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Meet RSM Pursue Your Passion Winner: Devon Maslyn

ARTICLE

When my mom was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given only four months to live, my family and anyone that she had ever met was impacted. 

To understand why, you have to know that my mother was a super hero. She dropped out of high school, had a baby at 17, got married at 18 and had three more kids by 25. She fought for years for her marriage during my father's absence due to his alcoholism and addiction. She authored an award winning children's book, travelled the country speaking at women's conferences, and owned and operated an insurance company, all while being a mother of four. She had a loud laugh, a smile that lit up a room, people skills that allowed her to relate to anyone on the planet and a love for human life. She sang theater songs into her hairbrush while doing her hair. She found ways to burn Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. She’d hug her kids the tightest when we wanted it the least. My mother was special, plain and simple.

In 2012, after going to the hospital for dizziness and shortness of breath, our lives changed forever. She had a biopsy to determine what type of cancer she had. Glioblastoma Multiforme - the most aggressive brain cancer with nearly a zero percent survival rate. Before her biopsy, my mother said, “These surgeries might change me, but remember that you kids are my best thing.” She was right; the biopsy messed with a part of the brain that left a different mother than the one I’d grown up with. The surgery took away nearly all of her short term memory making ability. She’d forget conversations, where people lived, when she’d seen people last and what she ate for lunch that day. The inoperable tumor took the intangible “thing” that allowed her to remember details and connect with everyone she met. She couldn’t be left alone because of her memory, but she had hundreds of friends sign up to “babysit” her so that my dad could get a few hours of work in. Thanks to the superhuman caretaking by my father (he’s been sober for five years!), grandmother, and “babysitters,” we got three years with my mother before the cancer won. She was 46. 

Those years of sickness were filled with horrible things like strokes, falls, seizures and near-death experiences; they were also filled with laughs, stories, photos, hugs and a lifetime of memories. During the three years, through chemo, radiation, migraines and more, my mother didn’t complain once - not a single time. Never a “why me?” or a response worse than “adequate” when asked how she was feeling. As a testament to how beautiful she was, over 2,000 people attended her memorial service. We received hundreds of letters from churches and individuals around the globe during her sickness. My mother was objectively spectacular.

I was 22 when she passed. It’s strange to think of how much I’ll have to do without her. She didn’t see me graduate college; she won’t see me get married. There’s no good way to cope with losing a mother, but I constantly remind myself that my mother is everywhere because I’m half her. My mother instilled in me an insatiable curiosity and a need for adventure. She gave me a genuine passion for people that friends and strangers notice frequently. I inherited her motivation to accomplish goals. I have her blue eyes. I like singing theater songs, especially when others can hear. 

Where does RSM's Pursue Your Passion program come in?

Even at 46, she lived a full life. She accomplished nearly everything she wanted to. One thing she and my dad spoke about doing though, was completing the Camino de Santiago in Spain. It is a network of pilgrimage trails that ultimately lead to the shrine of the apostle Saint James. The trail is meant for travelers to grow and discover, both emotionally and spiritually. My idea, given the time and money from RSM, is to bike the 490 mile trail with my father while we carry my mother’s ashes. These miles would enable us to honor my mother by completing the trail for her. It would also empower my father and me to grow and develop as people in order to be better family members, friends, employees, and humans. The trail will be a thank you to my father for spending three years caretaking for my mom and his wife of nearly 30 years. Many people trek the Camino de Santiago, so the trail is a perfect place to connect with others from across the globe and share with them the love my mother was capable of giving. I want her passion for people to be evident through my interactions with others. I want to tell stories of her so that her memory never dies. I want the wind to carry her ashes from the peaks of the trail so that she can be free again. I want my mom to experience us living our life the way she would have lived hers.

With the money, I’ll buy transportation to and from the trail in Spain for my father and myself. I'll rent bikes for the two of us. I'll spend some funds on equipment like spare tires and tubes, tools, biking clothing, and other miscellaneous things to keep us up and running during the trip (sunscreen, rain tarp, bug spray). The remainder of the funds will be used for food and lodging along the way.

Regardless of whether or not I get selected to fulfill this experience, I am thankful for the opportunity and motivation to put pen to paper about this wonderful woman. Despite the tears, I've learned an immense amount about myself. I miss my mom like crazy. I miss how she listened. I miss her hugs. I miss her genuine concern for my well-being. I miss her every day. However, I’m hopeful that, thanks to RSM, she won’t miss accomplishing this trail.