Hopson: don’t think, don’t worry, just live

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ali Hopson vividly remembers the day in mid-November 2008 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It wasn’t going to be a fun one.

In addition to her own fears and concerns, she and her husband Briggs had to figure out a way to tell their three young children about the disease and what was about to happen.

“What worked for us was to be open,” she said. “Children can pick up on things. Ours knew something was wrong when their dad picked them up from school. He never picked them up from school.”

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Back home, the conversation began. There were lots of questions, lots of answers, and then a reminder that laughter might be the best medicine.

“We all cried for a while, and they had a lot of questions. Everything from ‘are you going to die?’ to ‘is cancer contagious?’” Hopson said. “We answered them all directly, and then they asked if we could still go to the Ole Miss-LSU game that weekend.”

Hopson laughs at the memory. Chemotherapy and an early diagnosis helped cure her body — she’s now cancer-free — but it was a strong faith, good humor, a positive attitude and open communication that carried the family mentally and emotionally through a trying time.

Although she recognizes every family needs to find its own way, Hopson said her own experience taught her that continuing to live life is as important as fighting for it when cancer strikes.

“You just don’t dwell on it. My husband and I would go to treatments, but they’d be off at school or practices,” she said. “We thanked God for the things that were good in life. It definitely helps to stay positive. When you have children, they don’t dwell on it as much.”

Hopson’s children all handled it in different ways. Daughter Jane, then in kindergarten, wanted to see her mother’s bald head while the chemotherapy treatments were ongoing and announced to her class that Ali was sick.

Sons Walt and Liam were quieter and plowed ahead.

“The boys’ personalities are different. Neither one seemed like it stopped their lives,” Ali Hopson said. “I don’t know what they talked about in private, and they shared a room then so I’m sure they did talk about it, but there weren’t a lot of sad moments. We’re a light-hearted family anyway.”

Liam, the oldest of the three children and now a senior at Warren Central, said he took on more of a big brother role among his siblings.

“I definitely felt like there were times when my little sister and brother looked up to me for stuff,” Liam Hopson said.

Liam added that he didn’t necessarily grasp the gravity of the situation but his parents’ approach helped make things a bit easier to deal with. Thinking back, he said, the way his parents handled it combined with his age made him barely remember it at all.

“They just told me everything was going to be all right, which it was,” said Liam, who was 10 when his mother was diagnosed. “Hers wasn’t a bad form of cancer, so I was never worried too much about it.”

That, Ali Hopson said, is the real key to getting a family through its battle with cancer — don’t think, don’t worry, just live.

“I’m sure everybody has to handle it in different ways. It would be a lot different now. They would comprehend a lot more now. The best advice is just letting them be them,” Ali said. “As a mother, you put your children’s lives ahead of yours anyway, so the way they went about it helped me to realize their lives are still going on. It kept the focus off the treatments and helped me get up in the morning.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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