But I have my reasons for being late. For some reason it just felt important to spend the last two days being quiet with mom. Last year, at this time, mom and I were going through two of the toughest days of our lives. This year we sat around the house and vegged, which seems like a fitting way to celebrate this milestone.
Last year, on January 29th, mom had a double mastectomy. The weeks before that date were marked with fear and apprehension until finally the day we dreaded came. Mom didn’t want to let go of my hand as they took her down the hall to surgery. I didn’t want to let go of hers either, but I was trying to be strong and didn’t allow her to see my fear.
I wanted mom to be strong too and I knew if I got upset, then she would get upset too.
It was an endless day of waiting and trying to keep busy and cheerful with my aunt and friend Carol, who came through a snowstorm to sit with me. Other people in the surgical waiting room came and went, as we sat there and waited for the news that mom was OK to finally deliver us from our fear.
Unfortunately I was in the cafeteria when the surgeon came and I instantly knew it was bad, because he was there waiting for me when I returned. The surgery had been a success, but they’d found more cancer in lymph nodes. He had decided not to remove the other cancer at the same time, feeling that mom would recuperate more comfortably that way. We had no idea how long it would be until her next surgery or how quickly the cancer was progressing through her system.
Just the same, every reserve of strength that I had, vanished in that moment. I tried to speak, but nothing came out but sobs. Mom and I had thought/hoped that the mastectomy would be the beginning and end of our journey, but that was not to be. In that moment, I had no idea that we had months of surgery and cancer treatment in front of us. All I knew was that they’d found more cancer and that mom might possibly die, and that idea killed me.
My aunt also broke down, certain that my mom would do the same. I can tell you now that she never did, but in that moment, we had no idea what her reaction would be and it scared us even more. My aunt was also particularly upset that the surgeon had decided not to remove all of the cancer at once, but I told reminded her we had prayed for God to guide the hands of the surgeon and that we had to hope that he had answered that prayer. Now, one year later, I know that he did, but a year ago, all I had was faith.
But even with all the tears and fear, something beautiful happened. After they’d settled her into her hospital room, mom had the most beautiful look of love and relief on her face that I have ever seen. It both lifted my spirits. It also broke my heart, because I knew about the cancer. Even so, the expression on her face gave me hope.
The following day, it fell on me to tell her about the cancer. I had hoped that the surgeon would be there to help me, but it was a Saturday and he had floating rotations with the other surgeons on his team. I prayed as my aunt and I journeyed through the corridors of the hospital for the right words to say. Thankfully and miraculously, an elder from my place of worship had come to visit her. He helped me tell mom and she didn’t break down as my aunt had expected.
The rest of that weekend was filled with endless walks up and down hospital corridors, lack of sleep and monumental amounts of stress in the cramped hospital room mom shared with another patient. One of the nurses tried to give mom another patient’s toothbrush by mistake, and the surgeon never made an appearance until Monday to tell us that mom was doing better than expected.
He has redeemed himself since, but last year at this time, I was not happy with him at all. He discharged mom that day and that evening she was talking about making us all dinner. We didn’t let her, but the idea that she was feeling that lifted all of our spirits.
A few weeks after mom the mastectomy, she had her lymph nodes removed and thankfully, only a few of them had cancer cells. I can now understand why the surgeon held off on doing that surgery the same time as her mastectomy, because the pain afterwards was much, much worse. The rest of the journey you know. Then mom had chemotherapy, lost her husband of 51 years and radiation treatments for five and a half weeks after that.
It’s been a hell of a year, but mom continues to be my hero. Looking back, I don’t know how we made it. We took this journey one step at a time and we’re still on it.
By the way, mom is still cancer free and my anemia is fine. Mom and I are still on our cancer journey, but it’s definitely easier now than it was in the past. Sure mom has moments when chemo brain makes her seems spacey, but that’s to be expected. And I have moments where I have to remind myself not to be afraid, but we’re getting there, one step at a time.
So yeah, I didn’t write a blog post on the actual day. I hope you can understand why I made that choice. Mom and I needed to make her anniversary a regular, old boring day. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it.
I love you mommy.
I took this photograph of mom the summer before she received her cancer diagnosis. She’s a bit thinner now, but that beautiful smile is still there.