After Caroline Wright was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 32, it felt like her world might soon fall apart. Doctors told her she could only have one year left with her young family. So Wright began the heartbreaking process of writing down what she wanted her kids to know before she passed away.
Prior to the winter of 2017, Wright’s life was a self-confessed dream come true. She had met her husband Garth in college in Paris at the age of 19. He was her first true love, and they would go on to welcome two sons together, named Henry and Theodore. The family lived in Seattle, Washington, where Wright wrote cookbooks.
However, Wright’s world was soon to be rocked by a devastating diagnosis. In February 2017 she had been writing her third cook book when a routine MRI scan found a large tumor in her frontal lobe. A week later Wright had surgery to remove the mass, and it was then that doctors discovered the truth.
Wright was told that she had glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of cancer which starts out in the brain. While the disease can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, it tends to return. As a result, the long-term prognosis for the condition is not positive. Furthermore, less than three to five percent of people with it live longer than five years.
Wright recalled the moment she discovered the news in a self-penned piece for People magazine in August 2019. And it seems there had been no sugarcoating when it came to addressing the cook’s prognosis. Wright revealed how her surgeon had told her, “The median survival rate for glioblastoma is 12 to 15 months.”
Of course, the news came as a devasting shock to Wright, as well as her husband and mom who had accompanied her to her appointment. She then revealed their reaction in her surgeon’s office. Wright said, “His previously friendly nurse practitioner, who had joked with me about post-op hairstyles, leaned against the wall in the corner, facing away from us as we all began to cry.”
Given Wright’s diagnosis, she was forced to consider that she might only have 12 months left with her beloved family. However, that prognosis was hard for the young mom to accept. After all, she had been in relatively good health up until that point and believed that she’d had her whole life ahead of her.
Writing for People Wright, explained, “I was 32 and living my dream. I’d married the first love of my life, whom I’d met during college in Paris. We had two wild boys together. I wrote books from our yellow cottage on a hill in Seattle in my dream job as a cook, writer and cookbook author. I had so many plans, so much to look forward to.”
Wright wrote another article for Working Mother in August 2018, and there, she discussed how the news had impacted her. She said, “I was floored; I had confused the reassuring comments before my surgery that referenced my age, my general health, my exciting plans as a cookbook author, and a hopefulness for my two young sons and wonderful husband, as a protective veil.”
Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Wright had felt somewhat reassured about her health in general. However, after learning she had glioblastoma she realized that there was nothing protecting her from the deadly illnesses she knew affected others. Wright said, “I wasn’t special or entitled to health the way I’d (unknowingly) been for my then 32 years. It was terrifying.”
At the time of her diagnosis, Wright’s boys were just six and three. And as she drove home from the hospital she considered how she would break the tragic news to her young sons. She wanted them to understand as much as possible about her illness, without shattering the safe bubble she had tried to create for their childhood.
In her piece for People, Wright explained, “Ever since their births, I keenly understood that being ‘mom’ to them was to make them feel safe and secure, to give them fertile ground from which to grow.” However, her cancer diagnosis threatened to destroy the security Wright had worked so hard to achieve.
So while Wright’s days were now consumed with a whirlwind of pills, appointments and blood tests, she tried to maintain some kind of normalcy for her children. She put her family’s needs above all else, continuing to cook for them as she always had done. However, her culinary efforts were now purely for sustenance rather than the basis of any future recipe books.
Concerned about her future, Wright knew that her number one priority was her sons. So, while she opted for a number of lifestyle changes that would be kinder on her body, she channeled much of her attention to her boys. She told Working Mother, “The only thing that grew in intensity was my explosive, all-consuming love for my sons.”
So despite the devastating blow that Wright had been dealt, she was determined to stay true to herself for the sake of her sons. That meant putting on a brave face and attempting to live life to the full. After all, it was important for Wright to create precious memories with her family while she still had the chance.
Writing for Working Mother, Wright explained her thinking. She said, “It was clear to me that if, indeed, my prognosis was accurate and I only had a year left to live, I was going to spend it the way I had every other year of my life: as an optimist and vibrant artist who searches for beauty in unexpected places. That’s the mother I wanted my boys to remember, if even they could.”
In her article for People, Wright added, “That was how I came to search for beautiful truths everywhere I could, so I could share them with my sons. Part of me knew that if I only had a year to live and any hope of settling into their relentlessly evolving memories, I wanted them to see me fight as I had lived all my years, especially those spent with them: with sincere gratitude and in constant search of joy.”
In order to help Wright continue to express herself, she had started a blog following the discovery of her tumor. At first, Wright simply kept her family and friends updated on the goings-on of her cancer. However, her writing later evolved to become much more emotional than she had originally intended.
Wright told Working Mother, “I wrote for my sons; I imagined questions their future selves might one day want to know about the limits in the slices of truth we freely gave to them as little boys. Writing was a familiar space for me and one I was deeply grateful to still find home in, considering I had been warned my surgery could have altered my capability and motor skills.”
Through her writing, Wright managed to find some escape from her illness. It brought her closer to her sons as she imagined the future conversations that she may never get the chance to have with them. Wright told People, “I wrote, finding solace in a space where my words spilled out onto vast expanses of imagination and possibility.”
