October 25, 2009
5 years ago today…
I have heard it said that the healing comes when you tell your story, and so it is for purely selfish reasons that I am telling mine. Healing… what is that anyway? It’s such a neat and tidy word, and really I hate using it. After 5 years it sure looks a lot different than I thought it would, but then again I guess that when wounds heal the big ones often leave scars.
Life was pretty blurry in the weeks heading up to the day I refer to in my mind as Black Monday. The Saturday night before, my not quite 3 months old son had just slept through his first full night. Being sleep deprived was only part of it, I also did not want to admit to the post partum depression that had wrapped its tentacle around me and had stolen me to a dark depth. After all I had just given birth to a beautifully perfect son, I had 2 great daughters, and a wonderful husband who loved me very much. I was living a real live Cinderella story. I was supposed to be happy and I was worried about that.
I had spent the weekend being the nurse to my husband who had just had a minor surgery. My two older daughters were at my mother’s house so that I could take care of my ‘boys’. We watched the 2nd game of the World Series that day. There was magic happening at Fenway Park and the entire country was under the spell. The Boston Red Sox were well on their way to making World Series history and breaking the famed “Curse of the Bambino”. They were looking for a miracle, and by the time I went to bed that night I would be too.
At some point in the weekend my dad brought the girls home. I called my mom to thank her for having them and she reported to me that she had been so sick during their visit that it was a relief to have them there to help her out. I remember worrying about this because she had been sick a lot lately and that just wasn’t like her. There had been a lot of discussion about her frequent stomach pain and nausea and what she should do about it. She had been tested up one side and down the other, poked, scoped, and scanned. Nothing was showing up and we were all getting concerned.
Later that evening my mom called to tell me that she was going to go to the Emergency Room. Her thinking was that if she went to the ER with a presenting persistent pain, the doctors there wouldn’t let her go until they figured out what the problem was. She was desperate and had to find the answer. When I hung up the phone, even though it was getting late, I set about the house cleaning. I had this intuitive feeling that I needed to get a good cleaning in because I might not have the opportunity to get it done again for a while. I was almost done vacuuming and was planning on calling it a night when the phone rang again. It was my dad. He seemed calm and said they were going to be doing some further tests on my mom and that they would be keeping her all night. I asked him if he wanted me to come to the hospital and keep him company. He said no and we hung up. Before I could get the vacuum put away the phone rang again. This time it was my mom. She spoke quickly and urgently in a hushed voice. She said, “Please come now, there are spots on my liver.” I told her I was on my way.
I went to the hospital alone that night. It was now close to midnight and not practical to tote 3 kids and a recovering husband out that cold and foggy October night. Besides, in the 15 minutes it had taken me to drive to the hospital I had solved the worst-case scenario with one word: Transplant. A person can live on a donated liver. I was her daughter, I’d be a match, I’d donate part of mine, and we’d both live to tell about it. Solved. It wouldn’t be easy, certainly inconvenient, but we’d manage. Everything would be fine… and with that pep talk, I entered the Emergency Room.
I don’t remember how I ended up at her room, but I remember entering the tiny observation room. She was alone and with her eyes closed. There were IV bags hanging and machines flashing numbers and wavy lines, and I assumed she was sleeping. As I walked to her bedside and took her hand, she looked up at me. In that moment that our eyes met I knew she was trying to tell me something no mother ever wants to tell her adoring child. She didn’t say anything as I draped my body over her chest and began to cry. I knew I had just walked in to my worst nightmare.
A few moments of silence went by before we found our way to the difficult conversation we needed to have. She told me how the doctors had discovered several “spots” on her liver and how no one was being very specific, but every one was acting very urgent. At some point I became aware of the gentle and steady presence of my dad in the room. He knew I had kids to get off to school in the morning and an infant to attend to, so he urged me to go home and get some sleep. They would have some of her test results back by the morning and we would need our rest in order to make decisions regarding her treatment. Everyone was being very careful not to use the “C” word yet. I left that night still unsure of exactly what was wrong with her.
On the way home my mind drifted to a memory of a shopping trip I had made a few years earlier. I was at the mall shopping for a purse at Meier and Frank. It was a rare shopping trip because I was alone and as I often do when I’m alone, I was people watching as I shopped. In front of me was a large table full of purses that were neatly set out in rows according to size and color. Across the table from me, shopping for just the right hand bag was a very stylishly dressed woman who looked to be around her 70s. She was taking various styles of purses and trying them out in front of a full-length mirror. Eventually she found a nice one and turned to her shopping partner and asked her what she thought of it. The other woman wasn’t pleased with the bright color of the red purse and suggested a more practical brown. Well, this just frustrated this woman and she turned to her friend and said something like, “Mother, we just have different taste in color. I’m getting the red one!”
It was the word “Mother” that really caught my attention, and I smiled and silently chuckled as I pictured myself in that same situation some day with my own mom, who had me at 19. I just knew that was going to be us one day. In my mind was a picture of my mom, who regularly told me (and anyone else she thought should know) that she was going to live to be 100, and me, her geriatric sidekick! We were well on our way to those days because we already enjoyed each other’s company very much.
I cried myself to sleep that night feeling more afraid than I had ever felt in my entire life.
After a few hours of fitful, tearful sleep I woke to the realization that the night before was not a terrible dream, but in fact an unfolding reality. In a fog, I sent my daughters off to school, my husband off to work, and took my son with me to the hospital to learn about what the overnight tests revealed about my mom’s health. I arrived to my mother’s new hospital room, stroller and baby in tow, to find my mom in her hospital bed, surrounded by several people. Some were new faces, doctors, nurses, and some were familiar, a couple of her friends and one of the church pastors. It was among this sea of people that the “C” shot was fired. It was as if her words were shot from a loaded pistol. “It’s Cancer. They can’t take it out. It’s everywhere.”
I wanted to dissolve. I wanted to push everyone out of the room. I wanted push the rewind button and search for the moment this dreaded disease invaded her body. I wanted anything but this moment! Again the wave of fear gripped me and I felt paralyzed. This time I didn’t cry. I sat down at a chair next to her bed and watched as the universe whirled around her. I was numb.
It wasn’t at all like I thought it would be, to hear those words, “It’s Cancer.” I thought there would be an immediate mobilization of the troops. I began to think of questions that there appeared to be no answer to. The answers were things like, “We’ll know more after a test/surgery/procedure.” When will she have that test/surgery/procedure? “In a few days…” Nothing was immediate… I kept picturing the ticking time bomb inside her body and wondering when MacGyver was going to show up with his pack of rubber bands and paperclips and save us? Do these people really know what they are doing? Why is this going so slow, don’t they know my mother’s life is on the line here?
I don’t really remember the rest of that day. I know that the words, “Terminal” and “Hospice,” were used, but by that point I was unable to comprehend what those things meant for me. When I left the hospital that day I felt angry that the rest of the world hadn’t ground to a halt because my mom lay in a hospital bed, a victim in the War on Cancer. In fact life didn’t slow down and it certainly didn’t stop. By Wednesday, October 27, 2004 the Boston Red Sox had won the World Series shutting the Cardinals out in 4 games. I was praying for my miracle too.