It's a creekmore world

Final Cancer Week 27: The kids learn they will lose their Mom to cancer

It’s Wednesday, September 26th, 2012.  I’ve fallen to my knees on the kitchen floor.  Grief sweats from every pore and I’m hyperventilating for the first time in my life.   My eyes have narrowed to tunnel vision and my body is tingly and losing feeling.


Trish will probably never see our bed again.

I’ve just arrived home from the hospital, alone, leaving Trish in her sister Paula’s care.  The house is empty, but she is everywhere: the (nasty) dragon fruit Vitamin Water, the Guns and Roses poster, the Advil and the ‘Us’ magazine.

A future without my best friend and beloved bride echoes in the silence of the house.

Worse, in a few hours I have to break the news to my darling girls that they will live the rest of their lives without their mother, who will soon die of cancer. Tonight their lives change forever and I have to be the one that tells them. It’s a responsibility I bear, and I can’t bear it.

Kids in Colorado 2010

My only job as a parent is to protect those kids, but I can’t protect them from this. I know it’s not my fault, but to a parent it doesn’t really doesn’t matter that you are blameless.  When your kids are being harmed, you feel helpless and guilty anyway.

Around six-thirty, I take them out to Chipotle, their favorite restaurant.  They are so giddy and happy that it hurts to just watch them.  Will they ever be the same?

I don’t have an exact plan, but I’m certain they should not hear about this in the house.Why? I don’t know, exactly.  The house should be a place we return for comfort.  I think that wherever we are when they found out, will become a tragic place. And I don’t want that to be our house.

It’s a little chilly, fall is coming.  We grabbed some frozen yogurt at the downtown Silver Spring outdoor mall and sat on the brightly lit steps.   It felt like I was committing a crime, harming these sweet girls happily eating candy-sweet frogurt on a normal night.

I brought them closer together, looked them in the eye, and told them. “Girls, I have some sad news.  Mommy’s cancer has become much more serious.  She’s going to get weaker and weaker.  Sometime in the next few weeks she will die. We’re going to lose her.”

The words burn coming out. In the eternity of seconds before tears begin to flow, their little bodies collapse under the weight of the news; muscles limp, spines sagging, arms  drooped.

I reach to support them, as if I might keep them from falling through the earth into a tragic oblivion.  But we are not on this plane.  My arms are worthless.

The next thirty minutes we just cry.  Words barely come out.  I gasp for breath in between sobs. Inside our little huddle on the brightly-lit staircase, I promise them I would take care of them forever. And that mommy loves them dearly.  And that this isn’t anyone’s fault.

We discuss grieving; the agonizingly slow process where we heal our broken hearts.  That we will spend the rest of our time with her as meaningfully as possible and allow ourselves to be sad and hurt so our hearts can express sorrow. But also that we will also need to have some fun and be strong. The key to grieving is to earnestly do both.

The steps on which we huddled. Ground Zero

I explain my own experience with grief, that it often creates other emotions that seem to have no connection:  anger, panic, loneliness, guilt or fear.   And there are a lot of people that will be there in addition to me for their support; friends, family, teachers and therapists.

Emma shares her deepest fear, which is not having a mom to talk about woman stuff.  It’s probably my biggest fear too.  She’s twelve, and is a little late with her first period.  The best I can offer to assure her is that she has four great aunts and dozens of other great women to talk to.

But I admit it’s not the same as a mom.  I don’t know who it will be, friend, family or stranger that provides that for her and Lily, but they will need it badly.

Lily, confident and mature for her age, is still just 9 years old.

Lily reacted a little differently, looking to us first to see how we react before she talks or cries.  She’s just nine and all these emotions must be completely confusing to her.  Shit, it’s baffling to me and I’m the adult.  She just says she’s generally upset.  That’s normal.

Emma and Lily on the Yulong river, China 2010

One thing I don’t say is it’s ‘okay’.   Nothing about this is, or ever will be ‘okay.’  There will be some really hard times we miss her a lot; birthdays, holidays, special events and performances.   That generates more sobs from everyone.

I promise repeatedly to do everything I can,  It’s a helpless attempt to protect them, but I can’t.   I can never replace a mother.

Still, I emphasize that there will be a life ahead that can be happy.  I know that’s what Trish wants for all of us.

Costa Rica, 2012

The crying subsides, only because we are emotionally exhausted, and we hold hands and head down the steps toward the parking lot.

More questions.  Lily wants confirmation that cancer isn’t contagious.  Emma wants to know exactly how she will die.  I explain the several ways that her brain will eventually be deprived of oxygen and the life will be lifted from her body.

