Christmas family pic
10 year HS reunion with Lori Apgar, John Paul Parks, Marcus Nalepa, myself, and Theresa
If you were on this trip, you’ll want this picture!
April of 1989 in HS (right) and college graduation – compare to her daughter’s graduation above
Two trophies – I wish I’d made time to see Theresa and the varsity women’s volleyball team play
Here’s the audio. Sorry for the slow start. Just cut and paste this into your browser to play:
Here’s a transcript for those of you who love to read: RE8f889084720f0f2673fa4536b5c0d651
Theresa Cernosek (now Theresa Varnado) was never the attention seeking type. That much hasn’t changed. According to the friends in the Dickinson area with whom I’ve personally kept in touch, Theresa has been MIA since heading off to Southwest Texas State. You can hear us going back and forth on it starting about 2:15. She would have made my list, regardless. That she had seemingly disappeared just made how her life has turned out even more intriguing.
- Only in the past few months did I realize Theresa was even on social media. If you go out on Facebook, you can find her under her married name. Her social media presence is low key; she maintains just 50-60 FB connections.
- In high school, she was beautiful, smart, athletic, and sang in the choir, yet was still somehow hard to find. I was curious. When I walked into health class our senior year, I saw Theresa sitting there. I all but pushed a classmate half my size out of the way (kind of like a box out in basketball) to sit next to her. I then preceded to chat her up for the entire semester.
- The best part? I liked Theresa even more than I expected. You couldn’t help but respect her. She was inherently different from the other girls I’d known growing up. Though she liked to laugh, Theresa was mostly serious and didn’t suffer fools particularly well. She wasn’t just coasting along – she was making an effort and had high expectations for herself and I suspected others. You’ll hear me refer to her on the audio as a “perfectionist”. Theresa refers to herself as a “people pleaser”. To use her words from our interview, she was a classic “high achiever”.
- Last point on high school-era Theresa…It’s kind of funny, but I still remember the name of her boyfriend senior year who went to LaPorte and played soccer. I was torn…I despised the LaPorte soccer team, but couldn’t help liking the guy. It did seem a little unfair that she dated outside of DHS circles but was likely a good predictor that she was ready to move on and never look back.
- Several aspects of Theresa’s adult life were surprising. For example, Theresa is the first person I’ve interviewed who stayed home to raise her kids. That decision caught me by off guard. As she acknowledges herself, she just seemed destined for a high responsibility career.
- Theresa had laid the groundwork for a satisfying career when her eldest daughter was born. She talked about dropping her infant daughter off for a week before she made the decision to stay home. If you listen to the audio, you can hear a defiant ring of emotion in her voice about that decision some 18 years later (her eldest daughter just graduated). That’s moment in the call is what I’ve thought about most since she and I got off the call. Staying home to raise her two daughters is clearly one of the key turning points of Theresa’s adult life.
- Here’s something that didn’t surprise me. Theresa’s never at home and her kids are deeply immersed in their favorite activites.
- Here’s my favorite lines from the interview around min. 25:25, where Theresa is talking about parenting: “It’s been really difficult, even with just two kids. I don’t even know where to start. It’s been great. I wouldn’t give it up. But it’s been challenging.” That’s got to be as good a description of raising children as I’ve heard.
- For someone like Theresa, the corporate world is a great environment to find tasks, projects, missions, and promotions to feed her need to achieve. It’s not nearly as messy as child raising. I don’t think she has any regrets, but you have to respect the sacrifice she made for her kids, in that sense.
- That was not the big takeaway, however. The real theme of our conversation is the journey of personal growth she’s experienced as a parent. Perfectionism and children can make for a tough mix.
- The hardest lesson for me as a parent is that, though your child is of you, they are not necessarily like you. Time and again, Camden has disabused me of any notion that he was anyone other than just…himself. As I listened to Theresa talk about her daughters, I couldn’t help but think that she had met with many of the same lessons.
- She starts talking about her eldest daughter first around min. 5:30, then again around 25:30. Theresa’s eldest daughter just graduated from the performing arts high school in San Antonio and is headed to UNT to study music. This kid has been doing musical theater since she was eight! I think of the younger, always in control Theresa, then I think of the people I’ve known who’ve really excelled in the performing arts. There’s a book or TV show in there somewhere, with that premise.
- Right after the segment about her older daughter, Theresa begins talking about the younger sister. Successful gymnast. Olympic aspirations. So good that Theresa homeschooled her for four years so that her athletic schedule could be accommodated. You can listen to Theresa talk about the injuries that derailed gymnastics. Her daughter has since transitioned to dance. Now, her youngest is enrolled at the same performing arts HS for her freshman year from which her oldest just graduated. She’ll be training with dance professionals for two classes a day.
