Why I'm careful

Heather Buchanan

One week before my move to Tuscaloosa, my mom found out she had cancer. I didn’t truly understand what people mean when they say their world gets flipped upside down until this moment. I spent a good portion of that week eating Ben and Jerry’s and browsing Target with my mom (two of our favorite shared pastimes) until I had to make the five hour drive to school with my life packed in my car.

My mom had her cancer-ridden kidney removed two weeks after its discovery, and her doctors thought they caught it early enough to get all of the cancer out with it. I drove home my first weekend of college to be with her and my family for the surgery, and as I drove back to Tuscaloosa I thought, “Whew, glad that scare’s over.” Right before winter break she went in for a scan to make sure the cancer was gone.

The cancer was certainly not gone, and it had spread.

My siblings and I spent our winter break in and out of a hospital at Vanderbilt where my mom was undergoing intense treatment. My siblings and I drove home the day she was supposed to be released, but found out she had to stay a couple more days. So, as soon as we got home to Knoxville, my sister and I unpacked, repacked and drove back to Nashville to spend our New Year’s Eve in the hospital with our parents. I had a bad feeling this would be the last holiday with my mom, but I refused to let myself think that because I couldn’t imagine a life without her.

Despite medicine’s best efforts, my mom passed away in February 2013. The last thing she said to me was, “Be careful.” If you knew my mom you’d know how characteristically Debbie those last words were. She was a worrier by nature, a trait she’d passed on to me, but she expressed that trait with so much love and care for other people. Here she was, fighting for her life, and she was still worried about me making the drive I’d made from home to school probably a dozen times by that point.

I’ve thought about those words a thousand times since that day, and until now I hadn’t shared them with anyone else. Careful can mean cautious, which I can be, but it can also mean diligent and hardworking, which I definitely am, and I think my mom understood these variations on the word as part of who I am. As an executive board member of my honor fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi, I have spent the last two years being careful that our chapter follows our local bylaws, and I’ve been careful in the effort I’ve put forth trying to make our chapter better. I’ve also been careful here, on the pages of The Crimson White, although my home was always next door in the news section. One of a journalist’s biggest priorities is to be accurate, and one way to ensure accuracy is to double- and triple-check your work, so as a writer, editor and now copy editor, I’ve been careful. I’ve been careful, thanks to DegreeWorks, that I would graduate on time. I’ve been careful to balance my time among school, work, friends and football, culminating in a rollercoaster of four years I wouldn’t do over in a million years.

If I have to leave you, dear readers, with parting advice from a soon-to-be graduate, my advice (and Debbie’s) is to be careful in every sense of the word. 

Heather Buchanan is a senior majoring in history and has served as the Vice President of Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity. She has been a dedicated member of The Crimson White Staff since January 2014. After graduation, she will be attending the University of Colorado at Boulder Law School. Go Buffs!