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Surviving My Daughter: A Mother’s Story of Heartbreaking Loss

by Bonnie Julius

On June 14, 2006, my life changed forever after a call from my daughter, Crickett. A lump discovered in her breast was believed to be cancerous even before tests confirmed it.  I traveled to Cleveland and together we learned the dreaded news. The doctor noted the 85% success rate at treating most breast cancers and anticipated that he would use chemo to shrink the lump and then perform a lumpectomy. 

A week later the lump had grown considerably and a biopsy of “suspicious” spots on Crickett’s liver confirmed metastatic breast cancer. The original symptom of stomach pain had actually been her cancer-engulfed liver pushing down on her hipbone. When I asked the doctor what “Stage 4” cancer meant, Crickett answered for him, “that means I’m terminal.” He confirmed that she would “never be cancer-free for the rest of her life.” The ride home from that appointment was an emotional whirlwind for both of us that I will never forget. 

A 2nd opinion resulted in the physician proclaiming “you have months to live, not years.” When my son asked why she would put herself through chemo, she responded “do you want me to live for weeks, or for months?” To know that we would lose Crickett to cancer, after having also lost her father to cancer at the age of 40, was so difficult for her brother and me to understand and accept, but we’ve done our best to honor what must be God’s plan.  How could my daughter be preparing a Living Will and choosing her burial outfit before me?  Prayer, positive thinking, and the support of others helped us cope.  Early on, we designated a “Power room” in Crickett’s home where “Power hour” was held daily.  This involved family and caretakers gathering to meditate, talk about how they were feeling, read cards and emails from well-wishers, and just have a peaceful hour with Crickett, ending in prayer.

How could I care for my daughter and spend what might be her final days with her from 350 miles away?!  Should I retire, sell my house in York (Pennsylvania), and move there to care for her?  Should I take Family Medical Leave time so I’d still have a job after whatever was to come?  I asked her to consider moving to York, but she wished to remain in Ohio so I divided my time between York and Cleveland.  I wanted to be there constantly but, not knowing what the future would bring, I allowed her friends to take turns caring for her during the time that I was in York.

Weekly chemo began on July 11th, and was very hard on Crickett through July and August, but still she smiled, endured the pain, and inspired us all.  In September, a hospital admission revealed she was allergic to one or more of the chemo drugs, and chemo was halted. I felt life seeping out of her day by day. The doctor assured me privately that this was a minor setback; that Crickett and I would have fun shopping and vacationing again and again as we had in the past. I did not see this.

Crickett was discharged from the hospital in early October, but was re-admitted October 20 th.  The head of the treatment team told me to come to Cleveland immediately as Crickett was gravely ill and he was unsure whether she could hold on until we arrived on the 21st. Crickett brightened when I arrived and spoke to her. She could not speak, but her eyes said she understood.  Per Crickett’s Living Will, I discontinued nourishment and liquid as she wished. Her hospital room became a hospice room.  Bill and I took turns spending every minute in her room keeping vigil. He counted her breaths – 4 per minute.  She continued to remain alive but I didn’t know how.

Thinking she was holding on due to something she felt was unfinished, I contacted close friends and loved ones.  Each said their goodbyes by phone and encouraged her to let go.  Still, she held onto to a thread of life. Late that week, I begged her to give up the fight and go be with God.  Still, she kept fighting.  On October 28 my son called while I was driving to the hospital. He was with Crickett as she finally drew her last breath at 10:45 a.m. I was not there, and felt as if I’d left her at a time when I should have stayed. The nurse assured me that Crickett felt better not having me witness her leave this world.  Crickett’s funeral was held on the anniversary date of her father’s death.  Could she have been holding out until then?

I felt as though a part of my world had ended; my heart was then, and remains now, broken. My beautiful, vivacious, generous, smiling daughter has become my personal Guardian Angel, thereby keeping a promise she made to me.