- Theresa has two daughters. One attended and one will be attending the “Fame” high school in San Antonio. How exactly did this happen, you might ask? Theresa takes no credit (I’ve heard Theresa sing – she’s much better than she gives herself credit for), but says her husband plays the guitar and encourages his daughter’s artistic impulses.
- Theresa has spent the past seven years in San Antonio. She confessed that the moving away from her family and her husband’s family has been difficult. She also described it as liberating and a step along her personal growth journey.
- Somewhere around min. 10:45, Theresa spends some time talking about herself. She’s now asking what is it that she wants to do and balancing that with the needs of others, after a lifetime of trying to make everybody else happy, especially her parents.
- As I’m reading through the transcript of our conversation and thinking back on our conversation, what I felt toward Theresa in HS is the same way I feel toward her now after reconnecting at 46 – I still really like and respect her. I really enjoyed her openness and honesty as an adult. I remember her as more guarded in HS. We have to get her to a reunion!
- Her next gig? Teaching yoga. Never would have guessed it. Then again, sounds like 18 years of dedicated parenting has been nothing if not flexibility training.
To access Kathy’s GoFundMe page, copy and paste this link:
To hear the audio, click below. Don’t miss this one.
I’m also attaching the transcript from the call. First time I’ve done this.
Barbie Vasquez transcript 05042017
- This is the 25th installment on my blog, which I started in November. I’m tracking right on target to hit my original goal of fifty conversations with former classmates for the year. I’ve found the experience for the most part meaningful and rewarding. If you’re reading this, I hope you do, too.
- At the halfway point, I’m choosing to circle back to one of my first interviews, Kathy Rose. What came after that original call was surprising…a friendship between Kathy and I was rekindled, one which outran whatever we shared in our youth. It started with encouraging each other in our writing and it’s only grown since.
- As I reported in my original entry on Kathy, talking to Kathy about her cancer can be disorienting. She’s vibrant and upbeat in her tone and outlook. When you spend time with her in person, you can see the markers of cancer but they’re easy to overlook because of her animation and smile. It would be easy to think to yourself, “what’s the big deal?” Her words tell a different story, though. After you leave or hang up the phone, her words continue to play on endless loop. Reality sets in.
- After the most recent updates from Kathy about her cancer growing, being removed from her treatment plan, and now moving to a new clinical trial, I reached out to Barbie Vasquez for her appraisal of the situation.
- The audio link above is of Barbie and I talking about Kathy, their friendship, and Kathy’s nearly seven year battle with Stage IV cancer. Some of it is inspiring. Some isn’t for the faint of heart. Kathy works really hard not to burden other people with her pain. Barbie and I unpack some of what she’s going through. I’d ask that you listen to the audio of Barbie. I simply can’t do it justice.
- Barbie is a fascinating person with her own story to tell. I’ll be back in the upcoming weeks to talk to Barbie about her life. For now, I’ll share with you exclusively what I learned from Barbie about Kathy.
- At min 2, Barbie shares the origin of her lifelong friendship…an unusual intervention from a middle school gym teacher. I’m speculating here, but Coach Cervantes knew Kathy’s mom, had likely heard about Kathy, knew Kathy would be on a trajectory for success, and must have seen something special in Barbie to match them as locker buddies.
- It’s fascinating to listen as Barbie describes herself and how she compared in contrast to Kathy’s other Gifted & Talented, upper middle class friends. This is a friendship that overcame differences in race, religion, culture, expectations, education / career goals, and disapproving parents. Classic Kathy Rose story…she’s sees past race, class, and the usual clutter people use to separate themselves from one another.
- Around min. 9, Barbie begins to talk about some of the dynamics in their current day relationship and how the friendship has come full circle. It’s also the first time that Barbie talks about why Kathy continues her fight: ‘She’s shared with me on numerous occasions that, “Barbie, I will do whatever treatment they think to ensure my son understands that there’s anything in life that you want, you have to fight for it. You have to give it your all. I need to leave this earth knowing that I taught him that.”’
- I’m kind of late to the game in terms of what has gone on with Kathy. Around min. 16:30, Barbie talks about the circumstances of Kathy first being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Doctors told her she had 6 months to live. I love how she huddled with her friends when faced with a life threatening situation. Especially important in this segment is Kathy’s decision to fight cancer to the end rather than yield to model the way for her son, Sean. Her message again to Sean and really to all of us: never give up.
- Probably the most important segment is to hear Barbie talk about the past +/- year, which starts around min. 34. Barbie talks about attending a chemo session with Kathy for the first time and being pulled aside by Kathy’s oncologist and told Kathy should no longer drive and that she needed someone in attendance with her at these sessions. You get the sense that in that moment, Barbie began to grasp the gravity of the situation. It was a turning point for both Kathy, Barbie, and their close group of friends upon whom Kathy relies.