But while it was the imagined questions of her sons that kept Wright occupied on her blog, it was their real-life queries that gave the mom her biggest epiphany. In her article for People, Wright recalled how her son Henry had asked her, “Who will take care of me if you die?” The heartbreaking inquiry may have seemed unanswerable at first, but Wright knew exactly what to say.
With that in mind, Wright told her son, “The same people if I live.” She was referring to the many people who filled her family’s life, the relatives and friends who cared for them whether Wright lived or died. So she explained, “Your life will be filled with love, mine and others, whether it comes from my body or not.”
It was down to this interaction with Wright’s son that she came to realize how powerful love really could be. She told People, “It was from this conversation that I began to imagine love as a tangible, inextinguishable force. After all, I knew that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, and I was living it.”
Explaining what she meant, Wright added, “My love for my boys, for my motherhood, shifted how I saw my cancer from within. I had enacted a kind of love for myself and my family that felt far bigger than my body or my cancer. Love, in all its great power, became the answer to all the unanswerable questions.”
Feeling inspired, Wright used this realization as the basis for her next project. She wanted to write a book for her boys that summed up her philosophy that love didn’t die or diminish, even after a person has passed. So, working with her illustrator friend Willow Heath, Wright got to work.
Wright revealed to Working Mother why she felt this kind of project was the most appropriate. She wrote, “None of the children’s books I found regarding death had spoken to the clear and open philosophy we [had] cultivated in our house. We were naming death outright and talking about it not just without fear, but with love. I wanted to write about it but didn’t know how.”
But it didn’t take long for Wright to find her voice. One morning, she awoke and knew instinctively what she wanted to say. Spurred on by the excitement of producing something that would provide her kids – and others – with some hope, she finally embarked on what would become her most emotional book project to date.
Even though Wright had to squeeze in writing between her cancer treatment, the process of creating the book enabled her to escape her illness somewhat. The project gave her something positive to focus on. And it was her wish to leave a hopeful legacy for her sons – even if she couldn’t be there for their futures.
Wright then revealed to Working Mother how the project took her away from her cancer battle. She said, “When I was working on the book, I would almost forget that I was the dying mother in the story.” However, while writing helped Wright to feel herself, she found that her approach to work had changed significantly.
In her article for Working Mother, Wright explained, “I realized that I was still working hard like I would have before my diagnosis, but I didn’t let myself get worn out. Working until I was worn out is something I would’ve done before, but I now know that no project is worth risking the delicate balance of my health.”
And it was through her new attitude towards her job that Wright had yet another epiphany. She explained, “I finally figured out the depth of what the phrase ‘working mom’ really means. ‘Mom’ is the central and most important part because protecting my health is the best thing I can do as the mother to my boys.”
Wright completed her book, Lasting Love, in August 2019. And some of the first people to get their little hands on a copy were the author’s two sons, Henry and Theodore. However, revealing her work to her children was much more emotional than the author had originally anticipated.
Wright explained to People, “A few months ago I tried to read an advance copy of it to Henry, who could now read it to himself if he chose, but it was something like torture for both of us, not quite the picture I had in my mind. For us, the story is too real. I read it only once, and we both cried silently through it.”
However, Wright had a reassuring revelation for her little son. She explained, “I said to him as I closed the book, ‘You know this is only a story right now, right, and not our story?’ And then I just hugged him and told him I would always love him, like I had so many times before.” After that, the cook went to fix dinner for her family, and once again she was struck by a poignant thought.
Wright explained, “It occurred to me the most beautiful part of the book remains unwritten: what this book will mean to the future versions of ourselves, the symbol it has created for us and other families like ours. The thought of a grown Henry and a wrinkled version of me, crying over it again with gratitude, is the most comforting thought of all.”
Furthermore, despite her terminal illness, Wright had already found something to be grateful for. Because, by the time her book was finished, it had been more than two years since she’d received her cancer diagnosis, and somehow she had defied all the odds to still be with her family. And that was something the author could be happy about.
Wright wrote in People, “Now, midway through my second year that surprised my doctors with success, my scans remain clean and the word ‘miracle’ has slipped out of my doctor’s mouth more than once. Hope abounds, though I remain as focused as I was during treatment. I take nothing for granted.”
Moreover, now that she’s two years down the line, Wright can look back on her cancer diagnosis in a different light. She explained to Working Mother, “The thing about being given a year to live is that, at once, nothing and everything matters. For me, my life became really simple yet really concentrated.”
Wright revealed, “The chaff of my life fell away in an instant and what remained took on fresh, almost overwhelming meaning. My passions, ones that I found well before my diagnosis – mother, professional cook and writer – were amplified. In fact, I think those parts of me are what’s saving me.”
And now, Wright hopes she can inspire other people with her positive attitude. In a video posted to her YouTube channel in May 2019, Wright says, “I chose life. To fight to hope with the only tools I had; to write, to cook, to love. And I’m still here. I found a way to create hope for myself in a hopeless place. Now it’s my mission to help others find it too.”