Battling together

Jim Day
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Son offers strong show of support in mother’s fight with cancer

Ben Cudmore warmed the heart of his mother, Michele, by shaving his head in a show of support towards mom's battle with cancer.

The heartfelt message was conveyed in a heartbeat.

Michele Cudmore had tears in her eyes and a broad smile on her face the moment she first saw that her son Ben had every last lock of hair shaved from his head.

The caring gesture, says the Stratford woman battling cancer for a third time, was a beautiful act of kindness by her lad.

“It just makes me feel good,’’ said Cudmore. “It just makes me really’s a little thing but it’s a big thing as well.’’

Cancer has been an on-again, off-again presence for the Cudmore family for the past decade. As a result, the insidious disease has played a key role in the evolution of a special mother/son relationship between Michele and Ben.

Growing up, Ben, now 19, was very expressive and intense. He would seek attention. He needed to be cuddled.

Mom obliged.

“You do anything you can to make your children comfortable,’’ said Michele. “It was a lot of work raising Ben.’’

Ben acted out after his mother first became ill 10 years ago. Looking back today on some of the outbursts of his youth, Ben believes he was in part masking his fear and anger over mom’s health plight by lashing out.

At the time, Michele told each of her children — Ben, his older brother Jonathan and his younger sister Tess — that she had breast cancer.

She told Ben the illness was nothing serious, that she would lose her hair but the cancer was treatable and it would be gone.

“I didn’t cry,’’ recalled Ben. “I was confused. I didn’t know what it was.’’

Michele lost her hair after receiving chemotherapy. This was the first time Ben had ever seen a bald woman.

He got used to his mother’s altered look as cancer and subsequent treatment would become a recurring theme for Michele.

The first time around, chemotherapy stretched over seven months. Michele had several lumpectomies. Both breasts were removed.

While all the treatment was draining, she welcomed the special attention that she received from Ben, Jonathan, Tess and her husband Jamie, who she describes as “a caregiver’’ and simply a very giving person. Hubbie has been a rock.

“They got to look after me, which they enjoyed,’’ said Michele.

Ben says the disconcerting situation offered him a good lesson in selflessness. In particular, he found all the love and supportiveness his father continuously displayed to be “very inspiring.” So inspiring, in fact, Ben says he looks forward with great anticipation to raising his own family one day.

Michele was clean for six years before cancer returned. Once again she relayed the news to her children, but assured them all that her illness was curable.

Ben was 16 at the time and, he notes, he knew more about cancer since his mother’s first diagnosis a handful of years earlier. For this reason he was “suspicious’’ that mom’s condition was actually worse than she was letting on.

“I was upset because it was supposed to be gone,’’ he said. “I just thought it was worse because it was supposed to be gone.’’

Even when the cancer was removed, Ben was doubtful that his mother was out of the woods. His fear, sadly, proved to be correct.

Two years ago, cancer was not only back but the disease had returned in a more threatening manner than ever before. Breaking this news was not easy.

“This was a toughie to tell the kids that this was no longer’s everywhere now,’’ said Michele.

Most difficult for Michele now is watching her children and her husband suffer through worry and concern over her diminished health.

“When I’m gone, I’m gone, but they’re left with the ‘I-wish-you-were-here, I-miss-you (reality),’’’ she said. “It’s the people that are left behind that have to deal with the emptiness.’’

Afer making this comment in front of her son, the feisty, positive-thinking mother turned to Ben to offer words of comfort, telling her boy that she intends to be around for a long time.

They both cry. Mom hugs her son from behind in a warm embrace.

Ben sees his mother as being “so strong.” While his mother’s terminal illness hurts him deeply, he is able to allow for the silver lining that the misfortune has brought a close family even closer together.

Ben decided to get his locks clipped just days after his mom had her head shaved in the hope that his show of support would mean a lot to her.

It did. It does. It means a great deal.

Michele posted a photo of her and Ben, both sans hair, on Facebook. Ben put the same photo up on Facebook as his profile picture.