Peru 2010

Emma stops in her tracks outside the ‘Ann Taylor Loft’ and asks ‘Daddy, are we still going to go on trips?’ which brings on a new set of tears.

Our family’s quests for adventure, cataloged in this damn blog, were a response to Trish’s first cancer scare. We knew in 2004 that she had a 30% chance she wouldn’t make it 10 years. (She made it eight.)

We took the risk seriously and set a family goal to go around the world for 52 weeks, half of which we achieved with Trisha. “Of course Emma, I promise we will. That’s exactly what Mommy wants us to do – keep adventuring”.  I make a promise to myself to finish the other half with Emma and Lily, with Trisha there in spirit.

Over the empty hospital bed, we watch TV

At home, the girls and I watch some Family Guy and The Simpsons. Trish’s favorite thing to do after an emotional outpouring is to watch some TV to calm down. I fall asleep immediately, exhausted, with them in my arms.

A few episodes later they wake me up and we walk upstairs and cuddle in the same bed together.   We sleep together, Emma, Lily and me. Soon the Creekmore’s will be be just three.

When I awake on Wednesday, (September 26th) the girls have already gone downstairs, playing video games together –  We are taking the day off of school to go see Trish in the hospital.

Between the cancer and our adventuring, Emma and Lily are unusually close for 9 and 12 year old sisters. They take care of each other like twins, even though they couldn’t be more different in personality.

They are eager to huddle on the couch for a little more discussion. I talk about our next steps. Family will be coming right away from California including their closest cousins from Santa Rosa and Tahoe.

Only weeks after her double-mastectomy, Trish climbs Peruvian cliffs near Machu Picchu. And she’s afraid of heights.

And we talk about how we will spend her final days, loving her and talking to her about the things we loved most about her. “What do you remember the most about Mommy?” I asked Emma first.

“Her bravery” she responds without hesitation. And she’s right. Trish is really brave. There is bravery where you are naturally fearless or even cocky (like me), and there is bravery where you are actually scared as shit, but you summon the will to do it. Trisha is the latter.  She has panic disorder and anxiety, but she has done some of the gnarliest adventures.   She is inspiring.

Class trip with a delighted Lily, 2011

Lily says “that she came to my classroom and went with me on field trips.”  Lily has always been nurtured by our participation in school activities, most of which we disdain.

But Trish made an effort in the past few years to be there more often for Lily, and it’s gratifying that it was so appreciated.

My plan is to stay with the girls for the next two days and leave the hospital watching to Trish’s mom, Suzanne and sisters Becky and Paula.   Then we’ll surround them with family for two weeks.  It’ll be good for the girls to see their cousins and family from California.  Hopefully it’ll soften the shocking blow they got last night.

The future scares me, but I’ll do my best to provide them with patience, honesty, empathy, support, continuity, and most of all, memories of an amazing mother lost to cancer.    And maybe someday, it’ll feel safe enough to say we are ‘okay.’  Someday.





43 thoughts on “Final Cancer Week 27: The kids learn they will lose their Mom to cancer

  1. Supa Dupa Fresh

    Friend, I am crying with you with my own memories of a similar time a few years back, when my daughter’s father was dying, too.
    You MUST REMEMBER that you are never alone. You must please keep in your heart that others have done this too, each differently. You must know that the label of widow is not one of shame and that you will always, always have done your best. You are an awesome Daddy and a wise man but yes, this shit will hurt.
    WE WILL BE HERE, at your side, whenever you call us, and we know that you will find your own way through this next — yes (sorry) — adventure.
    Robin in Silver Spring

    P.S. You are a kickass awesome Dad.

  2. Alexa Carnibella

    Your girls (and Trish!) are so fortunate to have you. I’m so sorry for all you’ve all gone through and that you’re losing your best friend. Bless you all.

  3. Christine (Tina Ruiz) Vigil

    A loss of a parent is never easy and to become a single parent is even harder. Just have faith and patience and love and Trish in her own “angel” way wil guide you and your daughters on your paths ot life.

  4. Amy and Stella~

    David…you too are so strong and an amazing father. I cannot ever imagine having to do what you just wrote. I know you are taking care of Trish and the Girls (but don’t forget about yourself.) I know that’s easier said. You will have all of Trish’s (Motherly and womanly) wisdom as she continues, her family and friends to surround you. Don’t be afraid of the future. How to cope w/ something so intense and sad? I have not learned. Except I know you are doing everything you can. Please HUG Trish (again) from me. Please remind her HOW much she means to me. I wish I could do it myself. Sending as much Love possible to you ALL. Amy and Stella (6)

  5. Jessica Snow

    Wow, the courageousness of you and Trisha got passed right down to Emma and Lily. No skipping of a generation there! I’m heartbroken for the whole family, and wish you even more of that Creekmore courage.

