Studio City Mom: What Was Happening When You Were 4?

The year my mom survived cancer.

When I was fourwas diagnosed with melanoma. It was discovered when a mole on her ankle started changing size and color and her leg swelled up like a water balloon.

I remember I would press on her leg and make it into funny shapes not knowing that she was possibly dying.

I was so little and very hooked to my mother's hip. In almost every picture of me at that age I was clinging to my mom—her skirt, her purse, her lap—wherever she was there you would find me.

I wasn't quite sure what was happening except that one day it seemed my mom's bed was replaced with a hospital bed and my aunt was taking me to nursery school, ballet and the occasional ice cream shop.

I had no idea how close my mother came to dying. I only knew that when she had to go to UCLA for her experimental treatments i was by her side walking down the long hospital corridor and sitting on her lap, sucking my thumb as needles with serum were being pressed into her chest leaving marks that looked as though a waffle iron had just burned her.

My mom survived. She had to have all of her lymph-nodes removed, extensive treatment, but she survived. She is a miracle.

I bring this up because I was cleaning the house this weekend. I mean seriously cleaning. The kind where you go through every drawer, every shelf, every box and make those hard calls as to what to toss out.

I have a habit of saving every single drawing, art project, school assignment that my daughter has ever made. From her first happy face on a piece of paper to oodles of napkins from restaurants where she learned how to write her name—it's all here.

I tell myself, "Susan, you can't keep all this stuff. It's crazy. She's not going to care about this crap when she's older"—and, yet, I can't throw it out.

So, there I was cleaning, putting all of my daughter's mother's day cards, stories, sketches, All About Me projects in files when I found something that took me by surprise.

It was a very old, orange cardboard paper with a small photograph of a little girl with dark hair glued on the left side of it. A thought bubble was hand drawn starting at the little girl's mouth and extending onto the cardboard as though it were floating over her head.

The little girl was me.

It was an art project I did in nursery school when I was 4 years old. And in the thought bubble written in pen was this hope, "I wish there was no disease in the world."

Obviously the project was supposed to show what our 4-year-old wish was. While I'm sure others in my class had wished for bicycles, rainbow unicorns and trips to Disneyland mine was a desire for the world to be rid of disease... or at least my mom.

I can't help but think about how that wish seemed to stay with me throughout my life. From mom's battle with cancer to her long battle with alcoholism, I don't believe there was or has been ever a time where my 4 year old wish changed.

But, I can look back at that child and say, "She beat cancer and she is sober... go play, little girl. Go play."

So, I'm thankful for this random art project that my mother thought to save. Knew not to throw out.

That's why I don't throw away my girl's things.

Maybe one day when she's a mommy and cleaning out some drawers she'll come across the drawing she made for me when she was 8 years old. The one where she drew an otter swimming on his back in the ocean with seaweed secretly floating underneath him. The one where she wrote, "To mommy love, no matter how much seaweed traps you, you will always be free in my heart. Love Hannah."

The one she gave her mommy during a really rough year of unemployment.

And maybe, like me and my orange cardboard art project, it will remind her of the kind of soul she had as a little girl... and, even more important, the kind of soul she probably will still have as a grown woman.

"You're mommy got out of the seaweed, baby. Go play, little girl... go play."

Mary McGrath August 15, 2011 at 02:20 PM
Very touching story Susan. Thank you.
Susan Kay Wyatt August 15, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Susan McMartin August 15, 2011 at 04:29 PM
thanks you, mary.
Susan McMartin August 15, 2011 at 04:29 PM
thanks, susan. your support always means so much.
Dotty Young August 15, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Crap, you made me cry in Starbucks, you booger! :)
Susan McMartin August 15, 2011 at 04:41 PM
good tears, i hope. thanks, dotty!
Richard Niederberg August 15, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Your story has inspired me, at least for today, and that is all I could have asked for. Thank You.
Susan McMartin August 15, 2011 at 10:50 PM
wow, thank you, richard. that means so much to me.
amysfunny August 16, 2011 at 03:38 AM
Nicely done Mom. :)
John Emerson August 16, 2011 at 11:56 PM
Poignant...Hooray for your Mom! My rough time was age 13, Fathers sudden death. Good times have been since my daughters birth in '59. She is the joy of my life. You have lots of special history yet to live with Hannah, and later as an adult to adult she will advise you. Mine is a Teacher. Time to get my old Fathers Day cards out. P.S. Regarding Melanoma, everyone, catch it early! they got all my cancer in time.
Susan McMartin August 17, 2011 at 02:29 AM
thanks, mama.
Susan McMartin August 17, 2011 at 02:30 AM
john, i always love your comments and insight -- thank you! and, yes on the melanoma -- i get my skin checked every year.
Cheyenne Chasen March 25, 2013 at 04:02 PM
I love these stories every monday morning
Susan McMartin March 25, 2013 at 04:22 PM
cheyenne, thank you! i love hearing from the people who read them!
Fina Wheeler March 25, 2013 at 05:19 PM
made me cry, very touching! I keep all of my daughters things too!
Kelly Lester (EasyLunchboxes) March 26, 2013 at 04:56 AM
I love you and your mom and your daughter and the fact that you are such a deep and amazing writer. Amazing Susan.
Susan McMartin March 26, 2013 at 05:00 AM
thanks, fina!
Susan McMartin March 26, 2013 at 05:01 AM
thanks, kelly. we love you and your mom too! xo


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