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Feature: 'I just don't want to be looked at as the kid whose mom is dying'

Evan Tanguy, a Scottsdale Community College journalism student, holds a photo of his mother, Laurie, who was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer three months ago.

Evan Tanguy says he and his mother Laurie have always been a team.

They were best friends when he was younger. When they moved from Texas to Arizona when Evan was 3 years old, things were looking up for the Tanguy team. After the two grew apart during his teenage years, Evan, now 20, says the unexpected brought them back together.

Laurie got lung cancer.

She has been a smoker ever since Evan can remember. After years of being passably healthy, he hoped she was in the clear from any diseases that usually occur in smokers. That happened to other people's moms.

But this wasn't the case. Evan says he was angry and overwhelmingly filled with pain when he heard the news, but he wasn't surprised.

"Part of me knew," he says.

Evan says he tries to portray a strong image to get past the hard times he and his family are going through. But tonight, he is visibly shaken when talking about his mother. Jokes are a common therapy when he is talking about the situation.

Evan says taking care of his mother was the last thing he had time to do. The full-time Scottsdale Community College journalism student also works up to 30 hours a week at Hollywood Video. But being the only family member anywhere nearby — Laurie is divorced from Evan's father, who Evan says he only talks to by telephone every once in a while, and the rest of her family lives in Texas — he took it upon himself to take care of his mom after she was diagnosed with stage-four cancer. Stage-four is the highest level of cancer, indicating the disease has spread to other body parts, according to the National Cancer Institute.

It all happened very quickly.

Three months ago, Laurie was going through tough times, but things were looking up. She got a job at an auto glass store. The very same day she started, her speech became impaired and her coworkers grew concerned. They called her an ambulance, and when they arrived, paramedics found what "may be cancer."

After her diagnosis, Laurie's stage-four cancer spread from her lungs and created a tumor in her brain. Doctors removed the tumor on Aug. 24, and the surgery caused temporary impairment of her brain. Evan says she returned back to normal within a few weeks.

Laurie had contracted pneumonia and was not healthy enough for chemotherapy, so radiation was the best option. When Evan took Laurie to her first pre-radiation appointment, she was fitted for a face mask to indicate where the radiation would be focused. Once the radiation was done, the doctors gave Laurie the mask. She was going to throw it away, but Evan held onto it.

"I [kept] it, because it's exactly her face replica," he says. "As far as pictures go, it's kind of tough to look at old pictures from when she was younger and healthy, but for some reason I like having the radiation mask. It's a personal thing."

After 17 years of living in Arizona, Evan decided his mother should move back to Texas, where most of her family lives. So on Oct. 24, Evan and Laurie made the trip to Texas, leaving behind the life they had built as a team in Arizona.

He says in the last few weeks before the move, his mother always had to be watched over and required extensive care. He couldn't be there all the time to give her the care she deserved, he says.

"A lot of people might call it selfish," Evan says. "A lot of family expects me to drop out of school, quit work, go [to Texas] and help them."

Evan doesn't think the criticism is fair. He is planning to make frequent visits to Texas, and he talks to Laurie every day on the phone. Though he wishes he could be with her in Texas, Evan says his life is in Arizona.

"Sometimes I think I'm a bad son because I'm not there. I think I'm selfish for being here, and it really tears me apart," he says. "[But] I feel like my life is here and that I'm doing the best thing."

Despite his anticipated loss, Evan says he tries to keep a positive attitude toward life. He says since his mother's diagnosis, he has begun to appreciate the lives of other people more than ever. As for Laurie, she says the news of her disease was actually a bit of a relief.

"[When the cancer was found] I was in a state of euphoria," Laurie says in an e-mail. "I felt a freedom that I had never imagined and can never explain. I experienced an epiphany — a wonderful serenity, a selfish sigh of relief — knowing that my future would be void of personal loss, pain and never-ending uncertainties."

Laurie says she has no doubt that her son will be OK when she's not around to take care of him. "Everything is in order, and Evan has been well taken care of," she says. " 'I love you' is profoundly stated at every departure by all of the loved ones around me. It has been an incredible journey so far."

After bringing his mom home to Texas, Evan came back to Arizona to be independent and work his way toward a degree. He plans to transfer to ASU next semester, after which he plans to pursue a career as a sports analyst and eventually write a book.

Evan says he wants to be a strong person, but this situation has made being strong difficult. "I just don't want to be looked at as the kid whose mom is dying," he says. "Why would I want to talk about it? Why would I want to be reminded of it 10 times a day?"

Though he has selectively chosen whom, out of his friends, to tell his mother's story to, Evan says it's important to get it off of his chest.

"I know it's not good to hold it in. I can't help it. I'm such an open person," he says. "My heart just doesn't want to let this one out."

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