By Alice E. Gerard
There is a saying that "when one person has cancer, the whole family has cancer." Cancer can tear a family apart or bring it closer together. For Grace Aswad's family, cancer brought the family together. Lisa Dudley, one of Grace's five daughters, talked about the cancer journey that she and her mother both experienced. "We are blessed to have survived cancer. We rely on each other. Going through the cancer journey together has strengthened our bond."
Grace and Lisa will walk together, hand in hand, at the June 10 Relay For Life at Veterans Park. They are one of two pairs of honorary survivors/caregivers. The other pair is Natalie and Sarah Stanczyk. Lisa said, "Relay For Life has held a special place in our hearts since we took our first mother/daughter survivor walk together in 2005."
Grace is a three-time cancer survivor, beating breast cancer, colon cancer, and liposarcoma of her leg. She was first diagnosed in 2002, with breast cancer. Lisa said that, when her mother was given her diagnosis, "She was more concerned about us than about herself. With each cancer that she was diagnosed with, I cried and wondered, who would take care of dad?"
Grace's husband was the late Father George Aswad, who was the pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Sanborn. He passed away in 2014.
Grace's cancer journey was, at times, difficult and painful. "My mom is very strong. She had radiation and a lot of surgery, but no chemotherapy. She went through a lot. People who met her would never know that she had cancer. In one of the surgeries, the doctors had to remove part of the muscle in my mom's leg. It was pretty intense, and it affected her walking," Lisa said.
Although Lisa is the only one of Grace's five daughters to live in Western New York, every time Grace was diagnosed with cancer, her entire family surrounded her. "Grace was surrounded by her daughters, Lynn, Laura, Louise, Lisa, and Lana, her husband, and her son-in-law Jeff, who would stay in town to take care of her during the surgery and the initial recovery and treatment afterwards," Lisa said.
After the family returned to their homes, Lisa was around to provide care for her parents. "I would visit my parents every day to make sure that they were OK. I drove them where they needed to go, bring them food, grocery shop, and, most importantly, be there to listen to them and talk and make them smile."
Four years after Grace was diagnosed with breast cancer, Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer. The roles were reversed. Grace became the supporter and the caregiver. "First, your mom is taking care of you as a child and then you are taking care of her with a cancer diagnosis, and then the tables turn again and she is taking care of you, also with cancer," Lisa said. "During my cancer treatments, she drove me to radiation and chemo treatments. I stayed at her house and was always surrounded by my mother's love. She was even with me when I cut my hair short in preparation for losing my hair. She was there to give me a hug when I cried." Lisa, who is married to Mike Dudley and who has two children, Kara and Eric, added, "My mom is my role model and my strength. She survived three cancers, and she did it with faith, strong family support, and a positive attitude. Cancer is devastating. But sharing this bond with your mom is such a great comfort. We each understand what it feels like to be told that you have cancer."
Even though the family is now spread out, it is still a "very close family. Mom loves her 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. We wish we were closer together, but we're not," Lisa said.
"She is my priority," Lisa said of her mother. "She's got five girls looking after her so she can't get away with anything. I still visit my Mom every day. My Mom was always there for me as a child and adult and now I can be there for her."
Lisa said that the experience of having cancer has taught both her and her mother to appreciate their lives. "You can see what is important in your life." Both Lisa and Grace are now in remission. Lisa said that she has been in remission for 11 years and that she makes sure to go for her regular checkups. "You have to take care of yourself," Lisa said.
Another comfort for Grace and Lisa is their faith and their church. "My dad built the church. It was his vision. My mom was the choir director. We still sing in the choir together."
Relay For Life has become a big part of Lisa's life. She has been the luminaria chairperson since 2008. She is also a member of Team Fresenius Kabi, where she is employed.
Lisa said that she invites everyone to come to Relay For Life. "I hope to see you walking on the track to join us for a night of entertainment, food, and, most of all, emotion, knowing you are making a difference in the fight against cancer. I would love for you to come visit me at the luminaria tent and purchase a luminaria to honor or in memory of a loved one. They will all be lit for the bagpipe ceremony at 9:50 p.m. It is the most emotional part of the evening for everyone, and it's my favorite part."
Lisa added that she loves to run and that her mother sings like a songbird.
"How fitting that my mom will be singing a song called 'You'll Never Walk Alone' before she and I join hands and walk the track together as honorary survivor/caregivers, along with other survivors and caregivers."