Niagara Gazette

September 4, 2008

DELUCA: This time it's personal

By Michele Deluca<br><a href="mailto:delucam@gnnewspaper.com">E-mail Michele</a>

When my first child was born, I wasn’t above walking up to the bassinet where he slept and jiggling him to make sure he was still breathing.

It didn’t get better with my second child. As my sons grew, every night while they slept I checked them before I went to bed to make sure they were all right.

Even today, when they flash me a smile or give me a bear hug as they leave me, I sometimes have to bat down vague worries that something might happen. The very idea chills me to my core.

Yes, I’m one of those kind of mothers.

That’s why, when I found out about Beth Hayes’ brain tumor, my heart hurt for the whole Hayes family.

The Hayes are good friends of my family. Don, kind, generous and funny, golfs regularly with my husband, Doug. Lois, Don’s wife, is a gentle hearted, soft-spoken school teacher who works at Emmet Belknap Middle School in Lockport.

They raised their three beautiful daughters in their comfortable North Tonawanda home, and one of their daughters, Beth, worked at the animal hospital where I sometimes brought my dog, Meistro. I was always comforted knowing that Beth watched over him when he spent the night at the vet because my big, scary-looking doberman is a bit of a baby.

Not too long ago we found out that Beth had a brain tumor. This beautiful, free-spirited 27-year-old had gone to the eye doctor because she was having trouble with her vision and was told by the doctor that she had a brain tumor and would need surgery.

Since then, the world has changed for the Hayes family. There’s been a number of surgeries, and Beth suffered a stroke, probably from the assault on her body. She can’t move very well, and she has trouble communicating and focusing. Sometimes, she doesn’t recognize friends and loved ones. And, doctors have recently found another tumor in her heart that will require more surgery when she regains some of her strength.

And so we — me and my husband, Doug, and many of our friends — are gathering together to help the family.

There’s going to be a big fundraiser Sept. 28 (visit www.friendsofbethhayes.com for details) to defray the pile of medical bills that arise when a family has to deal with a crisis like this

We were unsure how the Hayes would react to a fundraiser; predictably, they were uncomfortable with the idea. But I think when you face a crisis, the best thing you can do for you friends and loved ones is to let them help you. And that is a relief for all of us because when you care about someone, you really need to be able to help.

In my imagination, it’s kind of like that cell phone commercial where a giant, silent crowd stands behind the people with the phones. That’s how I imagine all the friends of the Hayes family, standing behind them, bringing all that collective energy and love to their personal, intimate family battle.

Lois has spent the summer nights and days at the hospital with her daughter and knows how lucky they all are to still have a battle to wage. Even when Beth seems disinclined or unable to communicate or engage, her mother is relentless in her patient teacher’s way, encouraging and engaging her daughter.

Recently, when Beth was in the hospital, Lois presented her daughter with a choice of T-shirts to wear and considered it a triumph when Beth was able to point out which shirt she preferred. These days Louis plans walks and other gentle activities with her daughter. And just recently, during a quiet conversation, Beth was able to find the words to confide to Lois that she hoped someday to return to her work with animals.

To her mother, that is the greatest sign of hope thus far. A hope for a future past all of this pain.

Lois told me that throughout this ordeal she has been stunned by the kindness of so many people and has been thinking about how impossible it is to find words to thank them all.

“It’s humbling and inspiring,” she said, softly. “I always step back and think, ‘How can I ever thank these people?’ ”

There are no words that are good enough, she told me, but then she paused for a minute and said, “All I can do is pay it forward.”

I don’t know about you, but I think those words are perfect.

Contact editor Michele DeLuca at693-1000, ext. 157.