“Why aren’t you eating?” my mother said to me, her Yonkers accent blaring into the otherwise hushed Chinese restaurant. A 77-year-old Italian-American hairdresser who believed that almost all problems could be solved with a pile of spaghetti and meatballs, she viewed my lack of appetite as a warning flare. “I’m fine,” I said. “My sesame chicken just has an odd pepper flavor.” She flagged down our waiter. “My son can’t have spices,” she said, “because of his leukemia.” Though I had survived cancer as a young boy, I now risked dying of embarrassment.

At 40, I had grown accustomed to my mother’s overprotectiveness. From an early age, I understood that as her youngest child of four, and the only one to endure a life-threatening condition, she and I would always be bound by love and fear.

I accepted the way she would smear sunscreen all over me at the beach, even well into my teenage years. And I didn’t put up a fight when she insisted on chaperoning my elementary school trips or walking me to class on my first day of college.