He then decided to donate one dollar to the Canadian Cancer Society for every ‘like’ and every ‘share’ the photo received. If someone shaved his or her head and put a picture on his wall, he would donate $10.

The cascading response caught him off guard. Within a few days, he was on the hook for more than he could afford. However, he did not want to back out of a promising initiative that was only building in momentum.

So Ben dove into the Relay for Life, a major fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. He is currently the top online fundraiser.

Now he hopes to continue to capitalize on the attention his Facebook campaign has generated by trying to raise as much money as possible for the fight against cancer.

Ben is urging friends, family and total strangers to donate directly to the Canadian Cancer Society, P.E.I. division in support of his mother’s courageous battle. Donations can be made by calling the Prince Edward Island division at 902-566-4007 Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“That’s always been him, doing things for other people,’’ said Michele. “He is a genuinely thoughtful, caring person.’’

Michele is clearly touched by her son’s action that reflects both deep love and budding maturity. She also takes comfort in Ben’s growing independence.

Her son moved out one month ago. He lives in Charlottetown with his girlfriend. He is also in his second year of psychology at UPEI.

And he is at a very good place in his relationship with his mother.

“It is so honest,’’ he said.

The family followed Ben’s lead of making a public show of support for Michele.

Ben’s father Jamie got a buzz cut and is now sporting a pink ribbon tattoo on his body. Ben plans to get a similar tattoo with the words ‘Love Life’ written over top.

Ben’s brother Jonathan has shaved his head.

Ben’s sister Tess has a portion of her head shaved on the right side with a pink ribbon colored in with Kool-Aid. Her long locks only accentuate the shaved area and the universal symbol of support for breast cancer.

Lori Barker, executive director of the Canadian Cancer Society in P.E.I., says the Cudmores are truly inspiring in the manner in which they have collectively taken on the fight against cancer.

Barker says Michele and her family are all about hope and embracing life for what it is today.

Doctors have told Michele if there are things she wants to do, she should not put them off. Indeed, Michele does plan to make the most of her time now as she has in the past.

“But,’’ she adds, “I don’t intend to go down without a fight.’’

Organizations: Canadian Cancer Society, Prince Edward Island division, UPEI.And Kool-Aid

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Recent comments

  • Lovely and Loving
    November 05, 2012 - 15:19

    story and family. You are blessed with each other, helping to keep you all strong.

  • Rose
    November 04, 2012 - 11:39

    What a beautiful and touching story of love and support during difficult times. I am so sorry that this beautiful family has been through so much. Life can seem really unfair sometimes. I am glad that they have the love and strength necessary to get through whatever the future holds. Having sons who are close to Ben's age, who I am very close to, I couldn't imagine telling them such news. Ben, your courage is admirable, but continue to allow yourself to cry. There is no shame in that.. You are going through a lot. Michele, your strength is inspiring. You and your family are in my prayers.

  • John MacInnis
    November 04, 2012 - 08:52

    A couple of weeks back, I was walking past the No Frills grocery store in Stratford on a windy morning, and a lady who was walking into the store said something to me, but I didn't hear what she said, so I moved closer and told her I hadn't heard what she said to me. She said it wasn't much of a morning for a walk because of the wind, I agreed with her, and then we got to talking a little bit. I wasn't familiar with this nice woman, but she seemed to know who I was, and to make a long story short, I discovered she was Ben Cudmore's mother. Let's talk about Ben for a few. Ben is 34 years my junior, and over the last few years we've become really good friends, and he's told me all about his mother and father when we get to talking, and the conversations have been inspirational. Ben is a really nice guy, his friendship means a lot to me, and you know, I wondered what was going on when I saw Ben with his head shaved, and thought maybe he was experiencing an illness of some sort, but he talked with me and told me what he was up to, and then I was flooded with emotion. I talked with Ben for a while last night, and we talked about the day I met his mother, Michele, and I told Ben that meeting his mother and his sister, Tess, has been a wonderful experience, and told him I was looking forward to meeting his father one of these days. I think the idiom "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" is very true, so I also want to meet Ben's father. I talk to the big guy upstairs once in a while, but I don't use King James English with all the thous and thys and words like that, I just cut to the chase and say what's on my mind in modern English. I've made a lot of mistakes so far in my life, but these days I'm following the big guy's commandments the best I can, so I made a request last night, and I wasn't asking for a song, I was just talking about love, and now I need to stop writing, or my anecdote will morph into a book. To everyone who wrote a comment on this story, thank y'all very much, and I think every Guardian reader should write a comment about this story, because we're all in the same boat, and this story is much more important than the PNP fiasco or Olive Crane surviving a PC leadership vote. I have a way of getting the pic of Ben and Michele and their story on the Toronto Star, and I'll do that, so folks in Toronto can read all about it. Later, gators.....

