[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
As with any major illness, breast cancer can have effects beyond the person who is diagnosed and the death of a parent can be one of the most significant losses that someone will ever face. This is particularly true for young adults in their twenties, who are still learning to navigate life and fully transition into an independent adult. Loss, grief and mourning affects everyone in different ways and it can be a challenge to learn how to cope and seek support. Today’s guest was thriving in life and working the job of his dreams when he lost his mother to Inflammatory Breast Cancer. He then found himself shutting down from his family, his faith and even himself in the years that followed. He bravely fought his way back and is now honoring his Mom by running marathons and raising money for Susan G. Komen. Here to share his amazing story with us is Ray Cottman. Ray, welcome to the show!
[00:01:05] Raymond Cottman: What’s up, Adam? How are you doing, man?
[00:01:05] Adam Walker: I’m doing better. Now that I’m talking to you about your inspirational story. So, uh, let’s, let’s hear about it, man. Let’s dive in. I wanna know about your mom. Uh, let’s start. With what her cancer experience was like. And in particular, tell us about the story of her passing and how that began to impact you.
[00:01:24] Raymond Cottman: Well, before I start, Adam, I just wanna say thank you for having me. Um, I’m super excited to be here and share the story with you and everybody else. So appreciate it. Um, I just wanted to start off with thanks and wanna let you guys know that this, this experience to me was, um, was extremely hard just as it is for anybody else.
Um, My story is my story and everyone has their own. Um, but I feel that everyone shares this type of feeling of, of uncertainty and loss. And, you know, my experience was my mother was, uh, diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and, uh, about 2016, um, she fought for two years. Two years. I wish I had back every day.
And, uh, at the time of the second year I was working for my dream job. I was, uh, a scout assistant with the new England Patriots and the NFL. Um, my whole life of, of football was always my dream to be in the NFL in some way. Um, Some capacity and scouting was one of them. And, um, when I got that opportunity, sadly, I had to move to the east coast in, uh, new England and, uh, be away from my mother while she was battling my family.
And I extremely close and being away from them was extremely hard for me personally, um, knowing that what she was going through, um, and how she was dealing with it. It was just really hard personally for me, him being so far away. You know, she, she fought and she did whatever she needed. And, you know, she always showed the strength, continued to fight.
Um, working in the NFL holidays are hard to come by, hard to come by. Um, and usually Thanksgiving and Christmases are short. Um, however, I was. Being with new England, they allowed me to go home and spend time with my family, whatever was needed. And, um, in the time of Christmas, um, I was able to go home for about three days.
And those three days were three days before Christmas. And I had to fly back on Christmas day. And I remember very vividly that, um, I was spending time with my family. I was there for a short time. Uh, I wanted to take in the moment and spend those precious time and moments with my family. And, uh, but when I left to go back to Boston, my mother’s health kind of took a decline real quick, a day short the day after.
And, uh, I remember my brother calling me and letting me know that they were taking my mom to the hospital and they, the doctor was basically saying that, uh, There’s a possibility she’d be placed on hospice. And, uh, while, while I was back in Boston, my brother called me on the 27th, said my mom was gonna be placed on hospice.
And that was late at night. And I remember 28th, um, telling new England that, Hey, this is something that I need to go home for. And they obviously supported me, uh, and my family and allowed me to go back whenever I needed. And, uh, I remember our, our secretary, uh, Nancy, she got me a flight and, uh, I was, I was sitting there at the, at the airport and texting my brother and my sister, uh, and, uh, making sure everything was okay.
And as soon as I boarded the plane, two of my uncles accidentally texted me and. I said, sorry for your loss. And, uh, we love you. And for that moment, like time stood still. Like, I, I couldn’t move. Um, my heart sank, um, almost felt like I was just completely just lost at that moment. And, uh, While we’re taking off.
I realized that my service was no, no longer available. And, um, I had to wait for like a good 10 minutes to just get service or wifi on the flight. And as soon as I got wifi, I remember texting my brother and his text coming through was, uh, I’m so sorry.
Mom’s gone and, uh, you know, finding out not only like a family member, but your parent that you just lost on a flight that you’re two hours away and you’re you’re, you can’t do anything about it. Uh, for me, that, that does always impacted me. So much where I always wished that I was never, would’ve left that Christmas day where I could’ve just been by her side.
