I originally wrote this article for the World of Warcraft TCG website in 2007. That website has since been taken down, along with my article. I am reposting it here unaltered in honor of my mother, who passed away seven years ago yesterday.
There are many cards in the World of Warcraft TCG with their own stories. Some are the characters of people at UDE, or at Blizzard, or the friends and family of the same. Working on the game has given me the chance to immortalize my main character, both of my alts, and all the pets I’ve had throughout the years. But there’s one card that means more to me than any of those, and whose story is more important to me than any game. That card is Lady Kath, and this is her story.
A year and a half ago, I was living a very chaotic life. I was in the midst of design for the WoW TCG engine, a process that was ultimately far more difficult than I had originally imagined it would be. My days were filled with meetings, arguments, and the occasional complete overhaul of everything we’d been doing. It was not a time without stress.
In the midst of this chaos, I got a message from my mother saying she urgently needed to talk to me. I called her back and she told me the news. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Now, for most people, this would likely come as a complete shock—the sort of thing that makes you drop everything else you’re doing, that shakes the very foundations of your life. But for me, it felt like just another in a long parade of illnesses through which my mom had suffered.
Let me explain. My mother has been sick almost as long as I can remember. Shortly after I went away to high school, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. While I was in college, she was re-diagnosed with Wegener’s disease, an immunological disorder, along with any number of other illnesses over the years, both minor and severe. She had suffered through—and beaten—more illnesses than most people are ever exposed to in their lives. At the time, this newest development, despite clearly being serious, felt like just the next in line.
When I saw my mother at Christmas, she was doing well. She’d reacted well to the treatments and medication. She was in good health and good spirits. It seemed like I’d been right—it was just the next in the long line of diseases she’d beaten over the years.
Time went on, and everything appeared to have returned to normal. Every update was better than the last. I went about my life. I had finished the first WoW TCG set and was working on the second when I got the phone call that would change everything.
In October of 2006, my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. She’d started having headaches and walking a bit unsteadily, and when she went in for examination, she found that the cancer had metastasized to her brain. I didn’t know what to do. Everything before paled in comparison to this. One morning shortly after she first told me, I was on the phone with her, and she mentioned giving her cats to Ellie, the daughter of a family friend. I said she couldn’t give them away—she needed her cats—and she responded flatly, “Brian . . . I’m going to die.”
It was that day that I realized I had to do something for her. It was that day that I told Danny that I didn’t care what it took—we were putting a card for her into set two. It was that day that Lady Kath was born.
Immortalizing my mother in card form seems ultimately appropriate, since more than anything, she is the reason I got to where I am today. When I was a kid, she encouraged my brother and me to play all kinds of games, and even when I grew up, she’d always challenge me to games of Scrabble despite knowing that she’d never win. She drove me and my grade-school friends to the gaming convention in Massachusetts where I was exposed to my first TCG. When my boarding school wouldn’t give me permission to travel to a tournament my sophomore year, she called up the dean and asked, “What happens if he goes anyway?” And I went.
The list goes on. She flew out to Europe twice just to watch me play in TCG tournaments. When I quit my work-study job my sophomore year in college to focus on playing cards, she supported me one hundred percent. When I told her I had no plans of getting a “real job” after graduation, she believed in me and was behind me the entire way. She followed all the tournament coverage when I was playing, and knew all the names of my playtest partners and my opponents alike. She was always my number one fan.
Making the card itself was obvious. My mother worked as a nurse her entire life, first in the emergency room and later in a triage center when her illnesses made the former impossible. She strove to help others whenever and however she could. Her compassion and generosity were without bounds. Making her a Paladin with the power to heal all allies seemed perfect.
The hardest thing for me was writing the flavor text. I wanted something that captured her perfectly, and I went through countless iterations before finally arriving at what was printed on the card: “Her strength and warmth touch all those who cross her path.” I couldn’t have been happier with it.
And neither could she. When I went home for the holidays this past year, I brought a dozen or so printed copies of the card that were cut up and in sleeves (since Through the Dark Portal wasn’t out yet). I gave her the cards Christmas morning, and she was taken aback. She told me it was the greatest gift anyone had ever given her—a sentiment that was echoed time and again by her friends who talked to me about the card and told me how much it meant to her.
It would, sadly, be the last gift I ever gave her. Her condition began to deteriorate rapidly early this year, and when I went to visit her in April with the first real, printed copies of Lady Kath, it was clear that she was not going to recover. She passed away at home on May 4. My last memory of my mother is of her lying in bed with a copy of Lady Kath crumpled up in her hand as she looked up at me and smiled.
Of all the fantastic opportunities my job has afforded me, none has been as important to me as the chance to do this for her. When some of her friends from the hospital where she worked found out about the card, they organized a team in her honor under the name “Lady Kath’s Warriors” for a local breast cancer fundraiser event. For information on the event and how you can support the team, visit their website.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back soon with an article on something a little lighter.
I love you, Mom.