Anita Demps will celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday the same way she has each of the past seven years.
She’ll go to her office in her Uptown home to the small ceramic musical prayer box that her mother gave her seven years ago.
Then she’ll write a note to her mom and slip the piece of paper inside the box.
Finally, she’ll twist the knob that makes the music play.
She’ll then close her eyes and listen as “Amazing Grace” drifts out of the box and into her ears.
For Demps, the wife of New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps and the mother of three, this holiday isn’t easy.
It hasn’t been since Claudia Thomas died in January 2009.
“Sometimes, I hate it,” she said. “You see everybody with their moms, and you go to the stores and salespeople are asking you if you’ve bought your Mother’s Day gift yet. It’s hard. I realize it’s a day to honor all mothers and mothers are what make the world go ’round.
“But it’s still tough.”
But if there is anybody who can handle tough times, it’s Demps.
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2008 was the toughest year of her life.
It was in March of that year that Anita Demps had surgery after being diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. Just a few weeks later, her mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. The lung cancer quickly spread to her brain, and in June of that year, doctors gave Claudia Thomas just six months to live.
Things got worse.
A benign tumor was found on Demps’ brain.
Demps postponed the brain surgery, choosing to fly back and forth between their home in San Antonio (Dell Demps was working for the Spurs at the time) and Sacramento to spend as much time as she could with her mom.
The two spent mother-daughter time at spas and at beaches.
They spent their last Christmas together in 2008.
Anita Demps had her brain tumor removed a few weeks later, on Jan. 9, but wasn’t allowed to fly for two weeks because of the procedure.
She knew her mom was getting worse.
They talked on the phone Jan. 21.
“I could barely hear her voice, but she just kept asking me how my recovery was going from my surgery and if I was OK,” Demps recalled.
It was their final conversation.
Claudia Thomas died two days later, the day before Demps’ flight to California.
“I felt like she was waiting to see if I was OK before she passed,” Demps said. “I looked for the reason I have cancer, and I think it taught me to live for the moment. I was living for the future all the time and never lived for the moment. It taught me to enjoy the moment.”
Demps is doing just that.
She’s an attorney and a partner with an architectural firm that develops high-end residential homes in New Orleans.
She’s also heavily involved in basketball. She co-chaired the NBA Wives Association All-Star Gala in 2014 that raised $150,000 for various charities in New Orleans. And perhaps her favorite job, she is a team mom on her son Riley’s AAU team as well as a member of the Green and White Sports Club at Isidore Newman School, where Riley is a standout guard. Her oldest son, Jourdan, is a student at the University of San Francisco, and Tre just completed his basketball career at Northwestern University.
But it’s her motherly role that those close to her seem to appreciate most.
“Anita is the backbone of the family,” Dell Demps said. “She’s a beautiful, strong woman who symbolizes honesty, perseverance and strength. She challenges and brings out the best in me. She tells me the things I do and sometimes don’t want to hear. I can’t thank her enough for making me a better person.”
Riley, who just finished his sophomore year, agreed.
“It’s her voice in the back of my head that gives me guidance through life and motivates me to do great things,” Riley Demps said. “Before I do anything, I always think in my head ‘WWAD?’ or ‘What Would Anita Do?’ ”
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And what exactly would she do, especially when times get tough?
She’d just keep pushing through, even when life says perhaps she shouldn’t.
The cancer is still there, although she shows no symptoms of it.
There was no standard form of treatment for the rare form of cancer she has. She declined chemotherapy, choosing to try a more innovative hormonal treatment.
Well, that and a dose of faith.
“A lot of people see me, and they see the finished product,” Demps said. “They see a perfect life. The house, the car, the clothes, the material things. They don’t see that me that has Stage 3 cancer. I put a smile on my face, and I go through life and don’t worry about the things I can’t control. And whatever happens, happens. I live my life that way.
“Cancer taught me to live.”
Eight years later, she still is.
Demps was 38 when diagnosed.
She turned 47 last Tuesday.
Just like she does every birthday, she wore a ring and bracelet that her mother gave to her.
It’s just another way she remembers the lady who not only gave her life, but also taught her how to live.
“I was at the brink of not having a life,” Demps said. “So I cherish it, and I’m thankful. More than anything, I’m thankful that I was given the chance that my mother didn’t have. I hope I’m an inspiration to others. 2008 was the worst year of my life. Diagnosed with cancer and a brain tumor and losing my mom, all within seven months. That knocks you on your butt.
“But you just have to reach down for the strength to keep going.”