- Saturday, June 1, 2024

When I was 12 years old, together with my 10-year-old sister and my 38-year-old father, I buried my amazing mother.

Although she was just “Mom” to me, she was known to her adoring public in the early 1950s as the tennis champion “Little Mo.” Her name was Maureen Connolly, and she was number one in the world in women’s tennis in 1952-54. She won Wimbledon three years in a row (1952-54) and was the first woman and still the only American woman to win the calendar Grand Slam in tennis (the Australian, French, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open). She dominated women’s tennis for three years as a teenager until a horseback riding accident halted her competitive play in 1954. However, there was one foe she could not conquer: cancer. This glorious and talented woman died in 1969 at age 34 from ovarian cancer.

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I sat so angry, confused, and heartbroken at her funeral. I thought I had done something so bad, so wrong, so unforgiving that I was incurring the wrath of a vengeful God. I really thought God hated me…and I wasn’t too crazy about Him either. That is where I parked my 12-year-old heart. Our deep grief was shared by a mourning world as Mom’s death was publicized worldwide.

But this seismic catastrophe ignited in me a desire to fight this scourge of a disease. I vowed that someday, somehow, and in some way I would do whatever I could to combat cancer.

Life beckoned me forward. You cannot stay in neutral forever. I graduated from high school in 1975 and then from college in 1979. I played tennis and became a highly-ranked national junior player, competed at the number one spot at the University of Virginia for four years, and played on the professional European circuit after college…however, if you blinked, you would have missed my professional career! God had other plans for me.

I returned to Dallas to work and was provided with an amazing opportunity to make good on my 12-year-old commitment that was relentlessly nagging my heart to do something to remember Mom and her courageous fight against this vicious disease.

In 1980, as I began a new position as the public relations and membership director at a country club, I found the sweet spot to organize a weekend event with multiple activities for its members to raise money for cancer. The members responded and good money was raised. The next year and the next year the members returned with open wallets, unbridled enthusiasm, and sponsors got involved.

In short, a movement was started, and Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer (WOKC) is now in its 44th year of offering comfort and hope to kids with cancer through support programs serving the entire family and funding innovative research leading to new discoveries and treatments in the fight against pediatric cancer. Truly, only God’s goodness and provision could have orchestrated and sustained WOKC for these multiple decades in such a mighty way.

There is vast healing power when turning grief into action. At the proper time, reaching out to others is a way to begin the healing process. It has been said that grief is not a new emotion, nor is activism a new phenomenon. However, the merging of these two potent forces begins the road to recovery.

Truly, being “other-focused” rather than “self-focused” promotes the healing process and helps lift the heaviness of life when it can just weigh too much. Tragedy must be faced rather than retreating in isolation or seeking other unhealthy means to deflect it.

However, life is hard. We still lose our courageous young heroes to this cruel disease. One of my son William’s dear friends, a real stud who was so cool, confident, and calm in all situations, was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 14. Our school prayed for Carson and his wonderful family. We served them in many ways. We prayed some more. Carson died at age 17 in 2010. It was a devastating loss.

Through God’s outrageous grace, I was introduced to the unwavering love of God rather than His anger burning at me, by a pastor’s daughter when I was 16. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at that time. Such a game-changer from that moment forward! Our strong faith would be the blessed foundation for my beloved husband and me as decades later he would succumb to cancer in his 50s. William was nine at the time.

Through it all, God is faithful and always present. He has our back, and His love is unwavering. God is glorious even when our circumstances are not. He is working for us even when we cannot see it…even when cancer rages. Confidence in His power to deliver moves us forward in victory even when life throws us curveballs, loved ones die, and failures happen. Even then, God calls us to serve others and trust Him. Onward we go!

Cindy Brinker Simmons is a businesswoman, author, and philanthropist who cares deeply about helping people in the middle of life’s challenges. Cancer claimed both her young mother and husband, and she has an adult son William. Cindy’s book, a best-seller, “Restored: Reconnecting Life’s Broken Pieces,” was released nationally in March 2024. (www.brinkersimmons.com). All net proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer (wokc.org) and the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation (mcbtennis.org).

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