Throughout the month of September and beyond, a Limestone County family will be carrying out a loved one’s last wish.
Mildred Ann Davis Grisham, who died in 2013 at the age of 67, wanted her family to make others aware of the silent killer known as ovarian cancer. September is ovarian cancer awareness month.
Grisham, a victim in her last years, knew firsthand the trials that came along with the disease.
After Grisham’s death, her daughters — Tina Cook and Angie C. Norwood — went to work carrying out her final request.
The sisters started telling others about Mildred’s Angels, a group dedicated to raising awareness of ovarian cancer. It was the group Grisham helped found. Mildred’s Angels motto is “Supporting the fighters, admiring the survivors, honoring the taken, and never, ever giving up hope.”
The goal of the group is twofold: first, to assist families as they travel to care for a terminally ill family member and second, to raise awareness.
Cook and Norwood said the many friends or “Angels” that followed and assisted their family during their mother’s illness inspired the fund. The family said they were helped financially — without asking — with travel expenses from Alabama, Michigan, Florida and Texas during a 14-month timeframe.
“They (the ‘Angels’) helped keep hope alive in all of us,” the sisters said.
After Grisham’s journey ended, friends also helped start a fund in her memory.
Grisham’s daughters said they would never stop making others aware, never stop demanding a change in ovarian cancer research and testing, and never stop until their goal of diagnosing ovarian cancer prior to Stage III as well as eradicating the disease was reached.
Lack of discussion
“The one thing that haunted all of us, including our mom, was the lack of discussion surrounding the disease,” Norwood, the administrator of the “Mildred’s Angels” Facebook page, said. “Until our mother’s diagnosis, we had no idea pap smears did not test for the disease.” They also had no idea of the cancer’s signs and symptoms.
Grisham, who was living in Michigan at the time, visited doctors who told her the back and leg pain and abdominal swelling she was experiencing was due to her age. A family doctor finally did an exam and felt the tumor.
At that point she started seeing a gynecologic oncologist who offered treatment options and told her what she needed to do. Norwood said she proceeded, but the Michigan doctor ignored questions and requests for alternative measures.
“We now know, our mother had options,” Norwood said. “For her it was too late.”
The frustration and pain Grisham felt and the family endured led to a discussion about the need to make others aware of the disease and their options.
“At her visitation, our mother even wanted no wig — she wanted others to see how cancer changed her,” Norwood said. “She wanted women to find their voice and speak up about their bodies. Not allow someone to tell them how they feel.”
Norwood said Mildred’s Angels is what her mother wanted. “She is smiling and very proud,” she said, adding each like, click and share spreads information to at least one more person.
“Our mother wanted others to live because of her death,” Norwood said. “ I know others have benefitted from her courage to share her story with others.”
Spreading the word
Today, Grisham’s daughters and the other “Angels” share informational cards with others to be placed throughout communities. So far, Mildred’s Angels have spread information about the disease to 11 states and five other countries. Postcards can be found in doctor offices, women’s clinics, businesses, high schools and college campuses.
“We rely heavily on our ‘Angels’ to hand them (the postcards) out to individuals when a donation is given,” Norwood said. “We only ask one thing in return, take a card and share the signs and symptoms with another woman.”
The cards are distributed each year around and on Teal Tuesday, a time when women wear something teal to bring awareness to ovarian cancer.
Mildred’s Angels are also collecting funds. Norwood said an initial fund was set up by those that gave in-lieu-of-flowers money when her mother died. Since 2013, the fund has raised $17,000 with $15,000 used to assist other families.
Currently, Mildred’s Angels are holding a $12 for 12 months of giving campaign to raise more money so the assistance can continue. The assistance includes travel-related expenses and all cancer-related requests.
“Our main goal is to see that others are aware so women can be diagnosed … prior to Stage III,” Norwood said, adding the success rate dramatically increases if a woman is diagnosed before that time.
To find out more, find “Mildred’s Angels” on Facebook or email email@example.com.