It was a beautiful spring day – Sunday, April 19, 2015, to be exact. Two weeks before I would walk across the stage and graduate from the University of North Florida. My parents asked that my brother and I come over for a family lunch before my dinner shift at a local seafood restaurant I was working at, just us four, significant others were not invited this time. I assumed my mom wanted to spend time together before my big day… looking back, how incredibly selfish of me.

When I arrived at my parent’s house, my brother was already there, he asked me rather pointedly – “Did someone die? They’re [our parents] are acting weird. Something is up.” I shrugged off his questions and said I think they just want some extra family time; we’ve all been pretty busy lately – again, cue the selfishness and me picturing popping champagne bottles to celebrate my Bachelor’s degree.

We all sat down in the living room, in our designated spots – does anyone else’s family do this? And, before I knew it, the words “I have Breast Cancer” came out of my mother’s mouth. My ears started to ring, my face grew hot, and my eyes welled up with tears. What? HOW? How could this be possible? She was in the best shape of her life, so healthy and full of energy. Not only that, she was young! This can’t be real. My head swam with so many questions.

  • What stage?
  • How could this happen?
  • When did you find out?
  • Are you ok?
  • What does this mean? Is there a [treatment] plan?

My parents found out a little over a week before they told us. They spent a full week visiting doctors, understanding the stage and treatment plan suggestions before telling us anything – they knew we would want answers. To this day, I’m grateful they took that week to get as much information as possible before sharing the news. Personally, when I’m hit with a freight train, I have many questions after.

My beautiful mother was 49 years old and diagnosed with Stage 2A Breast Cancer. They caught it early and the doctors were suggesting chemo, CHEMO, CHEMO the word shouted in my head, followed by surgery, most likely a lumpectomy but they were not ruling out a mastectomy, yet.

She was going to be sick, really sick and lose her hair, her beautiful hair. The strongest person I know was going to be sick and weak. And, that more than anything terrified me. I couldn’t picture my mother, the ultimate do-er – party planner, dugout mom, carpool champion, beach day extraordinaire, mom to all neighborhood kids, amazing cook, ultimate champion for me and my brother, best confidant, and so much more – all of a sudden not doing anything of those things. In an instant, our world shifted. My mama, my Virgie, the Virginia Louise Thompson Palmer had cancer.

She started treatment the week after I graduated. The doctors recommended she start treatment earlier, however, she insisted on waiting until after graduation. She said she wanted to feel like herself on that day.


The weeks went by and she was so sick. I would visit her at home, often too nervous to go and sit at the treatment facility. She started to lose her hair and had a dear friend shave her head – let me tell you, she ROCKED beautiful scarves and knit caps.

Suddenly, my mama who is very much an ocean blue kind of gal, was decked out in all shades of pink.

Our family, friends, neighbors, and those we call our chosen family poured out unconditional love with meals, yard work, cards and thoughtful gifts. Her treatment lasted only five months, the longest five months of our lives.

We celebrated her last chemo treatment with all things pink in the infusion room on Sept. 25, 2015.

We celebrated, again, on her birthday on Oct. 8 surrounded by friends and family, guests were encouraged to wear pink, black or gold – to acknowledge two milestones: the end of treatment and turning 50.

And, we celebrated once more on Jan. 29, 2016 when she rang the bell at the completion of her final radiation treatment. My Nana sat down behind the piano, my Aunt Gayle next to her and they played and sang a family favorite hymn, “It is well.”

Mama is six years in remission, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Self-checks, BRCA testing, annual exams are so important. Talk to your physician about early testing and early detection, it can make a big difference in your diagnosis and treatment plan.

These days you can find Mama in the Patient Relations department at UF Health advocating for patients at both the North and Downtown campuses – or as I say, saving lives and running the hospital.  On her days off, she spends time baking gorgeous Pinterest-worthy cakes, painting beautiful canvases and walking the family dog, Ella with my daddy, the love of her life. The two celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary in August. It is well.