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The Gift . . .

My daughter, Riley, was obtaining her BFA in Dance from Western Michigan University.  As part of her program to graduate, she had to choreograph a 7 to 10 minute piece, her Graduation Presentation.  She was responsible for everything: choreography, lighting, staging, costumes, auditions; the full gammit.  In addition to the performance, she also had to write a paper on the concept of her dance, what she was trying to convey in her piece, why she chose the music for her piece and a detailed account of the meaning behind every movement in the dance.   It was a huge undertaking.  The BFA candidates submit their theme for their dance in the fall, the performance is in February.  When I ask Riley what her theme is going to be, she tells me she’s not ready to share.

Throughout the next months, I watch my daughter go through blood, sweat and tears to get her piece done.  She’s never been a choreographer, nor had a desire to be one.  She just wants to dance.  This is bringing her out of her comfort zone.  There were a few nights where there were tears and frustration, but when all was said and done, she found out she was a phenomenal choreographer. By coming out of her comfort zone, she learned something about herself and grew.  Score!  As a parent you witness your kids learning life lessons all the time.  Some lessons give them a positive outcome, some they learn “the hard way” and your heart breaks for them.  This time she came out on top. She was extremely proud of herself and the piece she created.

She was still tight lipped about the theme but said she was getting compliments from everyone who had seen the piece.  I was extremely excited to see it.  I felt I have given some blood, sweat and tears also. (Those of you that have daughters will understand).

The BFA Graduating Presentation show was Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  I was still in radiation so we weren’t able to go until the Saturday show.    Saturday night arrives and we go to our seats.  Nick and Molly have also come to watch the show.  The four of us are waiting for the show to begin when one of the ushers asks if I’m Riley’s Mom.  Yes, I reply.  This is for you to read before the show starts.  It’s from Riley.

A woman behind me, must know what’s up, as she taps me on the shoulder and says you may want to wait to read that, if you don’t want the water works to start.  Okay then, words I wasn’t expecting. I open and read this:

Dear Mom,

Coming into my senior year I had a clear vision of what I wanted my Graduating Presentation to be about.  I think you have an idea by now. . . For my piece I wanted to show your pure strength, gratitude and perseverance.  To me, my entire life you have been exactly that, even when times were tough for you.  When we got the news of your second diagnosis with breast cancer, our worlds turned upside down.  This is something we all never thought would happen again.  Seeing you go through this not once but twice was most definitely life altering.

The day of your surgery to the day I came home from Europe are memories that will always stick with me.  It was difficult to comprehend the changes that you were going to face but I was more than ready to tackle them with you.  You showed me that through these difficult times that there is always gratitude and love.  Like you always say this is life changing not life taking.  Because of your positive attitude and strength throughout this whole journey, I truly believe that.  Nothing can tear you down, not even the Big “C”.

My inspiration for my piece is you Mom.  And although this is a heavy topic, I did not want to focus on the dark side.  I wanted to show your journey and how there are ups and downs, and within those dark moments there is always gratitude and love.  I wanted to focus on when there are those hard days, you are constantly showing strength.  And that overall there is healing, love and hope.  Thank you for being my role model.  Thank you for being my best friend.  Thank you for being my Mom.

I love you,


I’m speechless and yes the waterworks begin.  My daughter dedicated her dance to my journey.  Something so fresh and raw in her life and she wanted to show what it meant to her, what she learned from it.  Not only did she show what she learned from our experience, she didn’t focus on the negative.  She wanted to show that even in the journey with the Big “C”, there is hope, healing and love.  I have just witnessed my daughter learn an incredible life lesson.   She got it, she understood what I was trying to convey.  Yes, cancer sucks, but look at the incredible gift it just gave me.   A dance that beautifully shows my journey and an amazing daughter who loves me so much she dedicated her graduating presentation to me.  She gets that being in gratitude and staying positive are everything.  I can’t describe how I felt in that moment; blessed, humbled, surprise, grateful, happy all rolled into one.  If I’m crying now, how am I going to make it through her number?

The show begins.  Each number is unique, each showing the dancer’s personality, each with a theme that means something to them.  It’s time for her number and it doesn’t disappoint.  It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and joyous.  It did portray hope, healing and love.  I cry through most of it, praying that it’s on video so I can watch it again when my eyes aren’t so blurry.  When it’s done, several of us give it a standing ovation.  All the dancers are crying, the piece has moved them also.

While waiting for Riley, I speak with her ballet professor and mentor for this piece.  She hugs me for a long time and with tears in her eyes, she says, “Your daughter did a phenomenal job.  I tried to talk her out of this theme as it was so fresh and raw and she stood steadfast.  Her choreography depicted it beautifully”.  She went on to tell me that my daughter didn’t tell any of her teachers until right before the presentations about my cancer.  After they learned of my diagnosis, they told her they were in awe of her professionalism and demeanor.  They admired her strength.  She never missed a class, never missed an assignment, and was always present.  I am once again speechless.  I’m a parent so I naturally think my children are amazing (it comes with the territory), but tonight I am truly in awe of my daughter.  What she created through her grief and how she handled herself throughout my journey touches my soul. 

It’s so hard to be a parent with cancer.  You are trying to work through so many of your own emotions but it can’t just be about you, you have children. You’re still a parent when you have cancer, you can’t walk away.  You hope you can help them process their feelings.  You hope you can ease their worry and pain.  You hope that by watching you they can see that struggles are surmountable.  That attitude and gratitude are everything.  My daughter showed me that tonight.  She showed me that she has learned the importance of being positive and having gratitude.  That she could focus and grow through pain.  I have a feeling of peace tonight as I realize Riley is growing into a compassionate, self-assured woman.  One that can tackle what life throws at her and handle it with a grace beyond her years.  Tonight cancer gave me a gift I’ll always treasure.


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