Mercedes Wilson treasures her life, and everyone in it.
The mother of four has trouble picking just one cherished memory to share — all of them are precious in their own right. When she speaks about her husband, her eyes light up and a smile tugs at her lips. Two years ago, he asked the big question in their family home. The kids were in on the proposal, and together, they all performed a skit that Wilson will forever hold close to her heart. In the background, her kids chanted, “Say ‘Yes!’ Say ‘Yes!’” and of course, she did.
When she talks about her son Isaiah, she can’t help but laugh warmly as she reminisces about his humor and ambition. Wilson recalls a “For Our Daughters” gala, when Isaiah declared that he was going to take Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s job … to Mayor Brown. The mayor simply smiled and told him that one day, in the future, he could make a great mayor. Wilson agreed that the sky is the limit for her son.
As a mother, Wilson strives to ensure that her four little ones are happy and healthy. She knows from experience how easy it is for young people, especially young women, to be left in the lurch about health issues. It was only a few years ago that she found herself in the dark about breast cancer. At age 28, Wilson’s diagnosis of Stage 2 breast cancer took her on a journey of survival and led her to inspire others.
For years, Wilson thought the lump on her breast was a pulled muscle. It wasn’t until after a routine check-up and a visit to Roswell Park Cancer Institute that she knew differently. The then single mother of two saw her life change before her eyes.
“It was scary because you have two little ones, and my life was about being there for them. It makes you think about all that. Am I going to be here for my children? Are they going to look up and Mommy’s gone? How does someone explain that?” she said.
During her struggle, Wilson sat down with a counselor to talk about what she was going through and found that her counselor didn’t typically work with women her age. Wilson’s only thought was that something had to change.
“My life will never be the same. It has not been the same since. So, you try to make different normal.”
For Wilson, part of making different normal meant sharing her story and changing the conversation about wellness. She worried that other young women, like her daughter, would go through the same struggle she did. Out of that concern, came “For Our Daughters.” The non-profit organization aims to educate young women about healthy living and body image.
Wilson has done presentations to more than 1,000 girls a year at Lockport, Niagara Falls, Lewiston-Porter and Buffalo schools. Her four-day program blends Zumba with her trainer Ashley Stewart, owner of F.I.T. Method Studio in Buffalo, with discussion.
Wilson shares her story with students and talks about how she didn’t know a thing about her body when she was their age. She gets them to discuss healthy living, body image, stereotypes, social media and the importance of talking to family and friends about health issues.
“Once they open up and I tell them how my family didn’t talk about healthy living — my mother and I didn’t talk about it — you can instantly see it in their eyes that they relate.”
Wilson is thankful for all of the volunteers and the committee who make “For Our Daughters” possible, but more importantly, for her children who motivate her and her husband who supports her through everything.
“I kiss them all the more when I come home. I realize that I’m very blessed and very fortunate to have the family that I have.”