Family MembersPancreatic Cancer

Judging the Book, Not the Cover

Shanea Irierose Drown shares her personal story of overcoming expectations, rising to the challenge, and seeing people for who they really are, not what their dubious reputations may lead us to believe.
February 2022 Vol 8 No 1
Shanea Irierose Drown
National City, California
My stepfather, Matthew James Robertson, near the beach.

In the beginning, I disapproved of that man. I heard rumors that he was selling drugs, pimping, and gangbanging. My mother had just got out of prison, and I couldn’t allow someone like him to ruin my mom’s progress. It took months before I started having visits with my mother, who was staying at a sober-living home.

When she came back home, I would catch her in a daze, watching him work out across the street. They would both smile and look at each other. It was difficult to grasp my mother’s attention to this man.

Being Introduced

Then, the day arrived when my mom said she was going to introduce me to someone, and she wanted me to be nice. That’s when I realized she was serious about getting to know this “dangerous” man across the street. I was about 11 years old when I first met him. All I thought was that he better not get in the way of me reuniting with my mom.

Eventually, she got a full-time job working at Vons. That man ensured that she was on time to and from work. He asked her to move in with him, and helped get her out of the sober-living home. It made it easier to get her to work, but it wasn’t always easy for her.

Some days she came home crying, because co-workers were putting her down. I watched as he encouraged and guided her to stay motivated. She listened and followed his advice. After all her hard work, she got a raise and became manager of the bakery department.

When my mom was sent to prison, she had lost custody of me and my siblings, Chuy and Irene. When she came back, she saved up every dollar trying to get every document she needed to get her kids back.

He Was There for Us

“That man” supported her through it all, even when she wanted to give up, after hitting dead ends. He gave her everything she needed to get my siblings back. He never let my mother give up. That was amazing! He made it possible to get me and my siblings back home, and we became a big happy family, including his son and daughter, Matthew and Salona.

As I was getting older, I began to see this man for who he really was. He was not what some people made him out to be.

Soon after they got together, he asked my mom to marry him on Christmas Day, and of course she said yes. He made plans for all of us as a family, took us on trips to Las Vegas, SeaWorld, and other fun places.

He was often there for us when we were depressed teenagers. He always wanted us—the girls—to know our worth, and told us we’re worth everything. He reminded us to love ourselves, and told us to hold our heads high.

As we became young adults, things started to get rocky. Matthew got caught up in street life. Chuy, our youngest brother, ended up having a daughter. Eventually, Matthew and Chuy got arrested and were in jail for some time. Matthew was facing a few years in jail. His dad could not see him spending years in jail, so he paid the lawyer to get his son out and be here for his own family.

The sisters went their separate ways. After a while, Irene got pregnant, and came back home to prepare for her baby girl. My mother’s husband agreed to help raise Chuy’s daughter while he had been in jail. And he stuck by Irene to encourage her to do the right thing for her newborn daughter.

He worked every day as a maintenance man, hustler, and father. He wanted to make all the money he could to provide for his family. He had plans of starting a family business to build a foundation for a new home. He was more than motivated to win at life.

Then the Bad News Hit

Then we were hit with bad news. My stepfather announced that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The doctors said that he had between 6 months to 1 year to live, but he didn’t give up. He stayed strong, and told us that it was going to be alright.

He didn’t believe that a doctor could tell him when it was his time to go. Only the man above can tell you when it’s your time to go, he said. He still went to work, although he was in pain. He fought through it each day, and sometimes refused pain medications.

We stayed strong and believed in him. Family and friends took turns helping with natural remedies, hoping to reverse the cancer. He fought hard, and made it through chemotherapy, which was an enormous relief and blessing for the whole family. We thought that everything was going to be okay.

Getting Worse

But after a few months, we realized that my stepfather’s pancreatic cancer was getting worse. He kept pushing and fighting the pain. Again, he didn’t believe that the doctors could tell him when it was his time.

He didn’t take a day off of work. He would rather go through the pain than take a day off. He managed to start a landscaping business, and got the family involved. He worked hard, trying to get his boys off the streets. He did his best to help them become the best men they could be.

He taught us that a man is supposed to have respect and strength; he is supposed to protect and provide for his family. He wanted us to live normal lives the right way. He got all of us our jobs—all we had to do was do the work.

Keeping His Word

He surprised my mom with a 2-story home. He designed a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom home with a built-in air conditioning unit. He did what he said he would do.

Regardless of the agony he was going through, he followed through on his word. He gave his family a spacious home to take care of his now 1-year-old and 3-month-old granddaughters.

But as time passed, it was becoming more difficult. His pancreatic cancer pain was getting worse, and it was tough for him to take care of the kids. They did give him a reason to smile, and a reason to keep fighting. He wanted to make sure his 2 granddaughters would grow up to have a good life.

He was strong through the blood, sweat, and tears. My stepfather was an amazing man who helped guide others the right way at any age. Everything he knew he researched himself, and then passed his knowledge about many aspects of life to us.

In the beginning, I disapproved of this man. In the end, I approved of him. He was a family man, wise, and an entrepreneur. I will forever love that man I called my stepfather—Matthew James Robertson. He passed away on May 14, 2020.

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Last modified: April 4, 2022

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