SAN JOSE -- Tonya Shepherd spent a wonderful Mother's Day surrounded by a garden of roses, drinking in every moment as her young children played among bubbles and baby parachutes.
On Monday, she begins chemotherapy for Stage II lymphoma.
Shepherd, 39, the mother of 3-year-old Reilly and 9-month-old Lauren, received her cancer diagnosis two weeks ago. Instead of surrendering to anguish, she decided to hire kiddie photographer Stephanie Grace to document Mother's Day 2013 at San Jose's Rose Garden "before my hair falls out."
No matter what the future holds for the family from San Jose, Shepherd and her husband, Chad, 41, wanted to spend their Mother's Day surrounded by roses.
"We're trying to capture a moment in time," Tonya Shepherd said as her family romped amid the hundreds of varietal rose bushes in the popular midtown San Jose park.
Dads can be easily bought off on Father's Day with little more than a barbecue, beer and a ballgame. And often, the barbecue and ballgame are optional.
But Mother's Day is different. It has become a heartfelt annual occasion of expressing love and special appreciation. It has become the busiest day of the year for florists and restaurants across America.
While untold families celebrated Sunday over pancakes and eggs Benedict, the Rose Garden was the place to be for a few hundred moms, their moms and their offspring, who strolled the grounds in 70-degree weather talking about what it means to be -- and to have -- a mom.
Marianne Dizon, 37, of San Jose, chased her 3½-year-old son, Maui, around the Rose Garden's fountain as her mother, Merly Lindog, 59, kept up.
Even as the oldest of four children, Dizon grew up with little appreciation of the dedication and hard work required by her mom to raise her family.
Now with just one boy, Dizon told her mother on Mother's Day -- in a private conversation between the two of them -- that she finally realized the sacrifices that Lindog made for her and her siblings.
"I told her it's a nice feeling to be a mother and to think of your child first," Dizon said. "I told her that now I appreciate her more for her hard work and how hard it is to raise children."
Dizon recounted her mother's brief but tender end of their Mother's Day conversation:
"She said she was grateful to hear that."
Libbie Kline, a third-grade teacher at Noble Elementary School in San Jose's Berryessa district, left her two sons at home and packed homemade tuna sandwiches for her first Mother's Day with her mom, Rita Jacoby, in 27 years.
Jacoby, 83, just moved to San Jose from her home in Long Beach, where she raised Kline and Kline's two older siblings.
But after all these years, some things never change for a mother on Mother's Day.
"Libby's still the baby," Jacoby said.
As a Mother's Day class assignment, Kline had her 25 students write cinquain poems to their mothers. The children, in turn, insisted that Kline write one for her mother, too, for their first Mother's Day celebration since 1986.
"Mother sweet, wise smiling, hugging, teaching many pearls of wisdom mama"
The American phenomenon of Mother's Day still takes some getting used to for Andrei and Victoria Lazarchuk, who moved to Sunnyvale from Belarus two years ago.
"No Mother's Day," Andrei Lazarchuk said. "We have International Women's Day instead, on March 8."
So on Sunday, "It's not a real holiday in our country," Andrei said. "It's just a nice weekend."
But Andrei still used the occasion of the American Mother's Day commemoration to snap photos of his wife holding their young son, Edward, in front of a background of roses.
"He's 7 months old," Andrei said.
Victoria, ever the mother, could be excused for correcting her husband on Mother's Day.
"He's 7 and a half months," she said.
For Tonya Shepherd, Mother's Day was a time to reflect, worry over an uncertain future and think about her own mother, Helen Vu, back in Orlando, Fla.
Being separated from her grandchildren, only to learn that her daughter has lymphoma 2,500 miles and a continent away, "has been really rough on my mother," Shepherd said.
But for one special Mother's Day, at least, Shepherd will have photographs and memories of her children laughing in the sun, embraced by their mother in a garden of roses.
As her son Reilly chased a stream of bubbles and his baby sister belly-laughed, Shepherd said, "These little moments go by so fast. I don't think I realized how much my own mother sacrificed."
Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.