by Eric Flaherty –
What You Really Need
I was honored to be the guest speaker at the 2016 Becky’s Warriors Golf Outing and Dinner Fundraiser. I am now a member of the Golf Outing Committee for this year’s event and excited to help the organization raise funds for others like me and my family. I’d like to share with you my speech from last year’s event in hopes that anyone reading this will truly understand the impact this organization can have on not only those fighting cancer but the family members that fight alongside them….
I’m honored that Becky’s Warriors has asked me to speak today. I want to thank the board members of this amazing organization, Joe, Amy, Jenn, Tammie, Charles, and Tracy as well as the committee members, Missy, Megan, Kevin, for allowing me to explain to you what Becky’s Warriors means to me and my family.
My dad, Steve Flaherty, at age 55, died in 2008 of a heart attack while cutting the grass. There were no goodbyes, no I love you, no anything. He was there one day, and gone the next. My mom, as expected, was crushed. Her entire world was turned upside down in a blink of an eye. It took time, but she began to heal, she became independent, she sold our family home in Oak Forest and bought a townhouse in Orland Park. As expected, she was lonely…she struggled to find purpose and although she didn’t talk about it much, she was sad. As the years went by, she found her purpose…she joined community social clubs that kept her busy. She truly enjoyed being a part of the South Suburban Widow and Widowers Club, and the Southwest Suburban Euchre club. Although I wasn’t too keen on it, she used dating websites and started to go out. She was busy, she was crazy busy. She was active, she was happy, extremely happy. Unless we got on her social calendar months in advance, she didn’t have time anymore to babysit my son Jack, or my sister’s twins Joshua and Jessica.
She went through a couple of hardships during this time; she had a hip replacement and she had to have her gall bladder removed…but she recovered quickly and as Erin and I called her often, remained the “party animal.” I look back on it now, and it makes me smile, laugh, and truly believe that she was happy with how life turned out for her. She began talking about cutting her hours at work and going part-time, then the talk turned to retirement. She wanted to enjoy life, travel, watch the grandkids grow up. That was during the summer of 2015.
My mom, Colleen Flaherty, was diagnosed with Cholangiocarcinoma, or Bile Duct Cancer, in August, 2015. Within days, this horrible disease had begun to unravel and destroy my emotions, my strength, my family, and most importantly my mom. My first instinct was to fix this for my mom; find some kind of research, or clinical trial, or anything that would make her better. I knew of chemo, I hadn’t seen its effects firsthand yet. I figured that would fix her. And if that didn’t, then the morphine, or the potassium pills, or any one of the dozen or so drugs that they put her on, would do the trick.
Some cancers you can fight, sometimes you can beat them, sometimes even with the best fight, you cannot. My sister Erin, brother-in-law Nick, my wife Daryle Ann, and I did our research, we became internet doctors immediately as we scoured the web looking for causes, symptoms, treatments, cures, anything to get a head start on this. Of the probably hundreds of websites we scanned and researched, one thing was very clear; Bile Duct Cancer was almost never cured, rarely did any type of treatment work, and to make matters worse, there is almost no early detection, which of course means that when it is found and diagnosed, it is almost always stage 4. So it became clear very early, when the phrase “quality of life” popped up on every site about this cancer, that this was a terminal disease, and there would be little time to put up any kind of fight to try to beat it.
The doctors at Christ tried to resect the tumor that was wrapped around and tucked somewhere near her liver. It didn’t work. There are practically zero Cholangiocarcinoma experts in the Chicagoland area. We found one at University of Chicago. High hopes, there has to be something that can be done! Nope, the images, and tests, and ultrasounds, and any other test that the doctor looked at were very clear…there is nothing that can be done. It was time for chemo…not to shrink the tumor in hopes of resecting it in the future, but to give my mom a chance for that quality of life that she now craved. One treatment. That was it. One and done. It only took one chemo treatment to destroy her physically and even worse, it broke her heart. Any hopes of a “quality of life” improvement were gone. Erin and I knew what she was facing, knew what we were facing, and knew what these three innocent grandkids were facing. They were too young to remember my dad passing, but now Jack was 8, and the twins were 9…how were we going to explain that their grandma, the woman they loved and adored, was not just going to die, but they were going to see the effects of cancer on her, they were going to watch this strong woman become weak and eventually die. No one, especially children, should ever have to watch this!
