Mom Fought Like a True Champ

The toughest competitor I ever met had no jump shot to speak of, couldn't hit the curveball and would probably have had trouble making a three-foot putt.

The toughest competitor I ever met stood 5 feet 4 and, in recent days, struggled to hit triple digits on the scale.

The toughest competitor I ever met was my mom, Elizabeth Oberstein.

I'd rather spend 48 minutes guarding Shaq in the low post, or stand in the batter's box against Randy Johnson, than go through what she endured.

She took on cancer, the prohibitive favorite, and gave it all it could handle.

She had a lump removed from her breast in the fall of 1997, and went home just a few hours later. She didn't want to spend even one night in the hospital because hospitals are for sick people and, as she said over and over again, "I'm not sick."

She was right. She beat the cancer in the months that followed, knocked it into remission.

Sick? All she did in the time after she was diagnosed was complete her doctorate in education, walk across a stage on a sun-drenched hilltop in Malibu to get her diploma, stick with her job as a dance professor at El Camino College, travel to Europe, and ring in 2000 in Times Square. Does that sound like a sick person?

But cancer wanted a rematch. She was 17 months in the clear when the doctors detected it in her bones last August.

So it started all over again. The weakness. The soreness. The days it ached so much that she couldn't make it upstairs to the bedroom and had to sleep on the living-room couch. The chemotherapy. The hair loss.

And through it all came the most amazing statistic of all: I never saw her cry.

She didn't cry when she told me that the cancer was back. She didn't cry during those trips to the chemotherapy sessions, when I watched her walk bravely into the doctor's office to get poison sent through her body because that was her best chance to live longer.

She didn't cry earlier this month when she told me her own mother--Grandma--had died after 90 great years on this earth.

She didn't complain, right through last week, when the cancer started taking over her liver, her body started breaking down and even breathing became difficult.

She always put everyone else's happiness before her own. When I visited her Friday she said, "Sorry you have to go through this"--as if the hard part were being next to the hospital bed, not in it.

She had blood clots in her lungs, but everyone expected her to get past it, the way she got past every other obstacle she ever faced, then head home.

The phone rang at 6 a.m. Sunday, and that's never a good sign. My stepfather, Robert Gould, was downstairs at the security door. I already knew what that meant by the time he got to my door and made the confirmation: "It's over."

A big blood clot came along in the early-morning hours. That was it. At 55, she had seen her last sunset. She didn't make it to another sunrise.

My only consolation was that she spent Saturday with her son, her husband, and some friends who were so close they were practically family.

I'm grateful that the last words I said to her were, "I love you."

I regret that I never got a chance to say, "Thank you."

Thank you for bringing me into this world.

Thank you for giving me a care-free childhood, when the problems were never worse than a scraped knee or a lost toy.

Thank you for my smile.

Thank you for putting a hot meal on the table every night, even in the times you needed a welfare check to make ends meet, and even at the end of those long days when your three jobs had you driving from Santa Monica to Long Beach to Pomona to Pasadena and back home.

Thank you for helping me buy my first house.

Thank you for making the decisions that needed to be made for me. They were always the right ones.

Thank you for trusting me to make my own decisions when I was old enough. Those were usually right too, but you never said, "I told you so" when they were wrong.

Thank you for being everything a mom is supposed to be.

I hope they deliver The Times in your part of heaven. Or maybe you can go online and read it.

I'll still be writing. Among other things, I'll still cover your favorite team, the Lakers, and your alma mater, UCLA.

And, yes, I'm still heading off to Europe this week to cover Wimbledon and then the British Open.

Mom got the final say on that one. It's what we spent most of our time discussing Saturday. I wasn't going to leave the country if her health wasn't better. She didn't want me to miss out on anything because of her.

So I'll go check out Pete Sampras on Centre Court. I'll watch Tiger try to shred every last blade of grass at the historic Old Course.

And I'll just smile and think that they're pretty good . . . but they're nothing compared to the best there ever was.


J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address:

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