Mothering Heights: Golden Heroes

By Christine Fugate.

All together now, “Big breath in.”

Repeat after me, “School has started. And the tourists are gone.”

Now doesn’t that feel better? Not really. I’m still traumatized from back-to-school shopping where I stood around in my comfortable shoes and double muffin top negotiating with my daughter on what was considered “appropriate” clothing for school. Not that there was much to buy. Shorts now look like underwear and tank tops like bras.

And how did Staples become the only place to shop (a.k.a. cool) for school supplies? Twenty dollar binders and mechanical pencils are academic must haves. After a nice expensive shopping spree, my family sat on Laguna Canyon road where a driver backed down the road for a parking spot and a car changed drivers in the middle of the road.

Seriously, people?

Maybe it’s just me. I have been a bit tapped out ever since we were on vacation a few weeks ago at a dude ranch and got the dreaded call from my oncologist. “Can you please come today?”

“No, I’m on vacation with my family, bruising my inner thighs on a horse and icing it down with pina coladas by the pool.”

After a few more days playing Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, we headed back home via Mission Viejo hospital. My doctor shared that there were some swollen lymph nodes that needed a biopsy (a.k.a. a large needle shoved into it) just to make sure the Big C hadn’t returned.

I spent the next week getting pre-tests, the biopsy, and results. Of course, I laid awake at night either planning my funeral or cleaning out the garage. With great fortune and prayer, the results came back negative.

My husband and I dropped to our knees with gratitude. I worry though about my daughters. While I have tried to protect them from the ups and downs of this past year, they have seen more than their fair share of post-op mommy.

That’s when this fabulous town of ours introduced me to women’s water polo gold medalist, Annika Dries, at a homecoming event last week at the Community Pool.  While Annika was a senior at Laguna Beach High School, her mother, professor and composer Pam Madsen, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I learned from my mom to fight and to never give up,” Annika shared with me. “During everything she went through, she was always there for me and taught me to never give up.”

I also met her mom, Pam, who could not have been more kind. She shared, “When I was diagnosed, the entire community took care of Annika. The water polo community also took me on and made it a safe place. They saw me at my worst. I went to recruiting trips and Olympic trials, all through chemotherapy.”

My kids don’t play water polo, but I feel the same way about the community here. Friends, acquaintances and strangers brought me food, desserts and gifts for my girls. Buckets of chicken soup and boxes of cards have soothed my soul through some of the roughest times of my life.

Annika Dries and her mother, Pam Madsen, were such a gift, reminding me that my children are learning resilience, strength and determination to fight. I know they will be able to thrive, especially now that they are back in the hands of their teachers.

This tiny town of ours has a golden heart.

Breathing out, my muffin top jiggles. I couldn’t be happier to be here.


Christine Fugate resumed teaching film making this week at Chapman University.

Share this:


  1. Terrific column, Christine! I love that you were able to gain such valuable insights from both Annika and her mother, Pam – all made possible because of this unique and eclectic community we call home. Brava!

  2. christine-
    love the humor, insight, and reflection in this article. reminds me of how much our family benefitted from the unsung heroes and generosity of lagunans when cathryn was diagnosed and fought her cancer battle. laguna is such a special place and i can say that with more conviction having moved away (temporarily, albeit!) Every town has it’s share of the “same of stuff” but no town rallies for one of it’s own like Laguna. Amen Sista! Now, go shake that muffin top!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here