Paris Yurcaba, a Pinehurst mother whose 20-year-old daughter launched an online fundraiser last spring to fulfill her lifelong dream of visiting her namesake city as she fought cancer, didn’t live to make the trip.
But that dream will come to pass.
Yurcaba, 50, died July 27 after a two-year battle with a recurrence of cancer. On Wednesday, her family gave the Air Force veteran a hero’s farewell at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
A survivor in many senses of the word, Yurcaba persevered through an abusive first marriage, served during Operation Desert Storm and withstood nine surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy when she first got breast cancer in 1998. She was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer two years ago.
Named in honor of the family’s French heritage, Paris Yurcaba had always wanted to visit the City of Lights and connect with her ancestry. Her mother had wanted Paris to make the trip, but she never had the opportunity to go. In April, when doctors told the family that Paris had four months to live, her daughter, Josephine, a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, was determined to fulfill her mother’s dream.
After raising more than $14,000 in an online fundraiser, Josephine made arrangements for the family to visit Paris in late June. Nine days before the trip, the doctor said Yurcaba was too weak to go. The trip was canceled.
Though Yurcaba never made it to the city of her dreams, Josephine is still determined to go, this time to spread a portion of her mother’s ashes there. She and her father will make the trip in late December.
“When she was cremated, I immediately knew I had to do the trip,” Josephine said. “Not just for her, but for me too. Just sitting around and doing nothing isn’t something I would do.”
After canceling the June trip, Josephine used the money donated by family, friends and strangers who heard her story to rent a house at Emerald Isle for a final family beach trip. The family had always enjoyed spending time together at the beach.
“I was really upset because I felt like the doctors didn’t understand how much work I put into the trip,” Josephine said. “I am definitely glad, though, that they told me the truth – she was way too sick to go to a different country.”
As Paris’ cancer advanced and she entered hospice care, she struggled to keep food down, and Josephine’s biggest concern was making her comfortable.
“I was so used to having her take care of me,” said Josephine, who would cook for her mother or spend quiet time at her bedside reading or watching TV together. “But now the tables were turned so much sooner than I expected them to be.”
The family remembers Paris as always on the go, caring for her family. When she was healthy, she slept just five hours a night, according to her husband Yul. As the family moved around the country over the years for Yul’s career as a Green Beret, Paris took on different jobs, working in the Department of Defense with a top security clearance, working as an insurance administrator, and even managing a video rental shop. She could do just about anything, her husband said.
“She had an ability to adjust wherever she was,” said Yul, a retired chief warrant officer. “She was go, go, go, go… she went from one thing, to the next, to the next. Talk about a mother who never missed a single beat.”
Yul called Paris “Supermom,” and said she tried to provide her four children what she missed out on as a child. When Paris was 3 1/2 years old, her mother died of breast cancer.
“When our mother passed, I raised Paris,” said her older sister Therese Mazula, 62. “We grew very close, and I miss everything about her. That’s the difference between her being my sister and her being not just my sister, but the wonderful person I helped raise.”
In the weeks leading up to her death, Paris said that despite a life that would harden many, she was deeply comforted by the love of family and friends.
Josephine and her father will use the credit from their canceled airline tickets to make the trip to France. Though Josephine said she’s trying to overcome the painful memories of her mother’s last days, she thinks the trip will provide the closure she needs.
Before she died, Paris said if she could leave her children with one last piece of advice, it would to dream with the optimism she tried to live by.
“I want them to never, ever, ever give up on their dreams,” Paris said. “All my children are definitely the people who have the ability to make their dreams come true, and Jo is the closest of all making sure to that. … I’ll be up there, and I’ll find a way to poke them or prod them to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”
For Josephine, going to Paris is exactly what her mother would have wanted.
The life of the city, I think, will remind me of her before she was sick,” she said. “I want to feel close to her, because I miss her. She was the most loving person I ever met, and she never backed down, and I want to do this because I know it would have made her feel so happy.”
Mark Herring is editor of Technician, the student newspaper at N.C. State University.