Esmeralda Werbeck’s biggest fear was that she’d be forgotten – that no one would remember her. Her son has made sure that will never happen.
Brent Werbeck was 15 when his mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. He was a freshman in high school. She was 45. He didn’t know what to think. It was all so confusing. Esmeralda kept telling him, “We’re going to fight it. We’re going to beat it. Everything’s going to be alright.”
And Brent wanted to believe her. He says, “I kept thinking, “Maybe it’s not as serious as we think.” He was at boarding school in Austin while his mom battled for her life. She didn’t want him to see a horrible situation unfolding.
Esmeralda had one mission in life - to take care of kids.
“My Mom loved children more than anything in this world,” says Brent. “She took care of them from when they were small enough to sleep on your forearm, all the way until they were ready for preschool. Her love for children was unmatched, and recognized by all that knew her.”
Shuron Wencel met Esmeralda when she would come to watch Brent play tennis at St. Stephen's, where her daughter, Jennifer, was a student. “Esmeralda always had little kids with her,” Shuron recalls. “That was her passion; she was a mother of mothers. She loved babies and she loved children, and being a mother was her greatest joy,” Shuron says.
“She was a real trooper, and I’m sure I was shielded from the horrible side of the treatment, but she was an absolute warrior,” Brent says. Shuron thinks, at the time it was happening, Brent probably didn't realize the extent of all that Esmeralda was going through, including the double mastectomy, rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
“Esmeralda was so dignified and so concerned about Brent and his stepbrother John and his two children, that she fought like a soldier,” Shuron remembers.
Her battle was made more difficult because she was born without a spleen, according to Shuron, who became close friends with Esmeralda. “This didn’t help her in fighting against all the side effects from the chemotherapy and radiation,” Shuron said.
For five years, Esmeralda was in and out of the hospital, and Shuron says, “She just fought. It was hard – it was super hard.” And for the longest time, Esmeralda remained optimistic – at least with Brent.
But her condition began to deteriorate. By this time, Brent was a freshman in college. He and Jen – Shuron’s daughter – were dating during their time at Boise State University.
Brent recalls, “Then after I was in college, I’d only see her during breaks. That’s when I noticed a real big change – loss of weight, and her overall condition was getting worse.
“In the last 6 months of her life, she had hospice. You know when that decision is made, it’s pretty telling – you know what’s going on,” Brent said.
“She was in decline for a while and she was very…” Brent pauses for a moment “…very accepting of it, I guess. She had been dealing with the condition for so long, and things weren’t getting that much better."
During the last few months of her life, “She told me that one of her biggest fears was being forgotten and that nobody would remember her,” he said. “And I wanted to make sure that never happened."
One of Brent’s tennis coaches at the time came up with an idea of putting together a race for Esmeralda and her family. “His idea was to have a race to help my family pay medical bills that had piled up over the last 5-6 years,” Brent says.
“Then when my mom talked about not wanting to be forgotten, that really resonated with me. And I worked with people who wanted to make the race happen and they wanted her never to be forgotten.”
This was in the fall of 2005.
Brent says, “When she was really sick, she kept saying, I’m going to make it to Thanksgiving Day.’ And she did. She died on Thanksgiving Day in 2005. Kind of weird, but that’s how it worked out. Then the first Esmeralda’s Race was held two days later.”
Brent was 20 when his mom died, five years after being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. And he put together Esmeralda’s Race to honor his mom.
About 100 people participated that year. Since that first run, it's attracted about 300 people each year who run and walk on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. “And he picked the toughest course in Austin, with the biggest hills you can imagine,” says Shuron, who is now Brent’s mother-in-law, “because he felt that represented her fight.”
This year, Esmeralda's Run is open to hikers, walkers, joggers and experienced marathoners of all ages.
The 5K/10K and one-mile Fun walk get underway at 9 a.m. May 5th at the Austin Tennis Academy in Spanish Oaks.
A Glimmer of Hope
The charity that Esmeralda’s Run benefits doesn’t have anything to do with cancer. “She cared a lot about kids, so the money goes directly to children in Austin – at-risk and underprivileged kids who can’t afford the basic stuff they need to go back to school – like shoes,” Brent explains.
A Glimmer of Hope Austin is the charity, and Brent is adamant about knowing exactly where the money from the race goes. “I have very tangible, very measurable results of how many shoes we got for kids who were going back to school,” he says.
“I’m very transparent about where this money is going – that 100% of the funds go to something my mom cared about – I just want people to know about where their money’s going,” says Brent.
Proceeds from this year's Esmeralda's Run will go to Glimmer of Hope's "Camp Glimmer" - a program that offers hundreds of kids a free summer camp experience.
Messages for moms and sons
We asked Brent about what he believes women with breast cancer should think about in terms of their sons. He urges, “I guess it’s the message of fighting as hard as you can because there is no more important person in a son’s life than his mother.
Brent adds, “It’s okay to be honest with your kids about what’s going on. Everybody handles a serious illness differently.
And what does Brent say to sons whose mothers have breast cancer? “Don’t wait to say anything and everything you want to say – whether it’s an early cancer that probably won’t cause a problem or stage 4 cancer.”
And Esmeralda's friend Shuron wants people to know, “Regardless of whether or not you’re in the same location as your mother, you can be there for her and you can honor and fight just as hard for the sick person as Brent did.”
Today, Brent has his own little boy – Levi. “To see him with his son, you can tell Brent was raised around babies,” Shuron says. “Seeing him feed Levi, he is his mother – that’s what I think. I see so many characteristics of his mother in him – his kindness and his gentleness.”
So Brent Werbeck is living his mother’s legacy, as he continues to honor her and make sure Esmeralda Werbeck is never forgotten.