In August of 2006, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I was at the movie store with my boyfriend and our 4 month old daughter when I got a phone call from my aunt. I had to stand outside because I couldn’t hear her inside. As I stood in the wind with one ear plugged, huddled so she didn’t hear the gusting through the line, she told me my mother was in the hospital fighting for her life. I couldn’t believe it. In shock, I think, I asked her question after question.
My most important question: “What happened?” She went to the ER with abdominal pain, which turned out to be a tumor pushing on her internal organs. She was in multiple organ failure and had to be wheeled into surgery immediately. They only had time to get contact information for my grandparents before she was under and being cut open. They had removed what they could, put her on dialysis and a colostomy bag, and told my grandparents to come as soon as they could. They were 4 states away.
Against the odds, my mother survived the massive surgery which left her with no large intestine, no reproductive organs, and one barely functional kidney. My grandparents packed her home up, leaving behind precious memories and beloved family pets in the process, to try to get her back to their home before another rent payment was due. A few days after they finished packing, my mother was declared stable enough to transport and made the several hour flight away from the only state she had ever called home.
Practically an invalid for months, she relied completely on my grandparents for everything. I was unable to get down to see her, despite impassioned pleas to everyone I could think of, including my and my mother’s previous employer, for a loan. I just needed a plane ticket. A simple fucking plane ticket. $300 that our family couldn’t afford without shutting off the gas in the middle of a Michigan winter. What if she had died in that hospital? Or the months just after? The doctors hadn’t given her much chance, and I couldn’t get a lousy $300 loan to go see her.
How could things get so fucked up so fast? I’d just seen her! She came up after our daughter was born, twice, because soon after she left the first time I needed gallbladder surgery. She may not have been a poster-girl for perfect health, but she wasn’t DYING! How could two months make such a difference? And why the hell couldn’t I get someone to give me a fucking hand up so I could go see one of the most important people in my life when they were practically one foot in the grave?!?!
By the time I finally got to see her, she had mostly stabilized and was started on chemo so the tumors wouldn’t start growing again and really do her in this time. It was a calculated risk: if they started it too soon, and she couldn’t handle literally injecting poison into her body, she died. If they waited too long, the extremely aggressive tumors could grow right back and totally kill her internal organs, if they didn’t starve her of essential nutrients first. Rock, meet hard place. Fuck me.
But she survived. Against all odds – and often stupefying her doctors – she lived. She bulled through that surgery, her recovery, chemo, and eventually radiation as well. And in the end? She kicked cancer in the balls, hard. Her very last oncologist appointment gave her an official diagnosis of remission. Three months later, she died. The treatment(s) had left her with an inability to absorb vital nutrients.
But even as she lay dying, she had the satisfaction of knowing she had won.
She might be dying, but she’d taken the big C with her, kicking and fucking screaming. I’m proud of you, Mom.