I am sitting backstage with a room full of women, all mothers, preparing to go on stage for the show Expressing Motherhood, a play about real moms sharing real stories, that I have been doing for the last two weekends. These are vibrant, smart, funny, revealing women. This is so lovely to be a part of.

But I wasn’t supposed to be here.

I have been in this show before, twice actually. When I submitted for this show, the producers let me know they wanted to give other people a chance. Would I mind being a back up? No worries. I was very excited to sit in the audience and support them all.

But then in November, the producers got in touch asking if I could step in. One of the moms in the show had had a stroke and wouldn’t be able to make it. Of course, I agreed, though I was hoping she’d recover and I could take my rightful place in the audience.

But she didn’t.

I don’t know much about strokes. I imagined an older woman with a loose white bun ready to tell her tale of motherhood with years of experience, more of a looking back on her adult children kind of thing. There was an older neighbor down the road from us when I was younger who’d had a stroke. I remember when I would head down to the lake for a swim and need to pass his house, I would hurry by and even take a few steps up on the curb across the street. I was keeping my distance. I didn’t understand why he could no longer talk. I didn’t understand why his face looked like that. I didn’t understand a thing and was admittedly a little frightened.

Since then, my grandmother and step-father have each had minor ones, so clearly if I have learned anything, it is that strokes happen to older people.

But then I learned she is in her 30s.

She has three children — Rachael, Nathaniel, Peyton. Peyton has cancer.

Her name is Anissa Mayhew. She writes a popular blog about her family and about Peyton’s cancer. Her picture in the program for our show shows a woman with a lovely face, full of warmth, hugging her child, and while her story is full of struggle, in this picture I see something bright.

I hear she was just in a restaurant and then something happened, she called her husband to say she didn’t feel right and then that was that.

I stand backstage each night listening to her letter to children, read by a producer since she could not perform. It is her letter of apology to Nathaniel and Rachael for not being there as much as possible because of Peyton’s cancer. Her words are direct, clear, strong. She does not shelter her children from the truth of their sister’s health issue. As someone whose own mother didn’t shelter me from the truth of my father’s death, a suicide, I appreciate the honesty. I applaud the difficult choices that treat each of her children with respect. Through the dark curtain that separates me in the back and her words on stage, I get to know her and yet at the same time, I have no idea of what she has been through.

And that is probably the core of this show and getting to know all of these women. We are all moms. We all have our unique stories we are sharing. Very few of us overlap. There’s adoption, NICU scares, minivan woes, preschool panic, tales of miscarriage.

Performing with these women for the last two weeks has shown me that motherhood is a grand connector, as some say it is the great equalizer. We are all so different, but as mothers, through our children and the work and effort that we put into raising them, we see the future.

I hear Anissa is making great progress towards that future, but still has much ahead of her. This is the little I can do to help her and her family. I have this column, I can tell you her story. I can ask you to learn about their family and consider donating.

I do not know Anissa. I have never met her. We are strangers. But stepping in for her in this show, I feel this connection to her. As I stand backstage every night I hear her words and get to know her and her family just ever so slightly, for I can never truly know what they have been through. But I hear her words. I hear her beautiful writing and I am moved. And as a writer, that is something that excites and motivates me. Words can stir emotion and emotion can stir action. And while my words here pale in comparison to hers, I still hope that you will be moved by my telling this woman’s story and also reach out to assist in some way.

Donations can be sent to The Mayhew Family, 860 Johnson Ferry Road, 140-184 Atlanta, Ga. 30342. To learn more go to www.hope4peyton.org or e-mail helpforanissa@gmail.com.

They are doing this show again next January in Los Angeles and while I do not know if I will be in it, I hope Anissa will be.

Rachel Zients Schinderman lives in Santa Monica with her family. She can be reached at Rachel@mommiebrain.com.

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