That summer was an exciting one. I was set to sing The Wedding Song at my sister’s June wedding. I wasn’t necessarily a soloist but my mom hired a voice coach and I worked hard. I knew I could do it. My hair was growing out and I was excited to achieve some of the big hair looks that were becoming popular. The week before the wedding, my mom convinced me to cut my hair short again and told me they hired a professional singer for the wedding. I was always a team player and lost my locks and took the song rejection in stride. I knew I wasn’t a soloist. I definitely felt a bit discarded. The movie Sixteen Candles literally came out at this time and I easily compared my life to the lead who had good friends yet pined for a cute guy to call her own and a family to notice her.

June 1986, bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding.

I wasn’t going to be caught dead working for the Homecoming dance that fall without attending, so I secured a date by agreeing to buy the bid, pay for dinner, pay for the limo, just please, for the love of God, be my date. It worked! He was a nice guy, super funny, and I used my tiny wand curling iron and did my make-up like a pro! I thought maybe, just maybe, I’d get my first kiss at some point on this night. After the dance, the limo pulled up in front of my house. We both got out, I thought, this is it! A good night kiss! Nope. He said, “Okay, bye and got back into the limo. It drove away. I sulked into my house, up to my room, and took perhaps my favorite selfie of all time. I call this, “Seriously? Not even a peck of a good night kiss?”

Post-Homecoming, unkissed.

The other dance offered at my high school was called King of Hearts and it was a turnabout dance around Valentine’s Day. I devised the perfect plan. My parents and I went out for dinner one night and as soon as we got home, I was going to head right upstairs, grab the hallway phone, and pull that curly cord until it was taut and safely reached my bedroom. I would call Joe and ask him to the dance. I couldn’t tell you what my parents and I talked about at dinner because my sole and absolute focus was on calling Joe and asking him because word on the streets was that someone else was going to call later that night and ask him too. I had to get to him first!

As we pulled into our driveway, my hand was on the door handle. I was ready to go and execute my Mod-gets-a-date-to-the-dance mission. The car stopped, I leaned forward, and my dad told me to stay in the car. As my mom got out he shared that he and I were going to drive to my newly married sister’s apartment. We had some things to talk about. What?! No! I had something important I had to do. It was time sensitive. Why wasn’t mom coming with? What was happening? I fumed as the car backed out of the driveway and headed to my sister’s place. I stomped my feet as we walked up to her apartment. The other girl likely had already gotten to Joe. Now what would I do?

My dad sat us down and told us that my mom had breast cancer. She was diagnosed well over a year ago but they didn’t want to tell us sooner because they didn’t want to ruin my sister’s wedding. Then it was Christmas and the time wasn’t right. So, they chose to tell us that night, and my mom chose not to be there. She had already had a few procedures. I was stunned. My dad shared that the times where they went on little trips were actually hospital stays. She would be starting chemotherapy soon. We were then told that she didn’t want people to know so we shouldn’t tell anyone.

My mind reeled as we drove back home. I felt sick. My mom had cancer and was going to have chemotherapy. She had already had procedures and my parents lied to us for over a year. Only a few people knew and I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. I went to my bedroom and sobbed. I was terrified.


13 thoughts on “1986-87

  1. Karen my heart aches hearing this. The juxtaposition of adolescent angest and family tragedy leaves the reader spinning. Can only image how 16 year old you processed this. Also understand your Mom’s desire for privacy but not have your faith family to support you makes me even sadder.

    1. Pam, I’m so thankful that you not only took the time to read, but to share this comment. I am forever thankful for the friendship that I had in you during those years. The story will continue in the coming weeks, sharing exactly how I coped with it, starting the very next day from where this story leaves off. I think a wonderful thing about our church being at the literal end of my block was that it was a constant presence in my life. It’s still such a special place to me.

    1. Linda, thank you for reading and responding! All of the moments truly combine to shape us into the women we are today. Thankful you are walking with me through it!

  2. Thank you for sharing this tough time with your readers. Sharing your story may help someone else who has to deal with these emotions. And realizing what your parents held in their hearts alone…..

    1. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. Believe it or not, before this post was even published, two different friends reached out to me to ask advice for helping a teen whose mom was dealing with a cancer diagnosis and a teen who lost her mom from cancer. If one reader relates and is helped in any way, well… that’s exactly why I think it’s important to share our stories. I appreciate you and was glad you were there throughout my teen years.

  3. The last paragraph hits me hard for you…like a punch in the stomach. I love and value your openness and desire to share who you are in order to help all of us, and wonder if this reluctance of your parents to share has inspired you to be who you are today…even leading to this blog. So thankful for who you are, Karen!

  4. Your memories are so vivid, candid and honest. It’s hard and confusing to be a teen navigating through the social circles and you were brave! But to learn of your mom’s cancer diagnosis must have been devastating. My heart is breaking for your young self dear friend.

    1. Julie, thank you for reading and sharing this comment. I am so appreciative of your friendship and support! I hope readers will come to see that life is hard in so many ways, but no one is ever alone on the journey.

  5. My heart breaks for that young Karen. Emotions are so intense and all consuming at that age and you capture that perfectly with rejection after rejection after rejection followed by that life changing news about your Mother. You tell us so much with just a few words.
    Hugs. Oh I so love those images!

    1. Thank you for not only reading, but sharing your comment. I clearly remember all of the details of that night and can easily pull right to those emotions. After all of these years, the fact that I remember so clearly has led me to feel compelled to share and hope that it can help someone else is some way.

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