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 happy...it’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.
“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 curable...it’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.’’