  6. jody privette young

    Hi David, Thank you for your candid, honest account of this painful experience. You are and inspiration, as was Trish throughout her life. She will be dearly missed. There is comfort in knowing she lives on through her beautiful girls and that they have you to lead them forward.

    Blessings and peace, Jody (high school friend of Trish)

  7. Kristin


    I don’t know what to say except that I am so so sorry and I am so inspired and humbled by your family’s bravery and strength through all of this, and by that, I don’t mean the typical nonsense about keeping a stiff upper lip, etc., but actually expressing your grief and all those other emotions with your girls. You are all so blessed to have each other and you and trish are doubly blessed to have found one another. I am just so hearbroken for you that you won’t have more time together — but you are right. Her spirit will always be with you. I hope writing this blog and knowing how many people you have touched by sharing your journey has given you some small measure of comfort. Kristin (one-time Discovery co-worker of Trisha’s)

  8. Masha Rasner

    David, my thoughts are with you and your girls… Very sorry about all of this. I feel there is tremendous love in your family – if anything, it should help to pull you thru this. Pls stay strong! Masha (ex-Internews KG country director)

  9. Elaine Owles

    There are no words that are adequate, David. I think of Trisha, you, and the girls every morning now, when I wake up. Her courage, your courage, help to give me more. October is hard for me: it contains my wedding anniversary AND the day my husband died, and so the Creekmores come to mind every morning and make me braver about October, because you are both so brave. Thank you for this.

  10. Michelle Schmitz Nichols

    David, I think you did a wonderful job in sharing this news with your girls. I like that you thought about where to tell them this, and that home wouldn’t be a place associated with this sad news. You love them so much, it is so apparent, and that will help them so much. And Trish’s brave, never complaining spirit will ease them as well.

    I met Trish when she was Emma’s age, she had just moved up from LA and was friends with my neighbors. I remember thinking she was so bold, so free-thinking, so mature for her age even back then. I am quite sure your girls have many of the same, wonderful qualities. This makes me certain they will find fun and adventure in their lives again.

    Wishing all of you the very best. Your journey is inspiring and heartbreaking and just full of love, love, love. The love will never leave.

  11. Lynn

    I never would have thought to deliver the news outside of your home, but that’s why you’re a million times smarter than me. Let those ugly steps in Silver Spring be the place they remember, not your home. And let’s all hate those steps with a passion from now on.

  12. Michelle Travis

    Reading this reminds me all too forcibly about how it felt to lose my father when I was 14 and he was 44. Two packs a day of unfiltered Lucky Strikes, plus esophagal cancer from acid reflux… he went from hale and hearty (my dad was a big guy) to a frail husk of himself. In six months.

    Six months for a frightened, angry teenager to realize that this wasn’t like when Mom and Dad got divorced when I was 10 and ‘Daddy was leaving.’ This was LEAVING. And no custody visits or sneaking bike rides to his house was going to get me where he was going.

    He wasn’t there to scare the daylights out of the first boy I brought home. He wasn’t there when I graduated high school, or college, or finished grad school. He wasn’t there when I got married. At 38, I have now lived almost 2/3 of my life without my father.

    I admit to wishing with a heathen desperation that my parents had been as united as you and Trish have been, and to have had the eight years that you did instead of the all-too-brief six months. You and your girls are blessed in the memories you will have both because of and despite the cancer.

    A message for Emma and Lily: if you ever have ‘woman questions’, I will be happy to answer them. And from someone who has been where you are now, I can tell you no matter what you might think now, one day… the hurt will fade. It never stops – that would be lying. There will always be reminders. But the very best gift you can give to your mommy is to grow up to be the kind of woman she would be proud to call her daughter. And your father sounds like just the kind of man to help you do just that.

    For Trish: “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.” – George Bernard Shaw

  13. Karen Washington

    David, you don’t know me but I remember your beautiful wife from long ago. I cannot fathom the pain that all of you must be going through right now. Words are pointless at this point. We are all there in spirit for Trish, you and your beautiful girls…..

  14. Debbie Marina

    It never fails to amaze me how, in spite of the horrible tragedy happening in your lives, you are able to find the words to speak so beautifully about Trish and your girls. The strength you all show, even when you think you are weak, is inspiring. While I’m sure there are times that will be hard, I have no doubt that you, Emma and Lily will help see each other through.

