Above left: Addie Jackson (left) had cancer and her sister, Ardene Jackson, despite her own personal struggles fought along side her every step of the way.
Above right: Phyllis Palmer is a recovering drug addict who is now clean and going to college. She would like to get a degree that would allow her to help others in a time of need.
By Tashmica Torok
LANSING, MI -- On February 19, 2011, two courageous women will be honored at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of The New Citizens Press as recipients of the “Staying the Course” Award. “Stay the course” is a phrase used in the context of a war or battle meaning to pursue a goal regardless of any obstacles or criticism. Addie Jackson is a breast cancer survivor while Phyllis Palmer is recovering from drug addiction one day at a time. The battle these women faced were different but these veterans shared similar journeys.
Fight for Life
Addie Jackson's living room was filled with the happy noises of generations of family. At her feet there were flower arrangements filled with pink flowers and ribbons to honor her recent triumph over breast cancer. Her life holds renewed value after stubbornly fighting for it during her rounds of chemotherapy. Her intent was to live or be dragged kicking and screaming, fighting cancer to the death.
Addie found a knot in her breast while enjoying a vacation to Disney World in 2008. A family history that included a sister with breast cancer could not move her to overcome her denial and seek medical attention. She lived a full year with the knot looming like an apparition in a castle tower. She hoped that if she never climbed the tower stairs, the apparition would let her live in peace. A stern talking to from her sister made her finally decide to visit her doctor. The apparition was indeed cancer.
She and her family were devastated. Her mother, sister and daughters rallied around her to support her through her chemotherapy. A treatment she swore she wouldn't wish on her worst enemy. As she suffered the loss of her hair falling out in clumps and leaving her scalp as bald as the skin on her hand she sat and cried. On the day her mastectomy was scheduled she moved in slow motion in a last ditch effort of avoidance. Again, her sister intervened and her breast was removed.
The illness stretched Addie to the limit. Continuing the fight was the hardest challenge she has ever faced. However, she was never tempted to give up. In the past, life was never as valuable as when she began to claw for it. In those moments, where illness tried to wrestle her will, life became invaluable. A treasure that was impossible to forsake. Addie fought.
She knew that she wasn't fighting in vain. God told her that she would survive and she believed. In her worst moments the light was at the end of the tunnel. She just knew not to go into it but rest on it. Her faith community prayed with her, for her and on her during her struggle.
Reaching across the tiny coffee shop table to grab Phyllis Palmer's hand was a sincere reaction to watching a mother well up with tears. Her throat tightened for the first time during our conversation as she shared with me the intimate pains of years lost to drug addiction. Phyllis is not afraid of sharing the truth. She feels like her life stopped when she picked up the crack pipe 20 years ago and began again the moment she laid it to rest at the age of 60.
Phyllis Palmer moves with an air of integrity. There is no fear in her voice when she shares that she smoked crack for twenty years. Her comfort in her own skin belies a typical experience with people who struggle with addiction. She is aware of her past mistakes but is focused on making right instead of wallowing in guilt. Phyllis started smoking crack after she began dating a dealer. Initially, she smoked a little but eventually it became the primary focus of her life.
Slowly she began to disappear. Physically she remained on the planet but she was unable to participate in the day to day care of her children. The words, “Love bears all things” describes the actions of her mother during that time. While Phyllis was in pursuit of the drugs, sometimes disappearing for days, her mother cared for her children. She even demanded that the children respected their mother while Phyllis shares openly that she wouldn't require respect because she did not feel she deserved it.
Her most intense regret is connected to the time she forfeited in the lives of her children. She can't change the past but she does offer what many parents take for granted. She offers a deep sense of remorse in word and deed. She is now making up for lost time by rebuilding relationships with her children and basking in the delight of her grandchildren. Although Phyllis's mother passed away a number of years ago, you can't help that this was her legacy. She was the bookmark holding a place in the story for Phyllis to pick it back up.
Phyllis admits that she wasn't able to manage her own life until she surrendered it into God's capable hands. She has never attended rehabilitation. She has experienced no lightning bolt from God inspiring her transformation. He snuck up on her and in whispers confirmed what was true - that she did not need to rely on the drugs any longer. He stands behind her and celebrates every sober day. Although she relies on the strength God gives her to choose a drug free life she recognizes that it is her choice that will keep her on the road to recovery.
A New Start
Addie is looking forward to enjoying her hard won victory. Soon she will have reconstructive surgery on her breast. She won't be moving in slow motion before this surgery. She is looking forward to taking back one of the few things still missing after being diagnosed cancer free. She expects to live a long life savoring the strong relationships built in a time that the family came together to care for her.
For the first time in forty years, Phyllis is in college. She is pondering whether to open a catering business or work in health care with a focus on the elderly. After spending time caring for her mother in a nursing home, she found a passion for ensuring dignity and quality of life for those living in similar circumstances. The catering idea hails from all of the people who walked by her home drawn by the scent of her home cooking and welcomed by her voice to the table.
Life will be seeing a lot of Phyllis Palmer and Addie Jackson.