Last year I posted about trying to cope with my moms breast cancer recurrence. Four years ago my mother was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer. Less than three years after her diagnosis she recurred as Stage 4. She did not make the 5 year survival mark. If you look up Stage 1 Breast cancer on the American Cancer Society website, you will find this quote: "The 5-year relative survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage I breast cancer is close to 100%." Irony.
This last year has been spent with me trying desperately to treasure every moment while also trying to stop a boulder. I have made appointments, had family strategy meetings, endlessly researched and relentlessly picked the brain of her oncologist. I have tried to make moments out of every pause. I would often sneak away from my clinic to sit in the infusion room. We would watch soap operas and chat about bits of everything while I would chart. My mom worked from home for the last year, and I would occasionally spend my administrative time in her home office. We would gossip and look at shoes online while trying to work. These moments are some of the most cherished, just the two of us. Our family tried to band together. We reinstated family Sunday dinners. We all visited as much as we could manage. We organized family outings. We took advantage of all the grandparents days at the local museums and kids theaters. But many days were post chemo days or too much pain days, and on those days we just talked and sat.
Thanks to our move, my daughter got a full year of Grandma time. A year I pray she is old enough to remember and cherish. I will fight to make sure she doesn't forget. Their love for each other was magical.
My daughter was with us in the hospital intermittently up until my mothers death. On that final trip she saw something in our urgency to get back. She asked me, "Mommy, did Grandma's cancer get stronger than the chemotherapy?" In her pure and innocent love, she drew a final picture of Grandma holding all of our hands, each of us smiling. At our daughters request, we buried that picture with my mother. She said, this way we would always be with Grandma. I am continually in awe of the simple wisdom of children.
I have seen many people die. I have cried with families in the hospital. I have sat vigil in the unit trying to will patients back from the precipice. I saw the scans, I knew this was coming. But, there was no preparing for this feeling, for this moment. I have never felt this. I have no words for it. As I move past the initial shock I am just trying to exist in this new reality. I am trying to be normal because it's been a month and now people expect me to function and be "back." But I am still in phase 1 and I have no idea what to do. I am constantly searching for something...a memory, a piece of her jewelry, a picture, a video, anything to fill this chasm. I have filled my house with old purses and pictures and clothes and plates and spices and cakes she made from her freezer and each thing is like a single speck of sand. I talked to her every day. I texted her between cases. I dropped by to see her on the way home. What do I do with all of these things I would have told her, what do I do with all of these words that are words only for her. Who do I give them to, where do I put them. I re-read every e-mail from her. I started at the present and just kept reading until the e-mails ran out. This little journey just confirmed why she is so important to me. There were encouragements from every moment - before big operations that I was nervous about during residency, before interviews, presentations at conferences, client pitches from my finance days. She called me before EVERY SINGLE test in medical school. Somehow she never forgot a single one and she would call me on the morning of the test, making sure to wake up early (she was on central time and I was on eastern) in order to catch me before I left my room. She was my cheerleader. She believed in me unfailingly and with such purity it was impossible to not just believe her and strive to be what she saw in me.
I will end with this. I have been so moved by the outpouring of love in the final days of my mothers life and since her death. It has come from friends old and new. Friends who I haven't talked to in years but have reached out to me in a way that erases those years. New friends and colleagues have been there, supporting me in ways I didn't even realize I needed. Women I don't even know in Facebook mommy groups have sincerely reached out because they too have experienced the loss of a parent. These women have been a wall for me to lean against when I felt I couldn't stand. I am so grateful and thankful for this love.
Love is what feels most like my mother.