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Virginia Author Shares Her Experience Caring For Her Mother With Terminal Cancer

Phil Liles and Ann Marie Hancock
VPM's Phil Liles (Left) and Ann Marie Hancock. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM)

VPM's Phil Liles recently spoke with Virginia resident Ann Marie Hancock, an award winning journalist, radio and television personality about her new book You Can’t Drive Your Car to Your Own Funeral documenting a three year journey caring for her mother diagnosed with terminal cancer and lessons learned.

Transcript:

Phil Liles: You're listening to VPM News. I'm Phil Liles. You Can't Drive Your Car to Your Own Funeral is a new book documenting a three year journey, caring for a parent with terminal cancer. Author and Virginia resident Ann Marie Hancock, an award winning journalist and broadcast personality, recently sat down with me to talk about experiences and lessons learned. I started by asking her why she wrote the book. 

Ann Marie Hancock: I hadn't intended Phil to write a book. It's  a funny thing. I kept a journal for three years while taking care of my mom, and then after she passed, I went back and read it and there were so many lessons for me to learn. And it was like every day something new and it's difficult sometimes dealing with complex people, and I thought I really picked up some stuff during this journey and I really think it needs to be shared. And that's why I felt it was extremely important to share the lessons I learned because there are so many across this country going through the exact same thing.

Liles: You said that in 2012 your life was beautiful, uncomplicated, and then something happened. What happened?

Hancock: I stepped away from everything I was doing for three years and made up my mind I was going to care for her, and my mother was a nurse and really didn't think she needed any care. I'd go over every morning, around eight o'clock.  I'd call at eight o'clock and she didn't answer, I'd put a trench coat on over my pajamas and go. I took her to the cat scans, the MRIs, doctors appointments, just about everything you can think of. You get no prize for that. This is what we do for the people that we love. But, my mom was a very complex woman, and I'll give you an example that I've shared previously. I think I shared it in the book.

I picked her up one day and thought we were going to the GP and we were going in another direction to another doctor. So we're driving down Charter Colony here in Richmond and I hear "Ann, you're a moron." I said, why? She said "you're a moron." I pulled over to the side of the road and said, of course mom, is there a problem? She said, "Yes, you're moron."

I said, I have news for you. I was in Ireland a few years ago researching, at your request, the family name, which is spelled M-O-R-E-N. And, I was quickly told that we are a family of Morens. It's pronounced moron. So that being the case, we're in this together. We're both morons. Now where are we going? So I think often humor’s our saving grace and it would break the ice, because people who are suffering have so much fear and anxiety, and particularly the terminal. They know that this is a journey they're making alone.

And we can all give advice and books and lectures, which nobody wants, nobody. But they're making it alone. And that being the case, they have so many thoughts and fears and so much anxiety. We need to love them right where they are and appreciate that. Let them talk when they feel like talking and let them express. I always thought it was kind of a backhanded compliment when she would say, you're a moron, or, and you're not funny. Because she was so comfortable with me that she could truly say whatever she was feeling, so that was a backhanded blessing. 

Liles: What was the bond like between you and your mother before her diagnosis of cancer and what was it like after? 

Hancock: My mom, I always loved her. We were a pretty close family, to say the least, but I felt that this disease brought me much closer to her.

Previous to the disease, mom always came off very strong, very courageous, very confident. And when she spoke, it was Gospel and you didn't question it. What I saw during this journey with cancer was fear. I saw at times a small child who was frightened. I saw her one night after a 14-hour surgery in a local hospital, her whole head bandaged. She had squamous cell cancer. Just her eyes, nose and mouth exposed, and she wasn't saying anything for hours. I stayed the night with her, and then out of the blue, I just held her hand. She said, Ann, "You're very nice to me. You're very gentle with me."

I still carry that in my heart because the journey changed her. The journey changed me. 

Liles: I want you to read a short passage that's in here. When you talk about the mother and daughter bond.

Hancock: [reading] Mothers and daughters have a special bond. We're connected by more than the umbilical cord and for a lifetime. Many spend their lives trying to prove themselves to their parents. We become overachievers. We dance to their song. We live according to their rules because we're all looking for love. We're all, every one of us, looking for acceptance. 

Liles: And the title of the book, You Can't Drive Your Car to Your Own Funeral has so much to do with your mother. Can you explain? 

Hancock: Yes, I would love to explain. My mom's car was her ticket to freedom. It's so symbolic in the writing in the book because the car in psychology represents the vehicle taking us to or toward or away from something. And even the color of mom's, a little Toyota, was red. It's a very feisty high energy color. But the license plate is very notable, and it read P-R-R-F-C-T.

Liles: Ann Marie Hancock, a central Virginia resident and author of the new book You Can't Drive Your Car to Your Own Funeral, explores her experience care-giving for her mother diagnosed with terminal cancer. Go to vpm.org for more on this interview.