The Donkey and the Goat: How I Supported My Mom Through a Cancer Scare


Dealing with my cancer was much easier than dealing with the possibility of my mother’s cancer.

My life has been fulfilling. I’ve written professionally since I was 16 and have taught writing for nearly 40 years; I’ve loved being an educator in something I know. I married my best friend, and this year, we’ll celebrate 26 years of unity. I have a smart, funny 18-year-old boy.I’m blessed with devoted friends, both old and new, and wonderful siblings.To top it off, my mother is still living and going strong at 91.

 But it hasn’t been easy. Health problems have been a constant of my adult existence. I know physical ailments and mental as well. In 1991, I was diagnosed with bipolar illness, and in 2011, cancer. I’m sixty now; that’s 32 years of one disease, and 12 years of the other.

 I have to say that I’ve gotten stronger and stronger as time has passed, but when I was first diagnosed with a severe illness, I was weak.

 In 1992, my mother had a hysterectomy for a fibroid tumor that was pressing on her uterus. At the time, I was living with her. I’d left my full-time teaching job and essentially didn’t have anywhere else to go.

 We liked to take drives through the farmland of Ohio. We’d cruise by an old farm and observe a goat and a donkey that were usually standing together in the muddy grass. These two animals were friends, and their heads were often touching lovingly. Sometimes in the rain, the goat found shelter under the donkey’s belly. These images of peaceful cohabitation symbolized this life period for me. My mom and I were like the goat and the donkey – always together and seemingly content.

 I didn’t know much about cancer at the time, and when I heard the words “fibroid tumor,” I was deathly afraid that the tumor was malignant. Now I know that most uterine tumors are benign, but then, I was certain that Mom was going to die from cancer.This was a horrible feeling, much worse than thinking I was going to die from cancer. I know both feelings well, and I can say this.

 One night after dinner, I confessed my fear. “You can’t die, Mom.”

 “What do you mean?”

 “If you have cancer.Who will take care of me?”

 “You and I are going to be fine,” she said, with the prescience of a good parent.

 Well, you know the end of the story. She was right. The tumor was the size of a large orange, but it was benign. We both survived the operation. I got better at dealing with my mental health issues, and a year later, I met my future husband. A year after that, I returned to the classroom, teaching writing.

 We were fine. Years later, a child came, and new challenges came with him. I was no longer weak; I was strong, possessing a strength that comes from adversity, as they say.

 “What happened to the little goat and donkey?” you might be asking.

 They dug their farm up and built condominiums on their land. We heard that the animals were relocated to a children’s petting zoo.

 God, I hope that’s true. And not just for their sake. For our town’s sake; they were two mascots of fortitude, two friends forever.

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