Mary Marcdante's story

Under what circumstances do mothers and daughters decide to come together and communicate as friends? For some it involves marriage or childbirth. For others, it is a physical or emotional crisis. For me, it was when my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. From the moment I heard the word "cancer" until her death, I was filled with questions that led to surprising answers and a new-found friendship I never expected – but that was shortened far too soon.

Why does it so often take a health crisis for us to understand the power and value of connecting with our mothers and daughters?

After my mother passed away, there were still so many things I needed or wanted to know. In pursuit of answers, I read books, spoke to other women, interviewed psychologists and revisited my own past. I learned that most women have questions they want to ask their mothers, but are afraid to broach certain subjects. I considered writing a book about questions daughters should ask their mothers, but was unsure I could face what it would 'stir up,' so I pushed the thought back.

However, when I had to undergo a hysterectomy relating to cervical cancer, everything changed. I was shocked because my Paps had always been normal, except for some "slight changes that only needed to be watched," according to my doctor. I later discovered that cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that almost everyone gets at some point, regardless of whether you are single or in a monogamous relationship. All it takes is sexual contact with one person who carries the virus. I also learned that although the body usually fights off the HPV virus before it causes any problems, women age 30 and older are most likely to have a persistent infection with a high-risk type – one that doesn't go away on its own. And, as in my case, the Pap doesn't always catch these women in time. That's why many doctors now recommend that women my age get an HPV test along with their Pap.

But at the time, I didn’t know all that, and I was scared, embarrassed and uneducated. The worst part was that I didn’t have my mother to talk to. She had a hysterectomy herself when she was in her late 30s, and knowing more about that could have been helpful to me. It was then that I promised myself that if I survived this experience, I was going to dedicate my life to helping women communicate more effectively with others – especially their mothers – about their health and well-being.

After my treatment, I spent the next six years collecting thousands of questions and interviewing hundreds of mothers and daughters for my book My Mother, My Friend. I found that health was the most avoided topic that women wished they’d asked their mothers about – followed by money, aging and end-of-life issues.

Through these other women, I learned that whether your relationship with your mother is strong or you haven’t spoken to her in years, the quality of both of your lives today and in the future is directly related to the quality of your conversations.

Send your mother or daughter an e-card to educate her on HPV.