Holding on tight to family

Phyliss Mosby of Long Prairie is fiercely protective of family; her own and others. Having nearly lost two of her three children, to very different circumstances, her greatest joy is time spent with them, especially during the holidays. She knows the ease with which family connections can be severed and is a staunch advocate of holding tight to the ones you love. Cancer and social mores can be equally threatening to family ties. Both threats have touched her family on many levels. Phyliss and John Mosby were married in 1967. She didn’t tell him that she had given birth to a baby girl two years before. It was 1964. Educated, well traveled, 24 years-old and single, Phyliss was bustled off to a home for unwed mothers. “Mom took over. I know her main concern was, ‘what will people think?’” After the baby was born and given over to Lutheran Social Services for adoption, Phyliss got back into the work force, determined to start over. When she met John, only a month after the baby was born, she asked her church therapist if she should tell him about the baby. She was advised not to; that was an old chapter of her life and she was starting a new one. John and Phyliss married in 1966 and started their own family. First came Elizabeth, followed two years later by Mark. Phyliss’ family would have remained ignorant of her first baby’s existence had she, Miriam, not grown up and come looking for her biological mother. “I was a rule follower. I wasn’t going to go looking for her. I was hell-bent on starting a new life. But, I’ve told Miriam ‘thank you’ many times for coming to look for me,” says Phyliss of her daughter’s effort to find her. “She told her adoptive parents she wanted to find her birth family; that there was a hole in her heart.” When Miriam was 29, her search led her to Concerned United Birthparents (CUB) an organization serving families touched by adoption. With the little information gleaned from her birth certificate, Miriam contracted with a woman from that organization who was successful in finding Phyliss. She also helped Miriam write a letter; one that would change Phyliss’ life, again. “I had pictured in my mind the scene of my daughter finding me,” said Phyliss. “My worst fear was a surprise visit in the midst of a family dinner.  However, it was a lovely, well-written note with an enclosed photo of a beautiful young woman that awaited me in a big stack of mail one January weekend in 1995” Her fears of how the daughter who had been given up would think of her were no less than what Miriam felt in looking for her birth mother. “It was much different than what I’d imagined,” said Phyliss. A letter came in the mail. It said, “I think you may be my mother.” Phyliss had told John about her baby three years before Miriam contacted her. He knew. But Beth, Mark and most of her friends and relatives knew nothing. Phyliss was frightened to tell them and consulted her pastor, a woman, who guided her in telling them. “The kids were wonderful,” Phyliss found, though they had some sorting out to do with Beth thinking she was the oldest child in the family and Mark learning he was outnumbered by female siblings. Phyliss wrote back to Miriam immediately. The letter exchange was followed by a phone call; then they met in a restaurant. “We blabbered for three hours,” said Phyliss of their reunion, her maternal sensitivities heightened by the recent loss of her own mother. Miriam was also able to find her birth father. Her adoptive mother died just as she was making the connections with her biological family. Many adopted children seek their birth parents because of the desire to know family health history. What Miriam didn’t know as she was reuniting with her birth family was that she would nearly lose the brother she’d just found, to melanoma. While the risk for melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is believed to be increased with excessive sun and ultraviolet exposure, it can also run in families. Mark was only 29, working as a police officer in St. Anthony, when he noticed an itchy mole on his upper back. A biopsy proved the diagnosis and surgery removed the mole. When it recurred, Mark underwent a second surgical procedure which included removal of the lymph nodes on that side of his body. He was treated with Interferon for a year and though now cancer-free, he has regular full skin checks. “Mark was five when he went to Florida to visit his grandparents. He had bad sunburns on his back and later developed a lot of moles,” said Phyliss. Having more than fifty moles is another risk factor for melanoma. Pale skin and red hair, as Mark’s sister Beth has, are other risk factors. Beth, who is a physician, has annual mapping of her skin to monitor this cancer risk. John and Phyliss are grateful that Mark’s outcome from his melanoma treatment looks good. Keith Kamman, one of his classmates from Plymouth, died from the same disease. Keith’s parents started Melanoma Awareness Minnesota. The Mosbys have gotten involved and give presentations on melanoma awareness to high school students, emphasizing the dangers of tanning beds and excessive sun exposure. They’d welcome invitations to share their story in an effort to prevent others from experiencing the horrors of the disease. As to Phyliss and Miriam’s reunion: it was an emotional experience. Miriam lived with the Mosbys while she was in college and they helped her with expenses. Though Phyliss feels the loss of not knowing Miriam as a baby, a child, a teen, she has been there for Miriam’s wedding and the birth of her children. The family has expanded not only by the inclusion of Miriam but also her husband and children. Phyliss journaled during the two years as she and Miriam got acquainted and the families adjusted. That journal has been bound into a book that Phyliss has shared with family and friends. Some have encouraged her to seek an independent publisher. She’s not so sure. Though her writing skills have been enhanced by a creative non-fiction course at The Loft and the product is good, Miriam has a say in it, too. “Miriam wants to write her version,” Phyliss said.

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