritual strength and resumed their collaborative, second battle against the cancer which, after extensive discussions with doctors and surgeons, resulted in a double-mastectomy.
“At some point during this whole ordeal, I remember asking Tiffany about her perspective on life,” shares Cathy, who meticulously journalized Tiffany’s entire experience into a beautifully-bound memoir book with countless photos and personalized notes. “I remember asking if she saw the glass half-full or half-empty.” Tiffany’s response was as instantaneous as it was clear: “Mom, I’m just happy to have water!”
That quirky, Tiffany-style response is the very phrase Cathy has coined to formally name her personalized memoirs: Just Happy to Have Water. “When I was first diagnosed with the cancer,” shares Tiff any, “I remember looking for books to help me cope with what laid ahead. What I quickly learned, however, is that there aren’t many books written about 24-year olds with breast cancer.” In yet another gesture of love and devotion to her daughter, Cathy stepped in and decided to write the book herself. “I wrote the book primarily for Tiffany, but in the end, it turned out to be a faith-based, photo-journal book our family oft en referenced to help us get through that time of uncertainty and incredible tribulation.”
“I initially encouraged my mom to write the book as a therapeutic outlet,” says Tiffany. Now, Tiffany is encouraging Cathy to get the book actually published. “I feel the book is important beyond our own family’s experience. It is a solid reference of what the breast cancer experience is like in your 20s and I’m convinced it will help others young women who may find themselves in a similar medical situation.” These days, mother and daughter are actively pursuing the publishing of Just Happy to Have Water (which is scheduled for publishing in 2012). And in the process of documenting their family’s experience, Cathy discovered a real love for writing. “Now I find myself writing much more lighter, fun fare about our family’s two Goldendoodles and their many canine adventures,” Cathy shares cheerfully. After what this mother, daughter and collective family have endured and experienced, I would say lighter fare is exactly what the doctor ordered, pun intended.
MAYRA RUIZ MCPHERSON is the founder of Ruiz McPherson Communications, a marketing ingenuity and digital PR company based in Dulles, Virginia. You can follow her on Twitter at @mayraruiz, via her practice’s Twitter handle @ruizmcpherson or on Facebook at facebook.com/ruizmcpherson.