- One surprising aspect of the conversation with Barbie was to learn how emotionally invested Kathy’s team of doctors is, beginning around min. 40. I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised that Kathy has built a strong personal connection with any of these professionals. That said, theirs is a difficult business of loss where keeping arms length distance from the patient can be a matter of mental and emotional health. Sounds like her team is as committed as Kathy.
- In a worldly sense, Kathy has lost the material possessions that confirm our adulthood. She’s lost her house. Kathy’s no longer supposed to drive. No car. She’s no longer able to earn. At some level, she’s a single mother who is living with her parents, dependent on the goodwill of family, friends, and community. Every day, she swallows a cocktail of pills that distort her mind and senses. And yet, still…Kathy continues for the most part to be the Kathy we all know and love. I can’t imagine the energy she must expend to maintain our reality.
- I’m not going to get into a political discussion about healthcare, but…if you need context to frame the conversation about Medicaid and pre-existing conditions, Kathy sits at those crossroads. She depends on government support for continued treatment.
- If you’ve ever experienced cancer with someone you love, you’ll recognize the weight of responsibility that Barbie carries daily. I refer to Barbie as Kathy’s operations manager (she also provides security detail – she is very protective of Kathy). She organizes Kathy’s meds, doctor’s appointments, and schedule. Barbie is also her caretaker when she screams out in the night, must be rushed to the ER, or needs someone to comfort her. Yeah…if you didn’t know it, that’s going on behind the scenes. Barbie’s love for Kathy at one point reminds me of a young mother’s – she talks of waking up in the middle of the night and going into Kathy’s room to check her breath to ensure she’s still breathing. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript: “Kathy goes around and makes everybody else smile, and she almost makes you forget that she’s sick. What an amazing gift. You know something else, Stephen, that people don’t know is that she never complains. You will not hear Kathy say, “My stomach’s upset. My back is hurting.” She doesn’t complain. One of my fears is that Kathy has been feeling so good the past probably four months. It’s the best I’ve seen here. There were times where she would just get too fatigued to even walk to the car. It was like she was doing a marathon to walk from the front door to the car. People don’t know how sick Kathy has been and the things that keep me up at night and the things that make me cry in private is I’m afraid that Kathy’s going to come back, that Kathy that needs help, because she’s nauseous or the normal side effects of that chemo has. Everybody knows what those side effects are, you know? Am I going to be sitting next to her in the bathroom again, you know? Am I going to have to be laying in bed with her again, you know? I mean, not that I don’t want to do those things, Stephen, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying we haven’t had to have those days for a long time…You know, we want to take it all away from them. You want to make it go away and you can’t. All you can do is be there for her. I’ll do it as many times as it needs to be done. I’ll do it. I’m scared. I’m scared of the toll this is going to have on her body.”
- If you’ve ever loved and witnessed someone with advanced stage cancer, you now recognize what both Kathy and Barbie are experiencing. Your heart is now heavy, your eyes may be filling with tears. This is the proverbial “valley of the shadow of death” that Kathy must repeatedly walk. Barbie and Kathy’s other friends must walk it, too.
- As I steered our conversation to the present around min. 46, Barbie shared more in-depth information than I’ve been able to get out of Kathy regarding her current state. Kathy has an inoperable tumor in her liver that can’t be removed because it’s too big. Cancer is in her bones, which can wreak extraordinary pain as the infrastructure of her body weakens and begins to cave in on itself.
- Kathy’s doctors have talked to her about the option of making her as comfortable as possible for quality of life reasons. She’s just not having any of it. She’ll keep fighting. Sean needs his mother and she’s still having too much fun in this life…which just sounds crazy but is somehow true.
- That said, she has ten weeks of intensive clinical treatment of a two-pronged bout of chemo – oral and intravenous. Kathy has signed up for the indignity of being poked and prodded as she’s essentially a guinea pig. Barbie discuss around min. 31. The best she can hope for is that it’s effective and she can continue it.
- Somehow through all of this, I find myself inspired, full of respect…and maybe even a little envious. I mean…would I have Kathy’s resilience? Do I have a single friend like Barbie? Do you?
- In spite of everything, Kathy has built a network of family, friends, and community that give her life meaning – the kind of meaning that gives her the daily strength, courage, and will to push forward and not acquiesce. Very much reminds me of Victor Franks’s book, “The Search for Meaning”. People who have meaning in their existence and a reason to live can endure tremendous hardship and survive.
- Money and resources are an issue. Here’s what became clear – Kathy needs our help. I want to help. I need to help. Kathy has given me her blessing, so I’ll be running a GoFundMe campaign the week leading up to Mother’s Day to raise money to help offset some of Kathy’s upcoming expenses. We’ll also be sharing stories about Kathy. Please contribute, where you can. It’s not about how much you give so much as participating. Let’s do this together!
- Link to Kathy’s GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/joy-and-pain