A Different Perspective – Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day Post from Lisa Erwin

I am honored West Cancer Center asked me to write about Mother’s Day from a different perspective.

One person not mentioned in my article is Barry Erwin, Jay’s brother, who passed away from cancer in December 1996. Collin Erwin, my sweet boy, is named after his uncle Barry. We miss you Barry, another part of the Erwin generation taken by cancer. God gave me a mother-in-law who loves the Lord. We walk together on this journey and she is my praying guide. I’m blessed.

Lisa Erwin

The Erwin family has three generations of cancer in their family, all linked to a rare genetic mutation. Their oldest son Trey passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2012, and his mom Lisa continues to fight to keep his memory alive while being there to support her younger son Collin.

“On Mother’s Day each year, I am reminded of the undeniable role of actually being two mothers. I am a grieving mother to a son who no longer bursts in my door with a smile that lit up a room. I am also a mother to a son who is striving to find himself while dealing with the heaviness of loss, doctors, tests, and the reality of what the future might hold.”

Lisa and her family are passionate about supporting the fight against cancer and the need for new and more effective treatment options. “Funding for cancer research is so important. Without research, there would be no hope for Collin.”

How do you prepare yourself for this Hallmark holiday we call Mother’s Day? Some of us are members of a club we never volunteered for when our child was diagnosed with cancer. Most of us share the pain and emptiness Mother’s Day brings, even while celebrating our own mothers. This day has been very bittersweet since my son, Trey, passed away in July 2012 from pancreatic cancer. Honestly, it is a day my grief is a little heavier than most days.

Mother’s Day note from Lisa’s son Trey in 2012

The last Mother’s Day with Trey was spent in Hawaii, his paradise. I remember waking up that morning with an envelope next to my bed. “Mom” I opened it to find a notebook piece of paper saying, “Happy Mother’s Day, I love you thisssss much! Trey.” He enclosed a picture of the two of us from the VOLS Orange and White football game we attended in Knoxville a couple of weeks prior.

Photo enclosed with Trey’s note

That “love phrase” is what we always said to each other. That was the last text he was able to read on July 5, 2012, “I love you thissss much! Mom.” I knew he was desperately trying to read the massive amount of texts he was receiving after we let the public know that he would not be with us much longer.

Many mothers mourn on Mother’s Day. Sadness overtakes the joy of celebrated motherhood and we long to hold our children that we have lost to a cruel cancer. The friends of our children are growing up, going to college, getting married, having children, and Trey forever remains 15 years old. There are days that I sink to the floor in tears with grief because this reality hits me so hard. And honestly, I’m trying to reel in a little “unfairness” towards Collin too.

Just because I lost Trey does not mean I suddenly stopped being a mother to my youngest son, Collin. Just in the last month Collin has become a patient at West because he turned 21 in July of 2020. St. Jude knew it would be best that he is followed closely by West Cancer Center since he carries the same mutant melanoma gene as Trey. It has taken me over nine months to pick up the phone and make the call for an appointment. As a mother, if I didn’t make him go, then maybe the gene would go away and there would be no cancer in Collin’s future. I know in this mama’s heart I cannot take that chance. I believe sometimes the children left behind are loved so fiercely, it’s hard to let them fly.

On Mother’s Day each year, I am reminded of the undeniable role of actually being two mothers. I am a grieving mother to a son who no longer bursts in my door with a smile that lit up a room. I am also a mother to a son who is striving to find himself while dealing with the heaviness of loss, doctors, tests, and the reality of what the future might hold.

Throughout the day, I’m sure I will not be able to resist scrolling through the sea of photos on social media of mothers with their children, young and old, and wonder was there something I missed; a drug or treatment we didn’t pursue; or, my failure as a mother to do everything in my power to help Trey survive. Do not misunderstand. A mother’s faith is not weak due to continual grieving of her child.

I know cancer did not define Trey, his purpose and faith in God directed him. Cancer did not define his grandfather, Jerry, does not define my husband, Jay, and WILL NOT define or deter Collin’s future. Three generations of West Cancer Center patients. We are forever indebted to Dr. Kurt Tauer for his love, honesty, and support for the past 26 years of this familial cancer journey. My prayer is that with West Cancer Center’s help, I will continue to have many more Mother’s Days with Collin. I will remain faithfully by his side as he endures each scan, endoscopy, and doctor’s appointment praying God would spare him.

I will remain ever hopeful that advances in cancer research will lead for better treatment options and better outcomes for other families like mine. I will continue to work to support the work of West Cancer Foundation and raise funds to fuel innovative research to find cures for this terrible disease. Without funding for research, there might not be hope for Collin.