And, um, I had no idea what to think, what to do. Uh, and I would just remember getting off that flight was the hardest thing for me, because I didn’t even care for my luggage. I just wanted to go home and, uh, I saw my brother and my two cousins and I collapsed. And, uh, you know, for me, I I’ve always had some, some source of pride and ego where I kind of had to always hide my emotions.
And, uh, for that moment, everything just came out and I was just, I was just broken and, uh, You know, for me, uh, getting home and, uh, seeing my family all at my house and spending that time with my mom and then me showing up. I, you know, uh, I wish I could have just said goodbye, um, and had the opportunity to just be by her side before she left.
[00:08:01] Adam Walker: That sounds just. Really difficult. And I, I really appreciate you sharing that with us. I, I, I can only imagine how difficult that was. Um, so how, as difficult as that was, how did that affect you and how you lived your life over the next few years?
[00:08:21] Raymond Cottman: You know, uh, I had, I, for me growing up in my household, my, my parents, my brother and my sister, faith was always something that was very important to us.
Um, In the time of losing my mom, uh, I, I slowly started to push my faith away. Um, it was something that I felt that just wasn’t something that was important to me because I lost my mom and, you know, thinking back at it, I would just look back and just be like, how could someone so faithful, uh, and have all this gratitude and love for.
God and Jesus, and for me, it’s just like, how did I lose this one person in my life? Um, so there was a lot of resentment and a lot of hate, and I tried to
push as much of that away as possible. And, um, to be honest, I then essentially lost my job with new England. My dream job. Um, and it’s a contract based profession. So, uh, it was something where my contract was up and they didn’t resign me. So I, it was a domino effect and it was, I lost my mother. I lose my dream job.
And then I was stuck in the middle of uncertainty of where I was gonna be next and kind of felt lost. Um, mm-hmm. And as soon as I left new England, I started to recruit at Arizona state for a little bit for their football program and still kind of uncertain on where I needed to be in life and still pushing my faith away.
And gradually started to push close people to me. Away because I just felt that so many things were going wrong. Um, and I was dealing with so much that I couldn’t allow myself to be vulnerable enough to communicate or to be honest with myself. Right. Um, so through those years after. It felt like a domino fact of just all these bad things and what I had to do to learn, to come out from it was everything leading up to a point of hurting or pushing away the closest people to me realize I couldn’t be selfish or I couldn’t just be so prideful anymore.
And to drop my ego and my pride and just allow myself to be vulnerable and to be myself, um, to open up and allow my emotions to be heard because as, as we are, as, as men in my, in my opinion, We have that stigma where we have to be the, you know, the hard nose, like kind of tough hide emotions. And that’s something that I’ve always felt that I’ve I had.
And to be honest, like I, I learned to drop that completely and, uh, Now it’s, it’s given me the ability to feel those emotions and be vulnerable and communicate them to not necessarily my family, but to my loved ones. And the people closest to me. Um, and you know, slowly started to pray again. And for me, uh, had to been maybe three years since the last of my parade and I prayed.
Asking for help guidance, anything. And you know, Adam, it was crazy. There was one instance. I remember praying and I, I felt my mom’s presence that I hadn’t felt in like years. And at first I was skeptical. I was very skeptical and it, it was just kind of something that like, Put me at all. And I, I just couldn’t believe it.
Hmm. But 24 hours or less later, I prayed again and I felt the same exact presence and it was so refreshing and felt so wonderful to just have that moment of time with her. And. Followed BA followed off with my prayers. And for me, that was something I realized really quickly that I was missing so much in life because I was so upset and angry that my faith, that losing my mom had pushed me away.
But at the same time, it was just me pushing my faith away and not allowing myself to, to feel and. You know, it’s, it’s been, it’s been a crazy journey, um, extremely crazy journey, but I’m, I give more gratitude every day than I ever have. Uh, because now I have won my faith back. To the presence of my mother and I have this journey of running, uh, and raising money for Susan G.
Komen that has allowed me to one give back, but to honor my mother. Mm. Right.
[00:14:25] Adam Walker: That’s so great. So I, I wanna talk more about that. Let’s talk about your, your running. Um, that’s pretty, uh, pretty impressive. Uh, you know, I just need to do marathons. You do a lot of different things that raise money for precis G Komen.Um, Why do you feel it’s so important to honor your mom’s memory and, and run. And why did you choose Susan G Komen to donate those proceeds to whew?
