By William Laws

When my family tells me about my predecessors and how they first arrived in America, it makes me wonder how they made it through the circumstances they chose. Today’s problems of pandemics, wars, and financial strife seem very manageable when one thinks of the problems that the first settlers of “The New World” faced.

From what I know about my ancestors, I am a mix of French and German settlers to New England on my father’s side. I think I can imagine how cold their lives must have been. Sickness was a common occurrence, and effective medicine was hard to come by. Yet these people withstood what everyone can assume to be very bad times, and the majority of this side of my family has not moved more than two hundred miles from where they entered the United States. I wonder if it was because they struggled, and had no choice but to stay.

On the southern end of the thirteen colonies, my mother’s English, Scottish, and Irish forebears are known to have come into Norfolk, Virginia and Wilmington, North Carolina. In fact, my mother tells me that the William Laws name was first seen in the ships’ logs of coastal Virginia during the 1600’s. While we do not have written records of the direct connection, we know the Laws name traveled to North Carolina very early on. There is a major interstate winding through Virginia numbered 81- that used to be called “The Great Road” over ten generations ago. My maternal German Protestant ancestors traveled in a wagon on that rutted road to Washington County, Virginia in 1789. Their descendants are still there today. Their strength to withstand disease, harsh winters, and other miseries in the rustic Blue Ridge Mountains of the 1790’s proves to me that I come from a long line of survivors.

All of my predecessors’ struggles were to better their own circumstances and their descendants’. I have benefited from their struggles. My life is not perfect, but for the most part, I am a very fortunate person. Although my parents haven’t lived together since I was an infant, I don’t feel disadvantaged because of it. Both of my parents have stable jobs and homes, and both of them love me very much. But last February, my mother received some shocking news that would change our lives forever.

I turned around and shut the front door. It was a rainy Wednesday night, and my father had just dropped me off at my mom’s house after my weekly scheduled visitation with him. When I saw my mother and stepfather sitting down in the living room, I could immediately sense that something was wrong. My mom’s mascara was a little smeared; it was obvious that she had cried a little while ago, but she had calmed down by the time I arrived. Ed, my stepdad, was sitting on the couch in apparent shock. It looked like they had been motionless for a while, just waiting for me to come through the door.

“Honey, sit down,” said Mom weakly. At this point, I started to scan my memory for things I had done wrong lately. I couldn’t think of anything, but that didn’t comfort me. “I have some bad news,” my mom continued after I sat down. “When I went to the doctor today…”

“Oh yeah, how’d that go?” I interjected nervously.

“Well, it’s hard to say,” stammered Mom. “But the doctor thinks that I have cancer.”

I was silent for a while after that; I realized why Ed hadn’t said anything since I had come home.

I finally mustered, “Where, what kind?”

“They haven’t found the main cancer site yet,” she responded. “But from the tests, it looks like I have stage IV cancer. But we’ve decided about some treatments, so there’s a good chance…” she trailed off, as if not wanting to say, “that I’ll live.”

I didn’t know what to say; I simply nodded, gave her a hug, and trudged upstairs to my room.

Thoughts were swirling through my head. How could my mother have cancer? She wasn’t even 50 years old yet. Even though cancer runs in my mom’s side of the family, we were all shocked when we found out it had hit my mother. She was the most health-conscious person in our family; she doesn’t smoke, and only drinks some wine or champagne once in a while. She was always the one telling me and my stepbrother to “eat our leafy greens”, since they have vitamins in them that prevent diseases. But even though my mom practiced a fit lifestyle, she contracted cancer. And it was probably just because both of her parents smoked.

That taught me a lot about fairness in life; someone can have a horrible circumstance occur in their life even if they do everything within their power to avoid it. One does not always control their own destiny; some things are just out of your own hands.

The next 15 months were a real struggle for our whole family. My mom, who was in the middle of graduate school, suddenly had to start chemotherapy. The effects of chemotherapy were draining. Many days she barely got out of bed, unable to gather enough energy to go downstairs. But she still managed to continue her work for graduate school online, something that amazes me to this day.

I gained a lot of respect for my mom while she was fighting cancer, and realized how much different life would be without her. I wouldn’t be able to live without her; she is such a big part of my life and I wouldn’t have accomplished a lot of the things I have done without her encouragement.

The ordeal also brought my stepdad, my stepbrother, and I closer together. Since Mom didn’t have the energy to help around the house most of the time, we had to increase our workload. We worked together to keep our home presentable, which can be hard for a few guys to do.

Thankfully, my mom has had several scans that are free of cancer since this spring, and is back working full-time. She went to Washington D.C. this past May to receive her Masters degree in Clinical Research Administration from George Washington University.

My mom’s fight against cancer taught me to be thankful for the people around me, especially my family. There is nothing more important to me than the well-being of my family. My ancestors probably felt the same way- but in most cases all they could do was hope for the best, and likely lose a family member. In current times, society enjoys more advantages that many people do not appreciate; but our ordeal has taught me to appreciate modern medicine. Even though we did not realize it that February night, our battle against cancer would end up bringing our family closer together instead of tearing it apart.