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Small Wonders: Run for the Roses of the world

July 10, 2010

"When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better."

— Maya Angelou

According to the American Cancer Society, almost 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime

Rose Marie Hunt had beaten breast cancer once. But when it came back, and metastasized to other parts of her body, Jessica Cribbs knew her mother's prognosis wasn't good. A Burbank resident for eight years, Jessica had already gone back to her hometown of Petersburg, Mich. — a farming community of 1,120 people somewhere between Toledo and Ann Arbor — to be with her mother through radiation and chemotherapy.

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But when "quality of life" became the topic of discussion rather than longevity, Jessica, her husband and two children made the long drive back East for what she knew would be the last Christmas with the matriarch and center of her family.

Jessica set up a blog (http://www.strengthofarose.com) for her mother to update family and friends on her progress. But Rose was soon too sick to keep it up. Jessica took over, and the blog became a daughter's way to share what it's like losing a mother to cancer.

On a cold, Midwestern winter's day in January 2009, Rose, at the far-too-young age of 54, took her last breath surrounded by her family, holding her daughter's hand.

"I know people like to think death might be peaceful," Jessica told me last week as she rocked her sleeping newborn on the dining room table. "But it wasn't. It was not peaceful watching. "

Jessica was afraid these last, painful moments would be all she had left of her mother, her best friend, the person who taught her everything she knew about being a mom, a friend and a daughter. Her mother's death did rock Jessica's world for some time.

"But it's amazing when you get through that, what you're left with," Jessica said. "All the things from childhood, things she said. I'll be in the kitchen cooking something and remember who taught me the recipe. Or the clothes that I'm wearing that she got me the last birthday I had with her."

Rose spent most of her energy thinking about and helping others, Jessica said. "Everything I am is what she's left me with. She was my model. A pretty amazing model."

So Jessica was determined that her mother's unselfish legacy be remembered. She vowed to make things better. Just like her mother always did.

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