Mom, You are the Strongest Woman I Know

In a lot of different countries, this Sunday is dedicated to celebrating all the amazing mothers from many walks of life. We chose to highlight this day because Mother's Day will forever be a special day for LiveSmyle. As many of you know, LiveSmyle was created after the passing of Dr. Tulay Kent in 2014 from pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. An aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. Hakan, her son, founded LiveSmyle in hopes to raise cancer awareness and to provide support to cancer patients and their families. Hakan turned his grief while facing the unbearable experience of losing a mother into something positive. The lessons and values that Hakan learned from his mother are deeply rooted in him, and that is something that I constantly get to see as we combine our efforts to make LiveSmyle an organization that can provide a meaningful impact on cancer patients and their families.

My mother, on the other hand, is currently living with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. After what my mother and the rest of my family experienced, I knew that I wanted to provide support to other cancer patients and their families, just like Hakan. Our experiences with cancer are very different, but as you'll get to learn throughout the years, these experiences have led us to a similar path.

Dr. Tulay Kent enjoying her 50th birthday party with friends and family.

Dr. Tulay Kent enjoying her 50th birthday party with friends and family.

            Hakan shares his story on our blog, about the journey his family went through as they navigate cancer treatment with Dr. Kent. As you read through the post there is an unintentional ongoing theme, which is the theme of Strength. The beginning of Dr. Kent's cancer story is marked when she receives a phone call at work from the hospital after having several tests and scans done. That phone call confirms the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Dr. Kent took the news with strength and went on to receive her treatment with grace, while still fulfilling the role of being a mother, a wife, and a professional. The initial treatment consisted of chemotherapy followed by major surgery to remove several internal organs. One of the dreaded side effects of chemo is the increased levels of fatigue since chemotherapy also attacks a lot of the healthy cells in the body, as well as increased levels of pain. That surgery ultimately caused her to make certain changes to her lifestyle. Despite all of what her body was enduring, Dr. Kent never failed to show strength, even if perhaps she may have felt the complete opposite on the inside. Up until her very last breath, it is clear that Dr. Kent fought hard to beat her cancer. It is truly an inspiring journey.

            I'm not sure what it is, but I'm pretty sure that once a woman becomes a mother, one of the superpowers that gets activated is being able to fully mask any sign of fatigue with a huge and beautiful smile. My mother is no exception to this. All the mothers I know are like that. It must be a power gene that is turned on immediately after giving birth to a child.

Carmen during one of physical therapy sessions before her bone marrow transplant in 2015.

Carmen during one of physical therapy sessions before her bone marrow transplant in 2015.

            I also had the opportunity to share my family's story on our blog. This is the first time that I am going back through the post, and wow! That was difficult. As I re-read the post, I can also see the ongoing theme of Strength written all over my mother's story. I am lucky that I still get to witness her strength and eagerness to beat the myeloma today. It is something so inspiring and truly beautiful to see. My siblings and I always talk about how grateful we are to have momma Carmen as our very own. I know I may be biased, but my mother truly is a gift sent to me from heaven. After going through a bone marrow transplant back in 2015, reaching the stage of remission for a few years, learning that her cancer had returned again towards the end of 2018, and beginning a new target therapy earlier this year, she has never lost the strength to push through the new and unknown. There is a lot of unknown territory and uncertainty when watching a family member go through cancer. One thing I know is that she remains strong, calm, and always takes everything with a smile on her face; that beautiful smile that will always light up a room. My mother's strength is really what fills me daily and that is what pushes me to reach my fullest potential. Despite the pain that my mother feels due to the myeloma, her strength is very evident as she attempts to get out of the house more and enjoy time with friends and family.

            A huge parallel between my story and Hakan's story is the day we both received the news of the cancer diagnosis of our mothers. The diagnosis of our mothers both occurred on completely different dates, and they were both diagnosed with completely different types of cancers, yet, the day that we both learned the diagnosis of our mothers, without a surprise, had the same ending. I had just flown in from Peru and Hakan was asked to fly home for a weekend while he was attending college in LA. We both felt an unusual vibe in our homes, and we knew that something was different. From the onset of the situation, we both tried to stay positive and take whatever was coming at us. When we both had finally heard the diagnosis of our mothers, we both sobbed uncontrollably to our mothers, while our mothers held us in their arms and comforted us. The unconditional love and comfort of a mother are unlike anything I have experienced before. I know Hakan resonates with this statement as he states in our blog, "showing this kind of unconditional love is the most precious gift she left me."

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            I can proudly say that the backbone and mitochondria (leave it to a science major to say something like this) of LiveSmyle is Strength. No doubt. I will admit we've had some days where Hakan and I have felt discouraged. Luckily, there has always been something to help us bounce back and help us work towards our mission. The strength that our mothers are constantly giving us is one of our main sources of motivation, which makes it easier for us continue to grow as an organization.

            Hakan and I are almost coming up on our one-year anniversary of working together. In the short amount of time that we began this partnership, we have made a lot of progress! We have even added two more members to the leadership team of LiveSmyle: Eric Juhos and Becky Gold, who have been exceptional and wonderful additions to the team. Our most recent donation of $4,500 to the Ronald McDonald House, which is a housing facility for pediatric patients and their families, marked a huge milestone for LiveSmyle. These are just some of the things that we are excited to share with all of you on this special day.

First official Skype meeting with the new members of LiveSmyle!

First official Skype meeting with the new members of LiveSmyle!

            This mission does not stop there. Eventually, we want to financially support cancer patients with the cost of cancer treatment, which many of us know how much of a financial burden that can be. Hakan and I have also talked about creating a scholarship fund for students entering careers in the STEM field and being able to donate grants towards the advancement of cancer research. I believe we are only scratching the tip of the iceberg here and there is a lot more we’ll all get to see through LiveSmyle. Hakan and I always talk and joke about giving a Ted Talk, but I believe with our mother's strength you will be seeing us on a Ted stage sooner than we all think.

            Now, I am not saying that our stories are unique and deserve the highest level of recognition. Not at all. The sad truth is that millions and millions of people worldwide go through similar or worse situations when dealing with cancer. These stories, however, are important and special to Hakan and I. Our individual experiences with cancer have shaped and fashioned who we are today. We took the sadness, fear, anger and the unknown that comes with watching a loved one battle through cancer and losing a loved one, and we turned that into strength, determination, love, and courage. We have taken these stories and experiences to create something bigger than us, but most importantly to honor the most important women in our lives. The point here is to be able to find something or someone that gives you strength. I know with all of the challenges and pressure we face in our society today, that is much easier said than done. I encourage you, however, to find that spark that will give you the strength to keep pushing forward. A question to reflect on is how do you move forward in the face of adversity? The answer is not so simple, but it is up to You.

 Happy Mother's Day!

Dr. Tulay Kent and Carmen Mendoza-Chavez, the Strong women of LiveSmyle.

Dr. Tulay Kent and Carmen Mendoza-Chavez, the Strong women of LiveSmyle.