  15. Eric

    You families story touched me deeply. I am praying for you and yours that you will be comforted and that the memories of your beloved will shape your lives forever. E

  16. Sean David Rotter

    I am so saddened to hear of you situation Trisha. Though we have only met on line (Warhammer) I still feel like I am losing an old and dear friend. David you are amazing.

    I have no other words, just tears.

    Sean (Docroc)

  17. Akalukz

    Tink and Mort, although I only know you through this blog and through an online game (WAR) your story brings me to tears. The love that you share is simply amazing and it saddens me greatly to see this happen to anyone, let alone to people I “kinda” know. It’s awesome that you have made a personal promise to finish your trips. I think Tink will like to hear that.

  18. Mary Ann Cain

    A friend, Lisa, has posted links to your blog. Please accept my sincere sympathies. I have battled cancer 3 times in 30 years. My last I was given 6 months in 2010. However, my cancer buddy who was diagnosed at the same time I was and was told he could beat it, and who was also my husband’s nephew, just passed Monday. It’s a terrible, terrible disease that seems to hit the good ones the hardest.

  19. Michele Costa

    David and Trisha – I just wanted to let you know I have been following your journey through the Discovery Digital family. I, like Trisha, am a Discovery alum now. I just wanted to let you know that you have been in my thoughts and prayers. Trisha was always great to me at Discovery. She was always in attendance and on time at a big meeting I used to chair. And she always kept me in my toes!! She is an amazing lady – fearless, funny and always has a smile on her face I regret that I did not know her better. You have an amazing network of people supporting you in this journey, fight, life, whatever we should call it. Never forget that and stay strong. And please keep writing…you have a gift.

  20. Lisa Furton

    I’m so sorry David, that you had to go through that – it’s making my heart hurt to hear about it – but I do thank you for sharing it with all of us! Please tell Trish that Lisa loves her and that I will always cherish those great heavy metal memories that we had. I’m still praying for a miracle – I can’t help it!

  21. Shibirian

    You’re a strong dude. The best dad any kids could wish for. You’re gonna make it. … Even if it probably won’t feel like it at times, you’re gonna do alright, mate. Reading this blog hear of yours I am absolutely sure of it. Take care.

    “It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”
    ? John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

    “If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.”
    ? Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

  22. Patty Cogen

    Dear David,
    you did the best job telling your girls the news that anyone could.
    There are stars that burn brightest when the night is dark and you are one of those stars, along with your beautiful brave bride, Trish.
    All out love to each member of the family,
    Patty and Larry

  23. Alexandra Scott (former PBS colleague)

    David, it is truly an inspiration that deep in the middle of your own suffering you can be such a source of stength and love and caring for your girls. As unlucky as they are to lose such an amazing mother, they are blessed in equal measure with an amazing father. I wish you all the strength and courage you will need in the coming days, and the hope of peace on the other side of your grieving.

  24. kristysnyder

    As someone who lost my mom when I was 12, I so appreciate the way you handled telling your daughters. It is a treasure for them to be given that space and honesty. Thank you for sharing and I will be rooting for you all during this heart breaking time.

  25. Cehon Davis

    To my Creekmore family i’m sorry that you have to go through this. i’m at a lost for words, I know that there is nothing that anyone will say that will make this news better. I’m praying for some happy times for you guys right now, David i think that you will do an excellent job with the girls. im here to say that im willing to be there if Emma or Lilly need a females advice. BCDC is praying for you guys.

  26. helene gerstle

    I have come to know your story through my friend, Carol, and having read your blog, as a cancer survivor, I am praying for you and your family. I know that you will heal in time.

  27. Denise

    You are all so amazing, courageous and loving…your family has shown so many how to move through this life with passion. Love to all of you during this time, keeping you in my prayers.

  28. Heather

    Your honesty and support with your children is amazing. As I cry for your loss, I smile knowing that the way you speak to your children is saving them. My thoughts are with you.

  29. Anita Broccolino

    We adore all of you and you are in our thoughts and prayers!!! Obviously, we know Emma the most thanks to her friendship with Cate. We always love her company and her beautiful spirit, which we know comes from what incredible parents you and Trish have been for her. So, although we do not know you and Trish as much, I hope you will call on Gail & I… and Cate, for whatever you may need in the coming and difficult weeks, and beyond that as well. We were VERY happy to see on FB that all of you are at the Mall today. That was definitely a fun and positive sign.
    From what we see, You have been, and continue to be, a great Dad to the girls. That will be the most important aspect of what will be happening in coming weeks, months and years.
    Know that we are thinking often of you, Trish, Lily and Emma.
    We’re near by, so please do call if you need us for anything.

