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.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
A biopsy (FNA, not core) of some recent parenting moments.
I have three children, ages 8, 8, and 2. My 8 year olds (girl/boy twins) are about to start 3rd grade next month which makes me feel really old--how did this happen already?! I feel like I was just waddling around HUGELY pregnant, then swaddling them, nursing them, rinsing off binkies dropped on the floor for the millionth time, changing their diapers, having delirium from the sleep deprivation, and all of that goodness and badness. And now we're talking about Big Issues In The World like homelessness, what is a mortgage, why Donald Trump is "not a nice man" (ok, so we're not subtle in our liberal tendencies. We're a West coast gay multiracial family, duh!), why it's better to compost food waste than throw it away, and on..and on. And last week my daughter saw a license plate frame that said "Army Mom" and asked me "Mom, are there any wars going on in the world right now?". What a heartbreaking and innocent question. Cue a conversation about war and conflict in the world, presented at an 8 year old level.
When did parenting suddenly get so complicated for our home? Does anyone just want to read a board book? Sing a song? Wrestle? Be totally oblivious sometimes?! And with two elementary school students, we're now entering into questions about the human body. And these questions usually come up either at dinner or at bedtime (of course).
The other night as I was putting my son to bed I reminded him that he realllllly needed a bath the next day (man, boys can be so DIRTY! Summer boy feet, oh wow); I also asked him if he was still retracting his foreskin while in the tub, to make sure he was cleaning himself properly-such a mom question. It truly astounds me that an 8yo child can get out of the bathtub after having "bathed" as dirty as when s/he went IN. He asked me "Why do I have to pull it back?" and I explained that for boys with foreskins, it's important to retract/clean because blah blah blah. He then says, incredulously "You mean SOME BOYS DON'T HAVE FORESKINS?!". Oh. I guess we never really talked about that specifically--never had a need. So there we were at 9:00 at night discussing circumcision, why we didn't circumcise him, whether most boys are circumcised (around here I think it's 50/50 for new births), penis growth (he said he thought his was "fully grown" by now....um...no, honey...it's not. So we did a bit of teaching there) and so on. It was hysterically funny, all in all.
And at the end of the conversation, my little man, being the budding biologist that he is (his obsession is mostly birds, so ornithology is actually his first love) also reminded me that foreskins are also important because they protect his penis from bad weather, bacteria, and insect bites. Oh right, but of course...
Until the next bedtime,