Faith Unites Mother and Daughter
Joanne Cox was stunned when her daughter, Boober! and 2015 calendar model Donna Matherne, told her she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Donna fought to get a correct diagnosis for more than a year before she was diagnosed in 2009. Up until then the doctors had told her she had inflammation in her breast from nursing her newborn son.
“The doctors had told her not to worry and that it was nothing, so that’s what I believed,” Joanne said. “Hearing her tell me she had breast cancer was scary.”
Joanne has always placed her faith in the Lord and she knew her daughter was a strong woman. “When Donna was diagnosed, she told us she was going to get better and that was all there was to it,” Joanne recalled.
Joanne’s husband Don worked for the government and Donna, her second child, was born in a British nursing home in Bangkok. “While I was pregnant I thought I was going to have another son,” Joanne said. “But I prayed for a girl and I was ecstatic when my daughter was born.”
From her earliest days Donna showed signs of growing up to be a strong, independent adult. “When she was a toddler, I would always tell her, ‘I don’t know what you’re going to be, but you’re going to be the boss of it,’” Joanne said. “Donna was very determined. She didn’t even bother with crawling. When she was 14 months old she just started walking.”
Being with her children always made Joanne happy. “It’s an amazing thing to think of a child growing inside of you,” she said. “When I was pregnant I would sing and talk to each of my babies and wonder what they were going to be like after they were born.”
Joanne described Donna as a quiet, observant little girl. As Donna got older she had lots of friends and was involved in several activities, including Girl Scouts and running track in high school. “She was a very involved, sweet girl,” Joanne said.
Donna’s first cancer diagnosis came as her father struggled with kidney failure. Joanne had retired from her job as a schoolteacher in Northern Virginia so she could care for her ailing husband. When her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer she felt torn in two directions. Should she stay with her sick husband or should she travel to Germany, where Donna and her husband Chris were stationed with the Army? Her daughter had just been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and she wanted to be with her child. However, her husband was battling a terminal illness and she wanted to provide love and comfort to him, too.
Joanne decided to make a brief trip to Germany to be with Donna while she was undergoing chemo. Donna also had her first mastectomy surgery in Europe after Joanne had returned to the States. Even though she wanted to be with her daughter when she had her reconstruction surgeries, Don had taken a turn for the worst and Joanne wasn’t sure if she could leave her husband’s side. Ultimately Donna came back to Virginia for her reconstruction surgeries and had the first one at Portsmouth Naval Hospital shortly before her father passed away.
Life after loss
For six months the whole family was together, and then Don decided he no longer wanted to undergo dialysis. Donna, her brother Carl, and Joanne sat with him at the house, talking to him and telling him what a good dad and husband he had been. When Joanne briefly let go of Don’s hand, he passed away.
“My children and grandchildren were my salvation after my husband died,” Joanne said. “They gave me purpose and kept me from sitting around feeling sorry for myself.”
When Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in 2012 Joanne stayed with the family, helping Donna with housework and caring for her two sons, Nathan and Joseph.
“She is my baby and I wanted to do everything I could to help her,” Joanne said. “Donna is my hero. She felt so much pain and nausea during her cancer treatments. She lost a part of her body during her mastectomy and I just can’t imagine that.”
Lots of thoughts entered Joanne’s mind during Donna’s two bouts with breast cancer, but she placed all of her trust in the Lord and prayed to him for guidance and strength. “I pray for my family every day,” Joanne said. “I pray for each little issue in their lives and for their futures. I’m not young, but I am strong and I want to help my daughter in every way that I can.”