Kicker Grant Mahoney reflects on losing his mom to breast cancer


Photo courtesy of Grant Mahoney

ISU kicker Grant Mahoney stands with his mom, Deb, when he was a child. Mahoney’s mother died of breast cancer when he was 15.

Erin Coppock

This October marks the 27th anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It’s a time spent focusing on spreading awareness, recognizing survivors and remembering those who have passed away from the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, “Women have a 1 in 8 chance of having invasive breast cancer at least once in their life, and a 1 in 35 a chance of dying from it.”

For Grant Mahoney, 22, senior in communication studies and a kicker for the ISU football team, this statistic hit close to home.

Mahoney was just 15 when his mom, Deb Mahoney, passed away at 48 after losing her battle with breast cancer.

Mahoney’s parents divorced when he was 2 years old, and because of this, Mahoney says his mom became his “best friend.”

She was someone he could rely on and confide in, and even at a young age, she was someone he looked up to. It was hard not to love his mom because she was such a wonderful person, he said.

“My mom was always so optimistic,” Mahoney said. “She was always smiling and was upbeat. She walked in a room and instantly the mood changed for the better. She had a good spirit and took things with a grain of salt. She always just rolled with the punches, and even before her diagnosis, lived life to the fullest. She gave me the freedom I needed and allowed me to have fun, and she knew how to have fun as well.”

Others could see how close Mahoney and his mom were.

Tyler Clark, Mahoney’s childhood friend who is now a senior at the University of Iowa, claims Mahoney’s relationship with his mom was very unique and the bond between them was evident. Clark grew up with Mahoney and spent time with Deb, even going on annual trips with them and hanging around their house.

“Deb had the famous ‘Mahoney positive attitude’ and whenever she and Grant were together, there was a lot of laughing,” Clark said. “She was very kind and caring and was a lot of fun to be around.”

When Mahoney was in fifth grade and just shy of 11 years old, his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. Even though Mahoney was young, he remembers the day vividly.

“I remember she sat my brother and me down and just told us,” Mahoney said. “All I did was cry because I was little; I didn’t know what cancer was, I just thought people who got it automatically died. I really don’t remember a lot.

“I know she only had a couple rounds of chemotherapy, but I don’t remember going to the hospital that much. Even through all the treatments, she always told me she’d be fine and that it was all part of God’s plan for her and our family. My mom is the reason why I stay close to God. I believe in God’s work and I did so even more after my mom beat cancer the first time. My mom always reminded me about the power of prayer and that is something I carry with me today.”

Unfortunately, in 2004, Deb Mahoney was given news that the cancer had returned, but this time she was told the cancer had spread throughout her body. For Mahoney, hearing the news a second time was devastating and something that he still finds hard to talk about.

“She told us that it had spread to her brain, her lungs and even her eyes,” Mahoney said. “I was older, so even though she told us she’d fight hard, I knew it was serious. I just remember crying; crying with her and crying with my brother.”

This time around, Mahoney was more involved with his mom’s treatments. He went to doctor’s appointments, chemo treatments and would ask his mom and her doctors questions throughout the process. As Mahoney’s mom grew sicker, doctors allowed her to move back home and receive full-time hospice care.

“Even though my parents were divorced and my brother and I spent time each week at both of their houses, I stayed with my mom the month before she died. It was real hard to see her like that. She was weak and tired and needed help doing the simplest things. She was a warrior though. I remember at night, I would lay with her. I’d have my head down on her chest and I’d just cry, but like usual, she was the one telling me it was going to be OK,” said Mahoney, tears forming in his eyes. “She would just always remind me that everything happens for a reason. She was a firm believer in fate and she would remind me that it was all part of God’s plan.”

The wake and funeral were both emotional for Mahoney and are events that he still finds difficult to talk about.

“The toughest thing was standing by the casket at the wake and seeing everyone who knew and loved my mom. The amount of support my family and I received was overwhelming and made the funeral more bearable,” Mahoney said.

Clark, like Mahoney, was 15 at the time and remembers the wake vividly. “I remember watching a slideshow of Deb when we got there. I really lost it when I saw a picture of her, Grant and myself,” Clark said. “Having my mom next to me while watching it made it even harder because I couldn’t imagine what Grant was going through. I kept thinking, what if it was my mom? It was one of the saddest things I have gone through and it was even harder watching my best friend go through it.”

It’s been almost seven years since Deb Mahoney’s death, but Mahoney still finds her absence overwhelming at times.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. The hardest part is not having that strong female figure in my life. I don’t have someone to talk to about relationships and other things that people talk about with their moms,” Mahoney said. “I have pictures and other things to keep her memory alive; one of my favorites is my tattoo. It’s a clover with the date she died written in the center. It’s only ink, but every time someone asks me about it, I get to tell them about her and how important she was and still is to me.”

Mahoney can see in himself the ways he’s like his mom and loves that he has the same perspective on life his mom had.

“I believe I’m a lot like my mom,” said Mahoney with a smile. “I try to live my life like she wanted me to. I try to see the good in every situation, and whenever things get tough, I tell myself to push through and keep on fighting, a lot like she did during her treatment.

“She was a wonderful person and I miss her each and every day.”