My promise to Crickett is to never let her death be in vain or to let the world forget her.  This promise is at the heart of Crickett’s Answer for Cancer, an organization I formed with my niece to provide breast cancer patients with needed items as a way to feel feminine and beautiful despite losing their hair and/or breasts.  Crickett’s hair loss was very emotional for her.  She ultimately never wore the wig she ordered and I was able to donate it to ACS. The grateful response I received from ACS prompted the desire to provide these items for women who wouldn’t be able to obtain them otherwise.

Breast cancer patients often discover an inner strength they never knew they had, find comfort and beauty in the simple things, strengthen bonds with loved ones.  They start living every moment of every day to the absolute fullest.  Crickett did all these things even before the breast cancer, and continued to do so during her illness.  Until the end, she maintained her typical grace and caring for others.  Crickett’s Answer for Cancer is committed to offering a compassionate response to breast cancer patients in our community.  It not only celebrates the life of my courageous daughter, Crickett, but also hopes to help women like her feel supported.  We hope that Crickett’s story fosters these qualities in other women fighting the fight.  You are NOT alone!


An Individual Who Has Been A Positive Part In My Life…

by Meghan Julius, Age 11, as part of a school study of

Steven Covey’s  Seven Habits of Effective Teens

As a child, I have grown up with my Aunt and spent a lot of time with her.  But, about two years ago, she died.  That is why I wanted to write about her.  Crickett was a very open minded person.  She always loved to help people and was very determined.  People used to make fun of her name, being Crickett, because it was such a strange name.  But she never minded it, that is another thing I loved about her.  It never mattered to her what people thought of her, I thought that was great.


Crickett always did everything with an open mind, including work.  She worked very hard to reach to the top and she did it with enthusiasm.  She was always setting goals so she could do better, and she inspired others to do the same.  She also helped others set goals and reach them, and she loved to do it.  Crickett worked a very hard job but she stuck to it and was very good at what she did.


Another great thing Crickett did was she was always very generous.  Crickett lived in many different places because of her job, but she always contributed to some kind of cause.  Crickett always gave more than she received.  Considering she loved to shop, still she never went overboard.  She would go out of her way to make sure that someone had what they needed, anytime she could.  She just never stopped giving.


Crickett was also very determined.  When I say determined, I mean she never gave up.  When people would say mean things or use put-downs, she just never let it get to her.  She was always determined to stay positive and be herself.  She also never said mean things back to people.  If someone said something mean to her, she just let it go, “in one ear and out the other.”  It was almost like she just ignored the person.  I would think that would be hard to do, especially if someone was being mean to me.  It is not always easy to be nice to people, but you have to do it.


I am very glad to have had Crickett as an Aunt and a friend.  She has taught me many things in life but this, the most valuable; to love one another as you would want them to love you.  I only hope, that I can follow in her footsteps when I grow up, and learn to have an open mind and be generous and determined like she always was.

What Will Happen Next? A Shared Journey Interrupted


by Carole Trone


One day in June of 2006 my mom called to say that my cousin, Crickett, had found a lump in her breast that was thought to be malignant.  True to form, I immediately took notes of all the details Mom could pass on so I could research things online… trying to push away my emotions until I knew what we were facing.  I then called my close friend, Elizabeth, who is an oncologist, and asked her to be straight with me about prognosis rather than to sugar coat things.  I cope much better with stress when I’m prepared for the worst case scenario instead of being blind-sided by something huge I don’t see coming.  What would happen next?


Elizabeth confirmed what something deep inside of me had said from the very beginning –the prognosis was extremely poor.  She warned me that, if the cancer had already spread to Crickett’s liver, we could lose her in a matter of weeks.  She urged me to visit right away so I’d be prepared and at peace no matter what happened.  She allowed me to vent, and joined me in railing against Crickett’s oncologist for seeming to minimize her reality to a degree bordering on malpractice.  It was exactly what I needed.