  • debbie keoughan
    November 03, 2012 - 19:02

    Inspiring, courageous and a story of unconditional love.....a reminder to love life and make each moment count.....

  • nice story
    November 03, 2012 - 15:49

    Beautiful story. She has one treasure of a son. And they both look beautiful sans hair. Warm wishes and strength to them.

    November 03, 2012 - 15:16

    For those of you who feel the daily need to moan & complain about everything from the weather to the 100 & 50 dollar bills to the new events location & everything in between ... read this story & take stock.Having lost a brother to cancer at age 45 made it very clear,very quickly what's really important.My prayers go out to the Cudmore family.

  • Paula Whalen
    November 03, 2012 - 14:27

    What an inspiring story! You are a very brave woman and your family is awesome. Big thumbs up to you all....I lost my brother at 38 and it is a very rough road to travel.Stay strong, it does get better in time. You and your family will be in my prayers!

  • eileen conway-martin
    November 03, 2012 - 13:41

    Thank you for this. It is one of the most beautiful pictures and stories I have ever read. This is a remarkable story of how families can best respond to real life. Thank you for being such examples of courage and commitment to one another. Wishing you all the best. Eileen

  • former Islander
    November 03, 2012 - 12:58

    My thoughts and prayers go out to this Family, it just shows You that Family come together in a time of need, there is no stronger bond or love then there is between a Mother and Her Child. Hugs to the whole Family as You deal with this hard journey a head of You. Michele You are a strong woman that will leave ever lasting strength to Your Family. God Bless You all

  • Jean MacDonald
    November 03, 2012 - 11:53

    You are such an inspiration for all us women Michelle, May the love and caring of your family and friends help you through your journey!! God Bless. Jean xoxo.......

  • Sylvia
    November 03, 2012 - 10:48

    This is such an inspiring story. My husband is still in remission from treatments in 2005 for inoperable lung cancer, 37 radiation & 4 chemo. He's lost 3 siblings to cancer and is one of 4 in remission. Hearing that diagnosis of cancer is very frightening, not only for the patient but also for the caregiver and for other family members. I wish Michele many more years with your loving and caring family. You are truly blessed to have them as the good support a cancer patient receives is extremely important in a journey that is life-changing and very difficult. I am truly thankful for every birthday that we can celebrate for my husband and every wedding anniversary we have. Cancer confirms what is most important in life - family, friends, and faith.

  • amazing
    November 03, 2012 - 10:45

    Beautiful.. What an absolutely beautiful story. This popped up on my facebook and I couldn't "like" and "share" it quick enough. What an amazing thing you're all doing to support your mum. Ben came into my work the other day with his girlfriend and not once did a smile leave his face. Even with all he's going through, you can tell that he is still in such an amazing place in his life - and it really is the people around you that help. All the best to all of you - we'll fight this fight together with you.

  • Very moving
    November 03, 2012 - 10:19

    story. I wish you all the best in your days ahead. This story made me cry. I have a 19 year old , he is just like Ben. I am always trying to make him grow up, but at the same time I don't want him too. Ben you are truly an inspiring young man. Keep strong Michele. You surly have a loving supportive family. Be proud.