[00:14:46] Raymond Cottman: Well, um, it’s actually, this is takes back to 2016. I actually ran half marathon in Phoenix, Arizona in, in, I wanna say it was January, 2016. As soon as I ran that race and I’m no runner by any means.
Um, I know the feeling right, right. I’m no runner by any means. And you know, this is something at this part of my life that I felt that was just something I wanted it to do. And, um, I remember running this race, obviously you get the runners high. It’s very exciting. Um, but at the same time, two days, three days later, my mother was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer.
So the day and the nights that I was praying, I felt my mom’s presence. Um, I actually questioned what could I do to give back? And, uh, you know, I felt that just running just came to me when you feel that you just, you just have to do it. Right. And for me, I started to run and I realized that. Runnings makes it Soma.
It’s so amazing because you actually get to be in the moment and right. It’s one step in front of the other. You’re focusing on your form, you’re breathing and you’re kind of in a tunnel. And in those tunnels for me, I, I was actually in conversation with my mom just full conversation. And so I’ve felt that as a.
A gateway of me having communication with her to be able to talk to her and just, just have that time with her, the running of an hour to two hours. It just gives me all that time with her. And, you know, I was, I was running in probably of August of last year, a year from today. And, um, I remember just asking my mom, like, is this something I should do?
Should I run and give back? Is this something I should be so vulnerable about to tell this story and, you know, allow others to be a part of it. Um, and I kid you not. I, I was, I was stretching. And I was outside after a, a short run. And as soon as I’m thinking this, as soon as I asked, like, should I do this, a lady bug, which is crazy to think of a lady bug just landed right on my, like on my chest and signs and omens are very important to me and something in that little split, second of thought in conversation with her and a, a lady bug lands on my heart, I was like, Okay, I gotta do this.
Mm. Yeah. So love that. Love that I started to run and I started to run a lot and it, it drove me and pushed me to, to one, not just be a better person and to think of things differently and to communicate with her, but to just wanna help others. And, you know, if, if. Raising money for Susan G Komen and running for such an amazing cause can do that.
I mean, I’m, I’m willing to do anything. Yeah. If that’s the case. So. It’s it’s been, it’s been a lot of fun. Running is not easy, but if you put your mind to it, obviously, and then you, you cherish those moments and that time that I get to spend with her, um, for me, that’s, that’s priceless.
[00:18:21] Adam Walker: Um, so, so speaking of things that aren’t easy and you kind of alluded to this in, in that story too, you mentioned, you know, should you.
Be vulnerable. Should you share, you know, your story, your mom’s story, um, raising money is really important, but, but it’s also so important that you’re open and, and you share that story. So tell us why that is. Why is this important to you to, to get out there?
[00:18:43] Raymond Cottman: Well, I mean, just like the running it’s, this is the vulnerability and, uh, the, the pride and the ego and allowing myself to be emotional.
It came hand in hand to me, like for me to, for me to do this and raise money with my running, I had to allow myself, like I said earlier, I had to allow myself to be myself mm-hmm and for the longest time I wasn’t there. And so for me to tell this story and to be vulnerable, I, you know, I, it kind of in a way, dug me out of.
This dark hole, but also allowed me to drop my pride. Mm-hmm and I’ll say that over and over again, but the, the pride and the ego for me was something that just needed to be, to let go. And, um, that’s hard to, that’s really hard to admit I’ve had this pride and ego that didn’t allow me to dig deep into any of those.
And I was bottling everything up and you know, that. That got me to a point where I was able to be vulnerable and able to communicate and, you know, it’s it, it’s, it’s a, it’s a really good feeling. It’s a really, really good feeling. And with, for me to share this story and my vulnerability with everybody, it actually, it feels like just weights can lift it off my shoulders.Right.
[00:20:07] Adam Walker: That’s great. I love that. I love that. So, uh, so let’s let last second to last question here. Um, What advice do you have for someone who might have a family member currently in the midst of breast cancer in treatment and just struggling?
