by Maura Cesarini
When I was 25 years old, I knew there had to be more to life than what I was doing. I worked at a cable TV company. I was the youngest of four kids. My parents had immigrated to Boston from Ireland in the 1950’s. I had finished a Master’s Degree at Emerson College in Boston. Three years earlier, I had lived in London after graduating college and returned to Massachusetts to be with my mother who was dying from a rare bone cancer. My father had died ten months early from cirrhosis of the liver. I had gone home for his funeral and had no idea I would be coming home so soon for another one. I knew then the frailty of life. With the death of my mother, I knew that people could come and go from your life in the blink of an eye. I knew never to take anything or anyone for granted. But with time, these thoughts moved to the back of my head and I started going through the motions of living again until I didn’t have to pretend to be alive, I was alive again. I realized I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and decided to become a police officer.
I had a boyfriend. He was very nice but there were no sparks. He was an accountant and a little boring. On the first day of the Police Academy, I met my future husband Michael. He looked mean, tough, really physically fit and very intimidating. The kind of cop you would hate to see walking up to your car in the rear view mirror. We were put together as running partners to record each others times. I was embarrassed at how fast he was and how slow I was in comparison. I was sure he thought I didn’t belong there. Well as the months went on we became friends. He told me about his girlfriends and I continued seeing my “nice” boyfriend on the weekends but I started thinking about Michael more and more. He was five years younger than me and I didn’t think he would have any romantic interest in me. Graduation day came and I was thrilled and relieved that I had made it. But also a little sad as I thought that was the end of seeing Michael as we were going to work in different cities. After the ceremony I was talking to a group of friends. Michael came up and asked if he could call me “sometime”. I was thrilled but actually thought that maybe this was a mean joke. Believe it or not, the Police Academy is a little like highschool with the cool kids and the not so cool. He was definitely cool and I thought of myself as the latter. Anyway “sometime” turned out to be the next day. We made plans to go to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston for our first date. We spent the day together and he dropped me off with not so much as a peck on the cheek saying he’d call me. Well he did. A few hours later we went out again that night. That was the last of the accountant. Michael and I bought a condo in Boston and got married in 1998. Around the same time, I was made a detective. Everything was going great.
About a year later we decided to have a baby. My sweet Michaella was born on January 1, 2001. But she didn’t come easy. She was due on December 26th which came and went without any sign of her. On December 30th, we had a huge snow storm. Of course that is when my contractions began. We had moved to a small town south of Boston and Mass General Hospital was 30 miles away. We ventured into the hospital through the snow drifts only to be sent home. New Years Eve came. I had really painful contractions all day. I refused to go to the hospital to be sent home again. Ten p.m. came and the pain was unbearable. We again ventured into Boston. However, when we got off the highway, we saw people on the streets everywhere. It was the annual First Night Celebration. We couldn’t get through the traffic and I knew the baby was coming. Thankfully we saw a fellow police officer working crowd control. My husband quickly told him of our situation and he called for the closet car to escort us through the traffic. The closest car turned out to be a Bomb Squad truck and people certainly parted the street when they saw that coming through. We made it in time and my perfect angel was born shortly afterwards!
The following year, I was again expecting. In my sixth month of pregnancy, I started to have a nagging pain in my left side. I went to the obstetrician thinking something was wrong with the baby. I had an ultrasound and the baby was fine but I was told there was a large “cyst” growing in my abdomen and they would keep an eye on it. Well, the pain became worse and subsequent ultrasounds showed it growing very fast. I was sent to a surgeon who advised me to wait until after I had the baby and that it might even go away on its own. I went for a second opinion and was told that it did look like a cyst but since it was growing so fast I should have it removed right away. My little Bella Danielle was induced one month early. She stayed in the hospital for ten days and had to be fed through a tube in her nose. One week after having Bella, I returned to the hospital to have the “cyst”” removed. Life was still certain. On July 16, 2002, I woke up in the recovery room of Mass General. My obstetrician was there with the surgeon. They both looked very sad. I hazily heard them tell me I had cancer. My “cyst” was actually a GIST tumor. Parts of my stomach, pancreas and entire spleen were removed. There were too many lesions on my liver to take them out . I knew devastation. All I could do was cry. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I had two babies to take care of. I was only 33 years old. I questioned how could God be so cruel. I wasn’t a bad person. I was a vegetarian. I exercised. I took care of myself. Why was this happening?
Well, seven months later, I still don’t have any answers but I am still here. Life goes on.
My husband is an avid runner and cyclist. In our “precancer” days we both read Lance Armstrong’s book, “Its not about the bike”. After my surgery we both reread it. On one of my darker days in the hospital, Michael came in with a large wrapped bag. In it was an autographed picture of Lance who had written the words, “Stay Strong Maura” on it. My husband always seems to know what I need. I am still here for my wonderful Michael, who surprises me and impresses me every day. Who I have learned is so much more than what I first thought was a tough intimidating cop. He is so loving, so committed so loyal. In December , he surprised me with a trip to St. John, USVI. He had a limo pick us up and on the way to the airport a billboard read, “MAURA I LOVE YOU!” I am still here to go on our hiking trips to Maine and New Hampshire. He has again surprised me with a planned trip to Ireland in March. My sister lives with her family there and again on my gloomier days I have something else to look forward to.
I am still here for my children. My girls are growing so fast. My little Michaella is speaking in full sentences. She can say, “I love you Mommy” and I am here to say it back. I can read her a story at night and kiss her boo boo’s. There is nothing like the love you feel from a two year old who believes that your kisses makes the boo boo’s better. My little Bella is starting to sit up and trying to crawl. I am here to rock her back to sleep at night when she awakens. I am here to see her smiles and hear her babbles. I am so happy to be here to be a mom. I am so thankful that they still have a mom in their lives.
Cancer is such a frightening disease but many times it shows us such goodness in people. Eight of my fellow police officers walked a marathon in my name to raise money for cancer research. My coworkers and academy friends organized a softball game with my police department playing my husbands. They had a big party for us afterwards. Friends I hadn’t seen in years came out for it. It was a little like being at my own wake but I guess I would rather have such a good turn out now rather than when I am not here to enjoy it.
I often wonder if I am having the same thoughts about life and death and motherhood that my mom had when she was diagnosed. I wish that I had been able to talk more to her about cancer, but at the time if I even tried to speak about it only tears came out. I don’t know why I have cancer. I learned the mortality lesson a long time ago. I do know that if I dwell on the why, it will not change my diagnosis. I try to keep on living each day, enjoying my family and friends and appreciating all that life has to offer. That’s all any of us can do...