Making each moment count

DOWNEY - Football season is upon us. Every week I sit and watch football games. We thrive on the excitement and yearn for that win against the opposing team. It is no surprise when I read the paper to see the usual highlights outlined. I see the same players featured and pictured. Every week it is the same unless, of course, we lose, but nonetheless the same players are featured and pictured. I bring this to your attention because while no one is watching, there is one individual who does stand out. He wears a memorial name on his jersey that means nothing to no one except those close to him. He wears that name proudly because of what it represents but no one's curiosity has been piqued to ask him the story behind the name.

I was so touched by this individual's character that I decided to write this letter because we need more youths like him to raise awareness and influence one another to be the voice.

I know you're probably wondering, "So what's the story behind the name and who is this athlete?" So here goes:

If you ever watch a Downey High School football game, pay attention to defensive end Chris Blanton (42). The memorial name he wears is Flor. She was my mother who died two years ago from ovarian cancer at age 44. Now that you know the athlete, here's the story behind the name.

As most teenagers go through that "ungrateful-I-know-everything" stage, my best friend, Regina, was pulling her hair out trying to get through to her son, Chris, who wanted to go to parties with his football friends because it was the cool thing to do. I decided to share with Chris details about my mom, whom he never got a chance to meet. I took him to her resting place at Rose Hills and shared her story.

My mother Flor had battled ovarian cancer for 11 years. She was diagnosed at age 33, two years after giving birth to my sister. She was amazing, selfless, humorous, outgoing, the life of the party, disco diva, best cook ever, an extraordinary mother who always had a smile on her face. She was the kind of mother who hung yellow ribbons on each tree up and down our street to show her support for me and all the troops serving in the military. The kind of mother you take for granted because you don't realize how great she really was until it was already too late.

I explained how I lived with that regret of wasting time I had with my mother. It was Christmas Day, I was 16 at the time she was diagnosed. I thought I knew it all, denied she was sick, and figured out of sight, out of mind. I lived it up, never fully understanding what she was really going through and the grief I put her through because I was selfish, only thinking of myself.

It's only now that I realize parents have your best interest at heart. What I would give to fight with her again.

It wasn't until three years before she passed that I realized how lucky I was to have her as my mother. It was my day off and she needed a ride to her doctor's appointment. This was the first time going with her to a doctor's appointment and it was then that I realized how much she had to go through. Everyone in the waiting room was fighting for his or her own life against cancer. They weren't guaranteed tomorrow but they sure were determined in fighting to make it to the next day and the day after that.

Suddenly the light bulb turned on and I realized how stupid I had been all these years. It was real - my mom had cancer and I couldn't hide from that reality anymore. She was dying.

That day I apologized for all the pain, grief and tears I put her through. I made a promise to her that day that I would fight for her until her heart stopped beating. That's exactly what we did. We did everything we could to save her life. She was one tough cookie but sadly I could see the chemo, pain medications and everything else she had going on take a toll on her. I knew we had to have that death talk and knowing how she was, I knew it would not be an easy conversation.

I asked her one day, "Momma Bear, what motivates you to keep fighting?"

She must have known where I was going with this because she replied exactly how I expected.

"I'm not even dead yet and you're already trying to bury me six feet deep."

She took her phone and showed me a picture of my brother, sister, me and my kids.

"My motivation is time," she said. "Time to see my kids and grandbabies grow up."

I did my best to make up for the time we had lost and when she passed I had no guilt because I made the most of each moment with her. My only regret was that it took me so long to figure it out. I could have had 11 great years versus three.

When I looked over at Chris I could see him bawling. I told him that a mother's love is courage, strength and sacrifice. One day he would understand but in the meantime he needed to get his act together and listen to his mom, because there are people out there like me who wish they had a mother to tell them what to do.

That was less than a year ago we had that conversation. Since then, one of his teammates was diagnosed with cancer. Chris has realized that he's tired of seeing young people diagnosed with cancer and no one advocating to raise awareness. This year he chose to represent ovarian cancer and the women he never got to meet. So he wears her name on his jersey proudly for the courage, strength and sacrifice she gave. He is also raising money for the Run For Her charity.

So when you watch No. 42 step on that football field, know that he is thinking of all those people fighting for their life against cancer and he is using that as motivation to make each moment count.

We need more stories about athletes like Chris Blanton, who are making a difference not just in football but also in the community.

********** Published: Sept. 12, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 22