[00:20:25] Raymond Cottman: Um, my advice would be simply just be in the moment, spend those, those, those seconds realizing that this person or someone, uh,
Time is possibly limited or you just don’t know. Right. So being the moment, being the present and also be easy on yourself because of course someone, or like in my case, my mother was going through this battling and not giving up. I can only imagine what she felt mentally and how she dealt with things, because she knew that my dad and my brother and my sister and I were, were hurting with her.
Right. And for me, the best advice would just be the time I had spent with her while I was there. It was very precious to me. And I reflect on those moments every day. And as much as you don’t wanna remember the part where she was sick, it kind of just makes you think of all, all the good things beforehand also.
Yeah. And I would, that would probably be the best advice I can give. And, you know, if, if you feel that you can give back for such a amazing cause. Or help others, um, which I felt was the need for me to do, um, give back and, and, and help in any way possible, but to just be in that moment and cherish it because that’s, that’s probably the most important thing.
[00:22:16] Adam Walker: I mean, let, that’s some great advice. I mean, I, I think you said three things in there and I just wanna repeat them back cuz I, yeah, I really think they’re incredibly valuable one. You said be in the moment. Be easy on yourself. And if you can give back, give back, like that’s yeah. Profound, it’s simple. It’s kind of perfect.
Um, appreciate. So, uh, last question, man. Uh, when is your next race and how can listeners find you if they wanna donate or follow longer
[00:22:43] Raymond Cottman: journey? Well, uh, my next race is October 9th. It’s in long beach, California. Uh, I’ll be running a full marathon. Um, Man two marathon. Yep. This will be my second full marathon on the year.
Okay. And I ran a half marathon, so my goals are to run at least three races every year. Love that. Um, Three go three races every year. Um, be it half marathon or marathon. Okay. Um, to be honest, these full marathons are a little brutal. Um, but this is something that I want to continue to do. Yeah. So my next two races, uh, are lined up one in October long beach and the other one is in January.
Which is the same exact race that I’ve pledged for myself to run every year for as long as I’m able, because that is the specific race that I ran before my mom was diagnosed. And, um, the journey I have, if you know, you can go to my GoFundMe, um, my GoFundMe is just under my name, Raymond Cottman, and it’s running for you, mom.
Um, you could donate there. That’d be great. All proceeds, go straight to Susan G. Komen. Um, and. If you wanna follow my journey, I feel that for me to get out there and allow people to understand the story I had, because look my story’s my story, but there’s so many similar to it. And I would love to open myself up to allow others to communicate to me if need be.
I wish I had someone to talk to. So if anybody wants to say, follow me on my journey, I’m very live on Instagram. Um, where I post my runs, um, every week and you know, I always tag Susan G. Komen and I always lead up to all my races. So if anyone wants to follow that journey, feel free. My Instagram is just Raymond C underscore 54.
If anyone feels that they want to communicate or talk to me or, you know, going through something that they feel that maybe I can help in any way. I think to me, that is the most important part. Like I want to help so many people, not necessarily the people that are battling, but the people that are their family members that are dealing with similar things that I had to deal with.
And, you know, if, if, if anybody feels that they wanna reach out, I’m available, um, I want to help if you just want to talk, uh, if you wanna just, you know, anything, if you just wanna go over things or ask for any advice, um, I’m no doctor, I’m no psychologist. I’m, I’m just a human being. I’m just a regular person who has similar experience to so many other people.
And I feel that with now me being so vulnerable and allowing myself to communicate so many things, um, and talk about, uh, all of the. Emotions I’ve had, um, in my past that I could help someone. So feel free to one, follow my journey, go to my GoFundMe, um, donate to Susan G. Komen. And just, if you need to just say hello or just wanna talk, feel free, I’m available and I’m here to help whoever, whoever needs it.
[00:26:04] Adam Walker: I love that. Well, I’m gonna go, uh, follow you on Instagram today, myself and, uh, follow your journey. I’ll look you up on GoFundMe as. And, uh, Ray, such a, a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for sharing your story. I know it’s difficult. Um, I really admire your vulnerability. So, uh, thank you for taking the time to do this today.
[00:26:22] Raymond Cottman: Absolutely. Thanks Adam, for having me. I really appreciate it. And you know, just everybody just keep fighting and, uh, and God bless.
[00:26:36] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to real pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G. Komen. For more episodes, visit real pink.comin.org. And for more breast cancer, visit Komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G. Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter at AJ Walker or on my blog. Adam J walker.com.