Unfortunately, everyone knows how this ends. She passed on February 1st of this year. She fought tremendously hard those last couple of weeks. We were able to get the kids together with her one last time and play cards. She wasn’t completely there, and fell asleep a couple of times, but those three kids will always have that last memory! We were able to invite all our family, friends, her friends, and her co-workers throughout the years to stop over and see her, spend time with her, and say their goodbyes to her in what turned out to be somewhat of a weekend party that celebrated my mom’s life and made her so happy.
There’s another part of this story. It started with a phone call from a dear friend in my most trying of times. Amy Eaton Seymour. Amy and I have been friends since high school. We went to prom together as juniors and even “dated” for a brief time. The “dating” part didn’t pan out, but the friendship that started was and continues to be everlasting. Amy called me and told me that she was here for me, that she loved me, and cancer sucks! I’m here for you, I love you, and cancer sucks! My smile reached from ear to ear, for a second I forgot everything that was happening around me, and I talked to her for what seemed like hours. For the next few months, she would send me a text here and there just to tell me she was thinking about me, what could she do, and of course…Cancer Sucks!
I received another phone call…from a friend that I also met in high school but that I had continued to see here and there as the years passed. Joe Flores. Joe told me that Becky’s Warriors wanted to reach out and help if there was anything my sister and I, or my mom needed to make things easier. I don’t think I can put into words the impact that this phone call had on me! I didn’t know what to say, or how to respond. I thanked Joe for thinking of me and my family during this time and for the phone call and hung up. I knew something special had just happened but I did not know the impact that it would have on me until later. I talked to my mom, Erin, and Daryle Ann about this. We didn’t know how to respond…how do you ask for something? How do you know what to ask for? What could we possibly need?
Today, I look back on those phone calls that I received from Amy and Joe and a sense of calmness, a sense of awakening, a feeling of love comes over me. Yes, Becky’s Warriors did help us by giving us a monetary donation that we used to take care of part of my mom’s insurance deductible for 2016. That was fantastic, that helped ease a financial burden. However, and this is the part that is incredibly difficult to describe, because there is no way to define the amount of love one receives, the reconnection with Amy, the countless conversations with Joe, the outpouring from the board and committee members, whether through Facebook messages or cards, or phone calls…that, my friends, is what Becky’s Warriors has done for me and in turn for my family. Daryle Ann saw the impact first hand, Jack has no idea that the love and support that Becky’s Warriors gave me, also made me a stronger father for him during this time. And my mom, as her days came to an end, had no idea, that Becky’s Warriors had indeed made me a more loving, caring, and understanding son!
Before I finish, I’d like to take a moment to thank some other very important people that helped me more than they will probably ever truly know.
Mike Lemmons is the owner of the company I work for…Mold Solutions. Mike allowed me to take a leave of absence to stay with my mom when she could no longer be on her own. When I came back to work after she had passed, I went into his office and thanked him for giving me the opportunity to spend that last month with her. Mike said, it’s no problem, that’s what we do for each other here. When I interviewed with Mike for the job at Mold Solutions, I told him that I was looking to work for a company that treated its employees like family. Obviously, they do!
I also want to publicly acknowledge Kevin Walery. Kevin and I have been friends since the 3rd grade at St. Damian…he is the definition of a best friend. Kevin was there for me from the very beginning, when I had to skip the Fantasy Football draft due to the very first appointment my mom had. He drafted for me, and although I received the best draft score, I didn’t fair so well during the season, but I won’t hold that against him. Kevin and I are closer now than we have ever been and I couldn’t have made it through this journey without him. Love you Kev.
And finally and most importantly, my wife Daryle Ann. She is my rock! My everything. She is an incredible woman and the absolute love of my life. She stood beside me during my mom’s fight…she became my mom’s “at home doctor” when Erin and I couldn’t take another minute of the suffering. She woke up every hour to give my mom her morphine during those last few horrible days. You are truly amazing and I promise to love you forever!
I’ve been to plenty of fundraisers over the years and I realize everyone here has in some way or another donated or spent a decent amount of money to be here today. I promise you that your donations are going to the right people. It’s not always about the money, it’s about the love and compassion that finds itself to people like me and my family when it’s the only thing that can help!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Coach Mattio and the journey he is now enduring. Coach Mattio left an impression on me that helped frame the man I’ve become. He was my first Drill Sergeant before the Army took over. He is a man of strength and integrity and no cancer will ever take that away! I know that the entire Marian Catholic family is standing strong with him.
Thank you for your time today, I hope my story encourages everyone here to continue their support for Becky’s Warriors and keep the memory of Becky alive and strong for all of those to follow so that this important and amazing organization can help those that truly need it.