I have said many times, the biggest fear a mother has is that after the death of their child, their child will be forgotten. Every mother who has lost a child deeply desires for others to say their child’s name. For someone else on Mother’s Day, your purpose might be to say their child’s name and acknowledge them as their wonderful mother. This Mother’s Day will not be lost without thinking how many people still greet me by saying, “I know you. Are you Trey’s mother?” My proud reply, “Why yes! Yes I am.” My purpose as a mother…fulfilled. I will enjoy Mother’s Day with my Collin, but in the meantime, I know Trey is enjoying paradise with Jesus and knows his mama loves him thisssss much.

Acknowledging all who have loved and lost on this Mother’s Day.

-Lisa Erwin

The Erwin family at the beach in 2012, one week to the day before Trey passed away from cancer

Lisa with her sons Trey and Collin in Hawaii, Mother’s Day 2012

Hey Buddy…It’s that time again :o(

Hey Buddy,

You are ever on my mind this week.

Six years ago was beach week.  Did I miss something that could have made you feel better? You had trouble breathing and I couldn’t help.  Your pain had increased tremendously, but I never would have thought your cancer would have spread so quickly.

All the “if I could have’s” and “what it’s” in grief make things so much worse.  Then someone will say to me, “But at least he is not in pain any longer.” Oh buddy, you now me better than anyone and if I didn’t have a whole lot of Jesus, I’d slap the fool out of them.

Three generations. Your Papaw, your Uncle Barry and dad, you and your brother. Cancer doesn’t play fair.

We got a perforated letter in the mail from St. Jude this week.  You know what that means; an appointment for Collin.  I just put it on the refrigerator, told him, and didn’t say anything else about it.  But he misses you.  He is defending your name now.  Collin has come so far.

I know people might be tired of seeing your videos I post, but if they are like me, I can’t hear your voice any longer.  Even though your clothes are still in your drawers, the smell of your skin is gone.  Sometimes, I have to stop and remind myself that you DID exist and you aren’t just a person in a bunch of pictures in my house.

Your dad is fighting hard. He sees the doctor in July to talk about his last round of cancer now that his neck has healed. You know nothing is going to keep him down.  But he’s getting tired.

You’d be so proud of your cousin Becky working at St. Jude in research.  I know there is not a day that goes by that she does not think of you.  And she loves the Kid’s Kafe!  Bobby is a nurse too.  Both of them making sure that people are taken care of for the future.

The future…what does that mean?

I think about research.  I think about our family.  I think how cancer has shortened the lives in our family.  Sometimes, I still get angry that you were only 15.  I know, I know.  I hear you.  It’s okay Mom.  But Trey, I’m a mom and I can be angry sometimes.  I’m not angry at God.  I just get angry at the situation.  What are people doing about it?  Are they working for a cure?

We talked about urgency in bible study and I shared your story.  We had no idea you’d be gone in four months.  That’s how we need to be about sharing about Christ.  Because we do not know how long our neighbor, friends, co-workers are going to be here.  It’s urgent for them to know our Savior.  I’m so thankful you took your faith to an urgent level.

My desire to get to heaven is urgent.  That’s why I understand the ugliness of suicide.  Don’t worry Buddy.  I won’t do that to our family.  But I was at that point after you died and I DID call someone, Papa K.  I DO know that suicide does not determine your eternity.  So many people are hurting in this world.  I’m glad that I am able to talk about it with anyone who needs to talk about it.  It doesn’t make me a bad person.  Geez. You know that!  I could not make it out of bed each day with you gone without my Jesus!  My headaches have been so bad lately, I haven’t made it out of the bed.  You know your daddy is DA BOMB at taking care of me! And COLLIN TOO!

This scripture is stuck in my head that you had highlighted in your bible:

Ecc. 3:11-12 “He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.”

I’ve taken off work next week and we’ll be together as a family.  Not sure if we’ll do anything.  I might go get some purple balloons for you. Or maroon for Coach Mike! You know he’s doing great!

So for me, buddy, the future is about two things, an urgency for research and Christ.  I hope we can get that message out and young and old will grasp it.

One thing I hope people do is donate to West Clinic in honor of our family. 

Three generations have fought cancer and have been treated by West Clinic.  I can’t think of any other way to honor you this coming week than this.  We need research dollars!  Even small dollars!

Remember the white napkin you posted on Instagram? You are SUCH a bad person! Oh but we laughed and laughed till all our stomachs hurt.  Memaw didn’t think it was funny.  And this was the week you pulled the orange pants story.  So many memories I’ll never forget.  But so much pain that floods my mind and the anger when you knew you had to leave the beach because the cancer had returned.

