Beyond her families — her family of blood and her church family of the Blood — my mother loves the beach more than anything.

From sun-up to sundown, she was there. Under a umbrella, a book in one hand, her coffee in the other. It has been a family tradition, a Panhandle staple right there with airbrushed T-shirts and fried shrimp dinners.

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Jay Greeson

Last summer, that changed. We noticed the unexpected behavior change caused by a growing brain tumor. It went from zero to undeniable in the course of a single week.

About a year ago, she had the orange-sized cancerous mass removed from her head. Since then, not a week has gone by that I have not said a prayer of thanks for the skilled folks at Erlanger hospital for their work.

Fast forward to last week. The Greeson clan back on the Gulf Coast.

My mother celebrated her 70th birthday last Friday, a milestone made more meaningful by the trials and the triumphs of the last year.

We celebrated her life and the next chapter. Surrounded by grandkids in name and in spirit, we embraced the taken-for-granted gift that is the next day.

Are we surrounded by issues? Of course we are. Every day. Be they work woes or personal problems or even social scenarios, we all have them. Sadly, they come to define us far too often. They become our existence rather than a hurdle that becomes the next stride in our existence.

Mom could not make it to the sand and sea this year, but she adapted. She embraced the connection with family, both immediate and extended. She held court on the terrace, ushering new folks into the chair opposite hers like it was a mad mix between a Carson rerun and an open-door job interview at VW. She made the most of the meal times — a lesson that we all should take to heart regardless of health or life station — and a family sitting around a table.

For we, as a family, the phrase "new normal" has described this dance with cancer, but I refuse to let it define this process or the person at the center of it.

Yes, it has changed all of our worlds, mom's most of all. She's a step slower, but that's OK. She's a tick more tired from this time last year, and that's OK, too.

She's my mom, and for all of us, the unconditional love from our mothers is a singular thing that is different from everything else. It's the old standard regardless of the new normal.

And for a lot of us blessed to have strong fathers who taught us how to be men, we would be wise to remember that our moms made that process understandable. When those tough-love lessons were being handed out, our moms were there with the soft-love support that offered the balance and the baseline for the maturation process.

Mom was there for the tears and the aches and the reasons behind the lessons that make so much sense now.

Maybe that's where we are again, mom showing us the meaning behind the realization of what cancer really is.

It's scary and life-changing. It makes you ask the unanswerable whys and wonder about the future, however long that may be.

But with that comes the lesson that it's not only about surviving cancer, it's about living as a cancer survivor.

And that happens whether you're on the beach or not.

Contact Jay Greeson at and 423-757-6343. His "Right to the Point" column appears on A2 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.