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My Aunt's Notebook

When I was little, Aunt Jane was the fun one. She played trivia while perched on the edge of her seat, eyes shining, waiting for her chance to buzz in with a guess. She had a competitive streak a mile wide and talked trash like nobody's business - but she'd help me figure out the trivia answers, too, because she was also a softie.

I loved both those traits.

She'd worked as a newspaper reporter, so when I got older and wanted to write an article, it was my aunt who encouraged me. I had a story to tell, and she offered to read it, to edit it and teach me the steps, tell me who to contact and what to say - she was my idol and my mentor. Her red pen marks on that page still shape the way I write to this day; through her kindness, patience, and wisdom, I was able to find my voice and get it published for the first time.

Much later, I found my kids reading a notebook. My mom had given it to them, thinking it contained some scribbles she'd jotted down after a family reunion we had four years ago. But when I looked closely, I saw they were her sister's notes - my aunt - and that her memories of the family gathering served as the opening entry to a journal. I love that Aunt Jane's perspective (and her handwriting) were so close to my mom's that we didn't even realize the notebook was hers.

Until she mentioned the treatments.

my aunt's notebook - an unexpected message about breast cancer and life by Robyn Welling @RobynHTV

The radiation. The migraines. The utter exhaustion, punctuated with joy over loved ones' successes, woven together with gratitude for the kinds of days when she had enough energy just to make dinner.

Four and a half pages.

That's as far as she got.

With a constant eye on the future and enjoying life fully, her journal ends with plans for my mom to come for a visit.

She was gone soon after that. She never wrote again.

As hard as it was to read about brain scans, to watch her handwriting deteriorate as the headaches worsened, I crave more words - writing obviously came at a price for her as the days wore on, but selfishly I find the blank pages painful. I keep coming back, studying them for something I might have missed, looking for any sign of her, an indentation where she rested her pen, wringing meaning from every mark and fold in the paper. I flip through the notebook again and again, thinking about all the passages she could've written, the years those pages should have held. All the things she didn't get to say.

She didn't live to see me become a writer, though I like to believe she'd have been proud of the role she played in getting me here. She also didn't live to meet my youngest daughter, who carries my aunt's heart, quirkiness, and strength in the Jane she cradles between her first and last names.

But her words are with me always: the ones in red ink, the ones she called out playfully during games, the ones in her diary. They say: Love fully. Live fully. Do it now. Leave with memories, not regrets.

She is still helping me figure out the answers.

I am still listening.


I wrote this nearly a year ago, but just haven't felt ready to publish it. I decided to share this story now, not only because it's Breast Cancer Awareness month, but also because I recently had my own first scare - and first mammogram - and a message to share about my experience. It's slightly more lighthearted, but every bit as important, so I hope you'll stop over at momdotme to read The Truth About Mammograms.

Article exposing the TRUTH about mammograms by Robyn Welling @RobynHTV

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