The Will to Be A Mother


“Dancing in Honor of Carly Caswell (2011)”

When one thinks about a sister, for the most part, one imagines the life that they will share with their sibling as they grow-up and grow old together. Shauna and Carly were just those sisters. Carly was three years older than Shauna, and they did everything together. Carly was the big sister others hoped to have in life, and she embraced her job for as long as Shauna can remember. As children, Carly often took on the role of caregiver to Shauna because of her immediate and innate desire to one day be a mother herself. Reflecting on the life of Carly, Shauna believes very much that the moment in 2010 when Carly became a mother herself was in fact the happiest day of her life.

Before that moment, however, Carly and Shauna had both been faced and much hard reality due to the impact that breast and ovarian cancer was having on their family. In 2001 when Shauna was in college, their mom, at age fifty-three was diagnosed, treated, and finally overcame ovarian cancer. While their mom was very private about her illness and played it off as “not that big a deal,” the girls grew even closer in order to support one another and their mom during this tough. Ultimately, their mother got better, and lives continued on for both girls.

By 2008 it became clear that their mother could be tested for the BRACA-1 gene, and when she tested positive, she encouraged both of her daughters to get tested as well. Shauna decided to be tested and Carly did not. By 2008, Carly had met the man of her dreams, and was in that blissful stage of one’s life where it feels like all of the pieces are falling into place and life is truly beginning — she was getting married, building a house, and planning to start a family. She ultimately chose to push off testing until after she had had children. Each girl made their own choices, and most importantly, they each supported the other’s decision. Shauna’s test came back positive, and she knew that a double mastectomy was therefore the right choice for her. She was twenty-six years old when she tested positive.

In 2009 Carly’s plan got flipped upside down, and on New Year’s Day she told everyone that had found a lump and would be going into MGH for a biopsy. She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and was told that she needed to go through chemotherapy. At that point, Shauna planned her own mastectomy, at the age of twenty-eight, and then a hysterectomy at age thirty-five. When Carly completed her treatment, everyone took a sigh of relief. It was shortly thereafter that Carly got pregnant — which of course was bittersweet news as the family knew that pregnancy could increase her odds of recurrence; however, everyone focused on the joy of Carly’s news and stayed positive. Shauna knew how deeply important it was for Carly to be a mom, and she watched the joy and elation when Jacob, her nephew, was born in 2010. Carly got to be with Jacob for six months and liveout her dream of being a mother. Tragically, however, the cancer did return, and on February 10, 2011 at the age of thirty-two, Carly passed away from breast cancer.

Now a mother herself, and knowing the joy that those moments of early motherhood brought to Carly, it really was such a gift for Carly to have that time versus no time at all as a mom. These ten years later, while one would expect Shauna to be at odds with the deicsions Carly made, she really isn’t. She supported her wholeheartestly as any sister would do, she celebrated life moments of joy with her sister, and she has spent her time without her honoring Carly. Shauna has exemplified the epitome of selfless-less and unconditional for her sister.

Shauna dances on the Runway in October in honor of her sister— she dances for Carly’s love of dancing, her love of writing, reading, cooking, exploring big cities and traveling to far away places, and mostly, for her constant desire to try new things. Shauna dances for Jacob and the incredible kiddo he has become — he takes after Carly and her love for storytelling, of art, and creating. And mostly, Shauna dances on the Runway because she has always kept Carly alive and this is yet another way to do it. Shauna says Carly’s name as often as she can —telling childhood stories to Jacob and her own children, reliving the old days while keeping her memory alive. Shauna is determined to bring Carly with her on these moments of her life and so on the Runway she goes to dance for Carly.

On October 2, Carly’s birthday, Shauna celebrated with candy pumpkins, a treat they always liked to share together. And on October 22, when Shauna dances on stage at Runway, we have no doubt that somewhere, Carly will be joining her with her own dances moves as well and smiling down on her sister’s love and joy.

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