Life After Lung Cancer: In Memory of Charlotte Forbes
I was a freshman in college when my best friend’s mother was diagnosed with Mesothelioma. She told me over the phone, washing out her words with tears. Her mother’s name was Charlotte Forbes, and she was like my second mother.
Charlotte was a courageous woman, and strong, and selfless. I think this is why she did not want my family visiting her in the hospital the sicker she got. My mother-in-law once told me about the time she visited her nephew before he died of cancer – how he looked defeated, withered into nothing but skin and bones and agony. She told me that he didn’t want anyone else in her family to see him like that, other than his mother and her – his mother’s sister – his aunt. Charlotte also didn’t want my family to see her like that.
The last memory I have of Charlotte is her walking through her front entrance. She couldn’t breathe, but she was too tough of a fighter to ask for a child’s help. So, she used what she had left of her breath to call out her husband’s name.
I remember him gliding across the living room, and tucking his fingers in her hand. I remember him guiding her up their curved staircase to her bedroom, in silence – him, carrying the weight she would allow him to hold. Each step they took, rippling love.
For a long time, that memory stuck in mind: how she held her arm out for her husband as she wheezed, how powerful her soft voice pierced the stagnant air. At first, I thought this memory stuck with me out of sadness and fear. I thought maybe I couldn’t let it go because all I could think about in that moment was how I should have run to help, I should have taken her arm, I should have told her how much I loved her, I should have told her she was brave.
I should have, but I didn’t.
Eight years later, I think I’ve started to realize something about that memory – something I didn’t realize before.
Charlotte didn’t want my family to visit her on those last days because there’s no point worrying about should-haves. When I think about it, that memory is actually quite precious. I can picture every detail of her face in it, and how her short hair curled inward towards her chin, and how she always sounded like a morning dove, and how much she loved her husband, and how much she loved her family – so much that she wouldn’t ask her daughter – or her daughter’s friend – for help up the stairs – to protect us, and how she protected all of us, and how she prayed for us when she was dying.
It’s those vivid details that I remember about Charlotte that dominate the tough memories at the end.
Looking back at it, I imagine in the hospital Charlotte felt the same way my mother-in-law’s nephew did before he left: she did not want us to see her in the hospital because she did not look like the woman I had known since I was seven.
Perhaps if I had seen her in that last month, my heart’s memory would have broken more than it inevitably did.
But, thanks to her resolute faith and never ending love and invincible courage, that is not what I remember about Charlotte Forbes.
This is what I remember:
- When I was seven, I worried too much about being cool and went along with another friend bullying my best friend – Charlotte’s daughter. When Charlotte called my mom to talk about, I blubbered into the phone, consumed by regret and guilt. Charlotte did not scold me on the phone, though. She told me we all make mistakes. She told me she forgave me. She told me so did God.
- She loved to work in her garden.
- Charlotte’s first child was not born handicapped, but suffered a severe traumatic brain injury that led to a disability. When the doctors told her that her son was nearly blind and might not even talk, she refused to believe it. She hung pots and pans on her wall and banged them until her son recognized noise. One of his favorite hobbies in life is now singing.
- She smiled with her lips closed – gentle, like her personality.
- She loved her family more than anything in the world. So much that she recorded what each family member was doing ever Friday night at eight p.m. She did this for twenty-seven years, up until the night before her death. Her family calls this The Friday Night List, which they carry today.
- One summer, all Charlotte wanted for her birthday was a kayak so she could kayak at a local lake and read her book on sunny days. Her family got it for her.
- She ran three miles a day.
- The angriest Charlotte ever got at my friend was after we drew smiley faces on our bellies during a sleepover. We got ink on the carpet and she shook her finger at my friend after I went home. She never yelled.
- Charlotte loved Four Seas Ice Cream in Cape Cod – she told me after I got a shirt from there – her face lit up when she said it.
- One time she let one of her son’s paint his bedroom – half way through he painted in big letters HI MUM – that’s what her children called her. I always thought that was cool, special, like all of them.
- Charlotte and my mom would switch off weeks to drive my friend and me to horseback riding classes – she always had a book to read for the two hours.
- Charlotte always looked like she floated on a cloud when she walked, joyful and at peace.
- There was a woman whose family didn’t treat her well on my street, so Charlotte drove her on her errands, cleaned her yard, among some of the many things she did to help this woman.
- When she hugged you, she hugged you.
- She loved with all her mind, all her heart, and all her soul. No matter who you were, she found goodness.
- She raised one of the best people I know, and my life is better because of it.
- She was so much bigger than cancer. It will never kill the beauty – the kindness – she brought to this world.
Charlotte Forbes – and the Forbes family – are a main reason why I am running the Boston Marathon this year. If you know or have known anyone with lung cancer – or any cancer – please help me support families who fought or are fighting this battle.
You can donate to my fundraising page on the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge, raising money for cancer research as I train for The Boston Marathon on April 17, 2017!
Programs like this are one of the reasons oncology patients and their families have hope. Let’s conquer cancer & thank you for your support!
Happy sharing & Thanks for Spreading the Love
– A. K. Perry
If you have a story about a cancer patient you’d like to feature on my blog, please contact me at akperrybooks@. I’ll post your blog on my site, and together we can share amazing stories to help Color to a Cure!