IN 1997, the year Princess Diana died, the year Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio reigned at the box office with "Titanic," I lost my mother to breast cancer.
My mother, Sandra Lopez-Jaffe, is where I get my sense of humor, my personality, my compassion, determination. Before I was born, she was an audiologist working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and after I was old enough to walk home from the bus stop by myself, she became a professor of audiology.
One day, when I was in fifth grade, she dropped me off at school on her way to the hospital for a routine test. She told me nothing out of the ordinary, and she would be home for dinner.
I was heading to gym class when I burst into tears, not even sure why. When she returned that afternoon, she explained that the doctors had found a lump in her breast -- nothing to worry about.
I spent the next four years watching her battle the disease. My once beautiful, once energized mother turned into someone I barely knew. She lost her hair, had difficulty getting out of bed, spent most of her time sick from the treatments or in hospitals and lost an incredible amount of weight. The cancer eventually spread to her lymph nodes and reached Stage 4.
Those four years were spent visiting my mother, or sitting by her bedside at home, hoping perhaps this was the day she felt well enough to attend my basketball games or help me with my homework.
The last event my mother attended for me was my middle school graduation. Looking at the photos from that day is still too hard: the puffiness in her face, her ghostly complexion, her once-bright eyes seeming so dull.
A month later, when I was 14, she passed away.
Although 11 years have passed, not a day goes by when I do not think of her. I read her journal after her death -- of the guilt she felt for missing my 13th birthday or leaving me with my grandma on a daily basis. I still base many of the decisions I make on whether I think it would make her proud.
I watch my friends' mothers help them decorate their new apartments, plan weddings or graduation parties, or act as sounding boards, and I know that I will never have that.
This year I will be participating in my fourth Avon Walk for breast cancer in my new home of Los Angeles. I will be joined by friends at USC Marshall School of Business: Sarah Dunlap, Suneet Deol, Christine Keating and Jennifer Samson. We each have our reasons for participating -- whether it's the loss of a loved one, commitment to the cause, or a strong desire to educate others.
Morgan Jaffe is a USC graduate student. To learn more about the Los Angeles Avon Walk and Jaffe's team, That's What She Said, go to www.avonwalk.org.