  30. Lauren Miller (Honeyluv)

    I’m struck speechless … and through empathy, my heart aches in sadness for you, the girls and Trish. I am so touched by your courage, fight and deep love for each other. Will send you waves of love, peace and peace and peace .. and strength to bare this hardship. – honey

  31. Jone

    I found your blog via Facebook and the photo of you and Trish at the mall with your mom and dad. I can’t believe this is happening. Wasn’t just a year ago we said good-bye to Aunt Betty. So much love to you all and prayers.

  32. Meredith Palmer

    Dearest Trisha,

    (From your cousin Meredith in New York, Great Aunt Lillian’s daughter)

    I am just back from Los Angeles where we celebrated Mom’s 93rd birthday! Even had a Mariachi band in the backyard to serenade her; she was quite happily surprised. But we have been thinking of you and your wonderful family all week, and I am so moved by what I read and so sorry that you are suffering this terrible illness.

    Mom (and your mother) told me about your courageous struggle with breast cancer and your wonderful travels last year that I am discovering on your website. So beautifully written and photographed, I feel that I am with all of you on these great adventures. What a special year you and David have made for your girls, and for all of you. I am in awe of your energy and strength through all of this.

    Trisha, I remember when you were born as you were the first born for the Cogen side of our family. You were a beautiful curly-haired baby girl, and I still remember the joy for everyone at your birth, as a little charming girl, and as you grew up into a mature woman. I see the pictures of your beautiful daughters whom I hope to meet soon, and I see you and your Mom in them in many ways — and of course, David, who seems an amazing husband and father from his terrific writing and caring. Through my mom, of course, I heard about your lovely wedding and her amazing superimposed photos, and from time to time about your writing and many accomplishments. Indeed, I am sorry that we have not had time to share more.

    Mom may have told you or Sue that I am working on a documentary film in China about the first time that we officially showed American art there in 1981. I was then working for the State Dept. in D.C. and managed the show — a landmark opening to the West after the isolation of the Cultural Revolution. Last December, I wrote a piece on the 30th Anniversary of the Boston Museum Exhibition for the Washington Post. I will try to attach it here or send via e-mail if I cannot (Dec. 25, 2011 “When art diplomacy made a difference: China, 1981.”)

    My heart goes out to you, Trisha, and to your dear family as you leave us much too soon. You will always be in our hearts and memories as the vital woman that you are. As I write this, i cannot stop the tears for all of you. You will be so sadly missed, but not forgotten.

    Lots of love, big hugs,


  33. Pingback: If ever I really want to cry again… « [ S D K ]

  34. David

    I first came to this blog in 2010 after I had heard, through a gaming site, of the journey yourself and Trish were going through. When she went into remission after a year I literally threw my hands in the air! Utterly exhilarated at the news from two people I have not met.

    Since the news of remission, I have not been back often. So when I came back today (Oct 26) I have been in a constant state of shock while I catch up on everything.

    Please forgive me as I truly have no idea what to say. But, as the famous quote says, “Life is not about the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.” If there is one thing I can say DEFINITIVELY about the lives you two have lived its that you have had many moments where life MUST have taken your breaths away. Your adventures, your trips, your excitement over the victories in your quest to defeat cancer. You two have been blessed with a FULL life.

    When your daughters grow up, and get to read this 8 year journey of their parents, they will learn how remarkable their mother was. How HUMAN both of you are. How much love you had for each other and, best of all, the love both of you have for THEM.

  35. Cory

    Stumbled across your blog through a mutual friend’s Facebook. You are a fabulous writer. I’m a nurse practitioner in gynecology and have seen how breast cancer touches people through my career. My 39 year old husband is a survivor of prostate cancer. What I love is how human you are. You have no idea how much your thoughts in this blog have touched me… Thank you for doing this. My best to you and your beautiful girls.

  36. Ken

    My heart breaks for your family. Last year, my wife had a brain tumor removed and it was a very traumatic and emotional time for my wife, my self, and our two boys (7 & 2, at the time). At this point, things are looking good. However, we are not sure if, or when, her tumor may return. Thank you for your posting, as it is a poignant reminder to me that my semi-perfect life is one to be treasured for as long as I have it. Take care.

  37. Omeara

    I am so sorry for your lose. As I read the blog for the first time today, I was impacted so dramatically by the life Tink has led. Her story has made me want to be stronger and more adventurous. Thank you so much for sharing her story with us.