A Different Kind of Valentine

“It’s about the love that can change someone’s entire outlook on life”

I must tell you about Ellen. She was a Pennsylvania girl originally. She grew up between Carmichaels and Waynesburg but spent most of her time as an adult in areas around Johnstown and Altoona. And she was my mother.

Her smile lit up every room she entered and although she had struggles, she fought, and she persevered, and she always sought the silver lining. She wasn’t dealt a fair deck of cards and I still sometimes wonder why but I know God always has a plan. Her health (both physical and mental) declined with every passing year. And then imagine after years of having nearly crippling MS you now have the “C word” … actually don’t imagine.

There is a beautiful part of this story though and that was in 2005 and it’s one amazing word: Remission. A year of remission from MS, cancer and all treatments. What a gift. A year to travel. A year to check things off the list. A year to reconnect with loved ones. A year to serve the community but also a year to fall in love with her soon to be son-in-law and watch her daughter fall for him deeper every day.

On June 18th of 2006, I woke up to Troy on one knee asking me to marry him. That’s the day I turned 22 and without barely opening my eyes of course I said “Yes!”  Twenty-two year-old me, with a ring on my finger and now a fiancé was in pure bliss. It felt like a dream that next week, until it didn’t. On June 26th, 2016, the thing that sat dormant, the thing that we all feared but rarely spoke of, the thing that had already stolen so much came crawling out of the dark and glared right at us - this time bigger and meaner.  Mom’s cancer was back. She wanted to fight back so we did what any 22 and 23 newly engaged couple would do in this situation – we moved in with her.

There are pieces of this story that I will keep in my heart forever and there are pieces that I want to share. Like the way Troy would come into her bedroom where I slept at night too and kiss us both on the forehead as he left for work. The way she told me his butt looked cute in his dress pants as he walked away. That was so her. The way she felt so sad on July 4th that she couldn’t see the fireworks so he took matters into his own hands and set off the most pathetic and perfect display the world has ever seen and her smile from that night will forever been imprinted in our hearts.

By early August 2006, things quickly got worse. The cancer was spreading too fast. Her breathing was becoming harder. Her rest took priority over everything else. The food intake become less and less, and her fight was coming to an end.  In her last great move of being the mother and protector of her daughter, she chose to spend the rest of her days in the Inpatient Oncology Unit at the Hospital.

Let me tell you that there is no greater bond than the bond that occurred in that family room. A bond so intimate as you are all together facing the same ending to a story of a life that means everything to you. And a family that decides for you and your fiancé that your mother should see her daughter get married before she leaves this earth.

Read the entire story in the February 2023 printed edition of Johnstown Magazine.  Have some tissues handy. 

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