Claire and Erin—mother and daughter—harness the healing power of love to fight their cancers.
In 2013, Claire Bistline and her daughter, Erin Hughes, spent Mother’s Day together. They’re grateful, not just because the previous year they spent the day far apart (with Claire in Ajo, AZ, and Erin in Spokane, WA), but because it simply mean being able to hug each other, to look each other in the eye and to hear the other laugh will have special meaning. By Mother’s Day, each woman finished her second round of chemo and is nearing the end of radiation treatments for Stage III breast cancer.
So while the day may not be all it could have been—Claire had originally been planning dinner and an overnight stay for the two of them at Spokane’s Davenport Hotel—the women will still have reason to celebrate.
When Erin was diagnosed late July 2012, Claire wasted little time moving from Arizona to Spokane, so she could help her daughter, a single mom, take care of her boys, Gavin, 12, and Landon, 6. “I’ll stay here till you’re better, however long that takes,” promised Claire. Then in September, just as Erin was wrapping up her first chemo cycle, the unthinkable happened: Claire, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s when theirs became a household with a singular mission: to fight cancer.
They took turns alternating weeks of chemo treatments (so someone would always feel energetic enough to look after the kids), went through surgeries a month apart, and then, both women—still together in Spokane—started their second rounds of chemo. And all the while, the two have bonded more intimately than many mothers and daughters ever do—not just buying wigs together and having them cut to frame their faces, but also trading discoveries like a lash and brow conditioning gel that helps lashes stay put during chemo, and picking each other up when necessary.
“The main thing is your attitude,” stresses Claire. “Because it’s easy to get depressed, Erin and I have helped each other. We’ve been there for each other. And a lot of that is just understanding what the other one is going through. Like times your body feels bad and your skin doesn’t look good, or you’ve lost your hair and your clothes don’t fit.”
Yet those times have led to laughter, along with tremendous gratitude and love. Plus, the willingness to celebrate each and every small goal, to recognize: Today I got the drains out—I’m done with that!...I’ve got one more chemo...I got through that scan…I’m halfway through treatment.
“My reaction was to hide until it was all over,” admits Erin. “But then I wouldn’t have gotten all the support I now have from family and friends.” Support such as tag sales to help defray treatment costs, organized meal donations and a blog set up by friend Kim that provides updates on how Erin and Claire are doing, when it’s okay to visit them and even how to dress safely for hospital visits.
And when she couldn’t stop crying for fear of leaving her children, Erin talked to a counselor at the cancer center, who gave her some very good advice. “She said, ‘Go buy two really cool notebooks. And in each, write down your hopes for Gavin and Landon—and tell them the stories you want them to know.’” At first reluctant—it seemed somehow like giving up—Erin went with it. “She told me, ‘Fifteen years down the road you can say to your sons, Hey, look what I wrote when I was going through cancer treatment.’ Although I cried all the while I was writing, it made me feel so much better.”
And every day—whether it’s simply being there for each other or taking care of the boys—Erin and Claire move through their treatment, fighting cancer and learning how precious a gift they’ve been given. Not just on Mother’s Day, but year-round.