Moving Mountains


Ever since I was a young girl, I believed I could move mountains that would change the world.

My long-time friend, Cathy, died back in 2008 from a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. I still remember my emotional conversation with her on my last visit to see her in Sacramento, California. Sitting in my rental car on a dark, dead-end street late at night, I turned to her in the passenger seat and said, “I know why you are refusing any palliative care that might help you live longer. You still love your ex-husband and are just giving up on life.”

Between sobs, I screamed, “I am mad at you. I would have taken out a loan to pay for the medical care it took to keep you with us.”

In all the years we had known each other, I had never even whispered an unkind word to her. Our close friendship was just one thing that was always solid and right. Leaning her frail, gauntly body over, Cathy gently wiped the tears from my eyes and answered, “Oh, Annie Jo, I love you. Nobody has ever said that to me.”

Less than six weeks later, my dear friend passed away from such a brutal disease. At her funeral, I stood silently staring at this huge, beautiful arrangement of flowers sitting on display at the cemetery with a little card that read, “Love from the father of your three children,” signed by her ex-husband. A man that I believe she loved to the ends of this earth but lost him due to divorce.

For a long time, I tried to convince myself her death didn’t hurt anymore. The truth is it doesn’t hurt as much. But recently, when I was talking with a new, good friend, it brought back again all those helpless, unresolved feelings for those I love and care about. My friend explained to me that her husband had been unemployed since 2008. In over four years, she hasn’t even been able get a mammogram because of not having health insurance.

My friend, Cathy, was in-between jobs when she developed breast cancer. She had worked in Radiology for years. From her symptoms, she had an inkling that the prognosis wasn’t good.

Could Cathy’s life have been saved if she would have had health insurance early on to pay for the expensive mammograms? I believe that if she had gone in for her yearly mammogram, it would have helped detect her cancer much sooner before it quickly spread like a raging forest fire to the final stages that took her life prematurely.

Ever since I was a young girl, I believed I could move mountains that would change the world. If one says, “No, that’s not possible,” it makes me just that much more determined to persevere and succeed at reaching my selfless goals.

We all have poignant stories of losing loved ones, but I want to make sure that every woman has the means to get mammograms. It would make some sense out of the loss of my friend that I loved with all my heart and never imagined she would not be a significant part of my life always.

In honor of my late friend’s day of her birth (August 30th), I found something we can all do that doesn’t cost anything. If you go to the Breast Cancer Site (click on the graphic below) and click on Fund Mammograms, Research & Care, sponsors will pay for mammograms. Please feel free to share my post in hopes that we can make a difference. Thanks for the great suggestion Connie Arnold.

The Breast Cancer Site

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Mother’s Day 2016

Mother’s Day 2016

I’ve been thinking about my mother who gave birth to me. We missed out on getting to know each other.

Searching for her in my late 30s, I disappointedly learned that she passed away when I was just a little girl. At the time, I don’t know if I would have been so enthusiastic about finding those of my siblings that she raised had I known the truth to my beginnings.

Since that confusing time in my life, I’ve had a lot of time to better know who I am and what I need from others.

I would love to know more about my mother, especially after relatives marveled at how much alike the two of us were supposed to be.

Here are questions I would ask if I could have a do-over and erase some of the painful parts:

1. What favorite memory of our mother did each of my siblings have while growing up?

2. Did she like to read to them as young children and say, “When I was a young girl…?”

3. Did she ever let my siblings jump on the bed or not have to eat their vegetables?

4. Do they remember a special time our mother wiped away their tears?

5. When was she was the happiest in her life?

6. What song would she have been singing while holding a hairbrush or a spatula?

7. I believe each and every one of us has a gift, do you think our mother ever found hers?

8. Which sitcom was she more like? Vicki Lawrence in Mama’s Family; Roseanne Barr in Roseanne, or Marianne Ross in Happy Days.

9. Was there one defining moment in each of their lives that she missed, and where my siblings wished they could have called her and said, “Oh, Mom, …”

10. I remember when my oldest sister shared with me that she was named after our mother’s doll that had burned up in a fire. What was she sentimental, passionate, or a dreamer about in her short life?

11. What has our late mother’s shortcomings taught me and my siblings about remembering to forgive ourselves when we too have fallen short to be perfect?

choose to become

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Our Given Name

Our Given Name

They must have known I lost my name and wrote this clever, fun book for once-little girls just like me. Maybe I could write my own book :). I believe when society includes the word “adoption” to a child’s less-than-perfect beginnings, it somehow is supposed to always make the story have a happier ending.

As an adult, I asked my adoptive mother who named me. Strangely, she flat-out refused to tell me. I asked the doctor who delivered me and who, as my hospital birth records show, I was discharged to late in the evening, “Why is it that your wife’s nickname is Jo and your daughter’s name is Ann, yet my adoptive mother won’t tell me who named me?” He also answered me like he was holding all the cards, “I am not going to tell you!”

A few years after his death, I asked his daughter named Ann, “Your father said that he took several babies home for an adoption agency. Do you remember him taking me home?” (She would have been a teenager at the time). Miraculously, she did partly answer my question in a cordial phone message. “I asked my older sister and to the best of our recollection dad never brought any babies home from the hospital. I will talk with the nurse he worked with for many years and get back to you.”
Guess what? She never did, even when I sent her a brief follow-up letter a few months later. The adoption agency refuted her father’s claims as well, and the director added that they had nothing to do with my placement in the first place.

So in the meantime, one of my adoptive aunts who, still to this day, knows nothing about the ridiculous tug-of-war I had to endure while attempting to find even simple answers to what I believe most of us take for granted, “What significance did naming me JoAnne have to someone or anyone for that matter?” One day, out of the blue, this aunt mentions that my adoptive mother was close to one of my grandmother’s extended family and supposedly that relative had a baby named JoAnne who passed away. It was important to me to find this mystery baby in old genealogy records, but I never did :(. It would have certainly felt less empty than it does now if I learned I had been named after a precious child whose life was cut short, rather than this other nonsense.
My birth certificate still has no name.


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Two mothers

Two mothers

I am assuming she must have done something very bad. However, for a brief moment that we made eye contact as two mothers, it didn’t matter.

While sitting in the waiting room at the hospital on the day my first grandchild was born, I noticed what appeared to be a number of uniformed officers asking for permission to go back and forth through the locked area to Labor/Delivery. I didn’t give it much thought why security seemed to be so tight that day in a safe place where new life is welcomed into this world.

Looking over at the door each time it would beep, to see if my son-in-law was there to proudly announce the birth of our grandson, it took a minute to register the surreal scene that was playing out before us.

An ashen-faced young woman was being pushed out in a wheelchair by one of those big burly uniformed officers and surrounded by at least three other men dressed like prison guards. Still in a hospital gown with flip-flops and shackled at the ankles, it was clear to me, she had just given birth to a baby.

For a brief moment, this prisoner and I made eye contact. It wasn’t a look to kill but rather one of such hopelessness in her sad eyes. As a mother with daughters of my own, I knew even for that quick second she was feeling a tremendous loss from her poor choices. She could have committed the most heinous of crimes that would make me wonder how we could ever forgive evilness, but what I saw that day was a human being … a mother who had just given birth to her own child.

I will pray each year on my precious grandson’s birth not only for him but that this young woman was able to turn her life around and be a mother to her child. If not, I hope that her baby will be able to see one day like I did — a human being — despite her flaws.

prison pregnancy

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