A Letter to My Daughter

Ellen Martin will run for Team V in the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh 5K on Saturday, April 9. She is a breast cancer survivor and cancer research advocate.

By Ellen Martin


Dear Wrenn,

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” – Elizabeth Stone

This has always been my favorite quote about motherhood, and it spoke to me long before I had you.  As a teenager, I used to keep a journal with all of my favorite quotes, and I remember finding this one and feeling overwhelmed that this was how my mother felt about me.  Little did I know that I would feel the same way when you came into my life!IMG_1724

Over the last couple of years, my heart has been on a rollercoaster ride of emotions as I joined a club I hoped to never be a part of – that of a cancer patient.  Upon diagnosis, my first thoughts were of you and your brother, and my heart was filled with fear.  … Fear that you would have to grow up too fast, that you would have to watch your mom suffer, that I wouldn’t be around to protect you, that you would have to accept a life without a mother during all of the years when you would need one the most.  It was heartbreaking for me to face any possibility of not being able to watch you grow and enjoy life’s moments with you.  There were days when these fears paralyzed me, and I had to fight all of my instincts to give in to despair.

You may remember these days a little differently, and I hope that’s true.  It’s a mother’s instinct to protect her child and, in my case, this meant putting on a brave face and pushing away any negative thoughts.  I wanted to show you how to be what we call in the South a “steel magnolia.”  That means fighting with all you have while maintaining as much grace and dignity as possible.

The support of my family and friends gave me the strength to maintain a positive attitude.  The phone calls, text messages, meals and girl’s nights sustained me and gave my heart joy when I needed it most.  We are so blessed to have your dad, grandparents and aunts in our lives, because it really took a village to take care of you during this ordeal.  I am in awe of the parents who battle cancer without the type of support I had.

There were some challenges during my treatment that we didn’t share with you and days when test results would allow the fear to creep back in.  It was after these moments, though, when my heart would be filled with hope.  That may sound strange at first, but let me explain.  I had the privilege of being a patient of Dr. Carey Anders at UNC Health Care, and I will be forever grateful to my wonderful friend, Carrie Lee, for pointing me in her direction.  Dr. Anders is an exceptional oncologist for so many reasons, from her sympathetic and caring bedside manner to her thorough and collaborative approach to her cases.  Most notable to me, though, is her dedication to research and being on the cutting edge of her field.  No matter what challenge we faced, Dr. Anders had an answer.  She tailored my therapy and made adjustments to include any new research findings that may improve my treatment.  Even now, she continues to monitor the latest developments and will proactively reach out to me if any new research pertains to me.  There is not a doubt in my mind that research findings over the last few years are the reason I’m here today to be your mother.  There are so many brilliant scientists and physicians, many of whom are in our own backyard in North Carolina, who are changing the way cancer is treated.  They are closer than ever to finding a cure, and in the meantime, giving patients more tools to fight this disease.  During my dark days, Dr. Anders utilized research and gave my heart hope that I wasn’t out of options.

This is why I choose to take opportunities to support funding for research.  I do it for the patients today who need to feel hope and for the patients tomorrow who may be saved.  Whether it’s speaking with members of Congress or running with Team V and The V Foundation, I want to encourage a continued focus on cancer research.  I do this for you and your brother, and it means so much to me.

There are so many things I wish for you:  I want you to achieve your potential and find your passion, to travel the world, to serve others with gladness, to find a partner in life and to always keep learning.  I want you to have challenges and have to overcome obstacles; challenges build character and strength.  I do dream of a world, though, where cancer isn’t your specific “challenge” or burden to bear.

Most of all, I want you to experience the joy of having your own heart “walk around” as you build your family.  I hope with everything I have that I’ll be there to see that, and I thank God and my doctors every day for giving me that chance!  When I imagine your future, my sweet daughter, my heart is full.

Love always,