Know that so many of us are thinking of you this week and next.  It will be such a hard, hard week.  But I think you are preoccupied with Jim Daddy! Weren’t you go happy when you saw him! I told him before he left this earth to tell you how much I loved you.  I hope you got the message.

I love you Buddy, thiiisssss much!  I still have things to do here, but I know I’ll see you soon.  #dogoodwhileyoulive

Click here to donate:

http://fight.westcancercenter.org/goto/lisaerwin

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Cancer Visits Again

He said, “Sissy, I think my cancer is back.”

I replied, “I know.”

That is where we began approximately two plus weeks ago with the small lesion on his neck.  Just the two of us.  Husband and wife, ready to fight again.  Jay did not hesitate and he picked up the phone and called West Clinic.  The nurse told him that if she did not get him in that week to see Dr. Tauer to begin retaking his chemo pill that he took last year.  She called back and said he wants to see you Wednesday (March 28).  It took everything I had not to go with Jay, but there are some things Jay likes to do on his own.

I immediately felt alone because this is how satan wanted me to feel.  I decided to reach out to a few of my friends that I knew would pray immediately for us, who have walked this cancer path, and would support my abnormal feelings.  What I received were words of encouragement, obvious questions, and the ultimate reminder that God is in all things no matter what the circumstances may be at the time.

On Monday, April 2, Jay had scans on his abdomen, chest, and neck.  Dr. Fleming also did a biopsy of his neck and removed a mole from just below the biopsy on his neck and a mole on his shoulder.  Normally, visits at West are an all-day occurrence, but Jay was glad to be done by 10:30 a.m.  It’s amazing how West Clinic is such a well-oiled machine.  There are days that you can wait to see a doctor for hours, but the quality of care that you receive cannot compare to anything we have in Memphis.

Wednesday, April 4, the nurse practitioner called Jay late in the afternoon.  When he called me, I heard it in his voice.  It was the tone in his voice that made me want to sit down.  The cancer in his neck has returned as basal cell.  Both of the moles removed are malignant melanoma.  All the nurse could tell him is that they were planning on surgery and they would see him next Monday (April 9).  I felt like a balloon that slowly was leaking air.

I remembered that on Thursday, we were scheduled to go to West Clinic to film short messages for their upcoming West Fight On Campaign.  I knew Jay would not be “gung ho” about doing this, but I explained to him, this is exactly WHY we need to do this, because I am fighting for YOU.

As I pondered what my short message would be for the West Fight On filming, God began to remind me that HE himself is who is fighting for me…for Jay…for Collin…and for you.

“Do not fear them, for the Lord your God is the one fighting for you.” Deut. 3:22

The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” Exodus 14:14

In addition, my favorite…

“He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.  Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:29-31

Collin has been trying to decide on his next tattoo (he has Trey’s birthday and Trey’s signature on his thigh).  He has said that he wants either Philippians 4:13 or Isaiah 40:31.  I have quizzed him about both of these scriptures to make sure he knows them by heart and what they mean to him.  As I was turning to Isaiah last week, I realized in 2010 (when he was 10), I had traced his hand print over Isaiah 40:31 in my bible.  I shared this with him. I pray that this makes a lasting impression on what I have prayed for him for more than eight years.  He also is fighting a battle.

We all fight battles and many outside our own bubble do not know what is going on inside our households.  God DOES hold that key.  I truly believe that.  When I began one of my West messages and had to speak the words that I fight for THREE GENERATIONS that has been touched by cancer, it did not just roll off my tongue.  There were several takes because it was stuck in my throat.  The thought that the Erwin family has fought (and unfortunately lost to) cancer for over 25 years is overwhelming.  There has been ONE constant in our lives.  God has never, ever left us.  He has never forsaken me.  Have things been rough? Have I cried out to God for answers? Of course I have.  He is my Father and He is the one who gives the answers.  Right now, Jay and I do not know the answers, but we know we have each other and a faithful Father.

Jay and I will see the surgeon on Monday.  We know they have a plan for him.  We do not know if it includes radiation, radiation and chemo, or just chemo.  I do know several things.  I WILL continue to FIGHT for my family.  I WILL continue to lean on my Father for strength for my family and myself. There might be days that I will not get out of bed, and that is okay.  I might even miss church.  Nevertheless, MY God will never leave the Erwin family.

You might ask how do you do it.  Because we STILL count it all JOY! Yes, we do! Because I remember one year ago today, God showed himself in Trey’s body. He continues to show Himself through Trey and many others.  So if you are facing a trial of ANY kind, remember:

  1. Fight! Moreover, He will fight with you.
  2. Count it all JOY!
  3. Give HIM glory in ALL things!

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you KNOW the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3

 #prayfortheerwins

Carebridge Trey