When a second opinion echoed Elizabeth’s prediction that Crickett would live only weeks or months, I was obviously devastated.  But, more than anything, I was relieved to hear the truth and to know that Crickett had finally heard it too.  I somehow knew that she would find a way to remain positive and hopeful despite the news.  Looking back, I think I was counting on it to help the rest of us, though that wasn’t clear to me at the time.  Crickett’s dad had died of stomach cancer at the age of 40, with only 6 weeks from diagnosis until death.  How could their family remain positive and not fear a speedy death for Crickett too?  How would they bear another loss, this time the rock of their family?  What would happen next?


Crickett and I lived in different states, so we often kept in touch by phone or email.  But I had last seen her four months before, at a party my husband and I held.  (See photo in the Before Cancer Gallery)  Images of that night, and many other memories of Crickett happy and full of life, constantly ran through my mind… distracting me during the day, keeping me from sleep at night… my mind’s way of preparing myself for the inevitable, I guess.  I compared how she looked in February with photos that were emailed at various stages of her illness… seeing in her eyes the telltale look of cancer, yet still searching for signs of hope.


I finally got to see Crickett late in August.  I gave myself a serious pep talk to prepare for the emotional roller coaster that most certainly awaited me.  Most of all, I knew I wanted our visit to not just be about the cancer.  But no amount of pep talks or photos of shaved heads could prepare me for what I saw.  In a half-second, I knew from looking at Crickett that she would not win the battle.  Her smile was as big as ever and her excitement to see me obvious, but nothing could hide what I saw as the unmistakable look of someone nearing the end of life.  It took every ounce of self-control and energy to keep it together until I could call my husband that night and tell him that I knew Crickett was nearly lost.  I cried myself to sleep asking God why it had to be her and what would happen next.


The very next day, Crickett and I went to run errands.  We were in the car just a few minutes when she asked me to speak at her memorial service, whenever that was.  I calmly responded that I was honored and would do whatever she wanted.  But, it was an impossible request in my eyes, and I think I was even a little angry that she had asked.  (How ridiculous to be asking myself how she could put me in that position, when she was at that moment losing life day by day?!?!)


A few times during the visit, Crickett worried aloud about her mom and brother.  Not wanting to see them in pain or despair or without faith, she feared for how they would be when she was no longer here.  I saw how she put thoughts of others first no matter what she faced.  I realized that this woman who was always so strong and on top of the world allowed her friends and coworkers to share with her the most challenging and frightening moments she would ever know.  She tried to make the visits special, and even gave little gifts.  Those of us who experienced that know that Crickett was helping us, not us helping her.  She was helping us to eventually come to some sense of closure when she left us. 


I began planning my next visit from the time I left Ohio, but this was not meant to be.  I agonized over the thought of never saying goodbye, until Aunt Bonnie offered me the unexpected chance to do so by phone.  The end was near and I had only a few minutes to prepare.  Aunt Bonnie held the phone to Crickett’s ear as I sobbed through my goodbye, doing my best to be sure that she would still understand despite my tears.  I told her it was okay to leave this world so she could be with her dad, and that I would do everything in my power to help care for her family in her absence.  I told her that she would always be my inspiration, and that I would spend my life telling her story.  She was unable to communicate with me, but her facial expression and tears told Aunt Bonnie she understood.  I felt some measure of peace.


From the beginning, the biggest question for me has been “what will happen next?”  Crickett and I passed through the early stages of life at the same time.  We were the same age, we grew up together, and we graduated from high school together.  We both studied psychology in college and later earned graduate degrees in the field.  She was my cousin and had always been one of my best friends.  But she will now only share the next stages of life with me in spirit.  We will not raise our children or become grandparents together.  We will not travel together in retirement or help each other care for our aging parents.  Instead, her mother and I will work together in her memory; we will work through the pain of our shared loss and the unexpected bond that grew between us because of it.  One can never truly know what will happen next in life.  But one thing is certain… Until breast cancer is completely eradicated, Crickett’s Answer for Cancer will offer its compassionate support to women with breast cancer… all while telling Crickett’s story to keep her memory alive.  The life journey Crickett and I shared was interrupted, but has been re-directed on a powerful and productive course.

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