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Patient Spotlight: Marisa Ramel

My Mom Taught Me That Life Goes On

By Marisa Bardach Ramel

I was 17 when my mom, Sally, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My world was prom dresses and college admissions letters. Mom’s two-months-to-live prognosis was not part of the plan. 

My mom understood my need to be a “normal” teenager, and so she took me prom dress shopping just weeks after her diagnosis. It was all wrong: months earlier than my friends were shopping, and filled with unspoken pressure to pick a dress so that we could experience this mother-daughter rite of passage. Still, Mom showed me that life must go on, with or without her. 

Soon my college acceptance letter arrived: Syracuse University's prestigious communications program. One problem. It was five hours away from our home in Long Island. How could I leave her? But Mom insisted I go, adamant again that I never let her illness get in the way of my dreams.

And our dreams only got bigger. "Missy, I have an idea," Mom said during one of our midnight phone calls when I was in college. "Let's write a book." 

Alternating chapters, we chronicled our lives in that precious time. Two months was not her fate; Mom lived for two-and-a-half years. And I needed her. In that time, Mom listened to my stories as I fell in love, and eventually saved me from a treacherous relationship. 

Most of all, she taught me how to say goodbye. Mom passed away when I was 20. Heartbroken but healing, I've spent the past decade completing our book. A labor of love, loyalty, and legacy—what all children feel for their parents. 

Our hard work was worth it. Earlier this year a chapter of our book, titled “The Perfect Prom Dress,” was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

To celebrate the book, I hosted events at Syracuse University—where I began writing our book—and in Brooklyn, NY—where I finished writing our book last year. It felt only right that I donate my Chicken Soup for the Soul book sale proceeds to The Lustgarten Foundation.

Today I'm working towards publishing our full book, Sally's Circle: A Mother-Daughter Memoir. When I have doubts if it will ever be on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, I ask Sally for help. "C'mon Mom!" I say, half-joking, half-serious. "Can't you pull some strings up there?"

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to future Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Research Walks. The crew changes each year. My mom, dad, and brother walked it in 2001, the inaugural year of the event. Leading up to my wedding, I walked it alongside my husband Mark and my best friend Laura. And last year my dad and I walked it together, impressed with the joyful spirit of the event, and the joy we've found in our lives despite losing Sally. 

Now I hope to inaugurate a new member: my baby boy, born in August just days before the anniversary of when my mom died. I picture him gurgling in his stroller as I wheel him by Jones Beach, surrounded by so many others who have lost loved ones and yet continue to love life. What better proof of how life goes on?

You can read Marisa’s blog at and follow her on Twitter at @mbardach

The Perfect Prom Dress

Excerpted with permission from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom (Chicken Soup for the Soul, March 2015).

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