Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cancer’s not Funny – but My Mother is

Sometimes we’ve got to head over to the Powder Room to let the tears spill over.  And today’s one of those times, because, well, my mother is dying.

Correction, I can hear her saying.  I’m living.  A pragmatist at heart, my mom is well aware she’s facing an uphill battle that gets steeper with every passing moment.  But she’s quick to remind us she’s still here.  She’s living with Cancer – it’s a part of her; but she refuses to be defined by it.

I spent last week tending to my mama’s needs in body and spirit.  And I’m not quite certain I ever gave her enough credit for being the rock star she is. She’s handling this poignant chapter of her life with a graceful spirit and a steely will.  I attribute this to her unyielding faith, her gratitude for all she’s accomplished and been given, her fierce independent nature, and her sheer stubbornness. 

Cancer might just win the battle, but it’s losing the war.

Walking alongside my mother as she’s journeyed through Cancer has molded me in ways I didn’t exactly expect.  I’ve learned that well-meaning doctors sometimes have a hard time giving it to you straight.  That nurses (especially hospice nurses) are a different breed of people altogether – angels walking on earth.  That dying from Cancer can breathe new life into the days you’ve got left.  And that I had what it took to cope with bearing witness to my mother’s suffering without losing it – most days.

In the midst of my mother’s new limitations, I was given a gift – to care for her in the most intimate ways.  Just as she did for me when I was helpless.  I bathed her, prepared her meals – what she could eat, that is – changed her linens, held her hand, listened to her, prayed with her, cried with her, laughed with her.  I understand now the beauty of the circle of life, and while it was hard for me to leave my own children to care for my mother on the other coast, I hope they learned that this is how we care for family.

In the name of keeping it real, I should also mention I got annoyed with my mom a few times.  Like I said – her mind is still strong, and she barked orders at me a time or two when I was already a little frazzled.  But that was OK - she's earned the right to be a little cranky.  And I forgave myself for the natural mother /daughter tension that creeps up every now and again.  It made things seem normal - but forgiveness came quickly. Grudges seem a little silly these days.

I came to understand that while my mom can’t control what’s happening to her body – she still wants to control all that she can.  She wants honesty.  Answers.  She wants to make decisions on her own behalf, and she doesn’t want us to stop living our own lives waiting for hers to end.  She says that this is perhaps the final lesson she can teach us, to die with dignity, acceptance and character.  This is a woman who after all, suffered through 5 rounds of chemo - two from which she had toxic reactions that made her sicker than I want to tell you about - then bounced back enough to tackle the water-slide at Disney World.  (And let’s not forget humor.  She really loved when her best friend told my mother in all her post-chemo-bald-headed glory , “Well, Karen, we’re going to leave and get out of your hair now.)

And when my friend came to pick me up to take me to the airport, my mom took one look at the tears welling in my eyes, looked square into them and said, “Now scram.  I need to get some rest.” 

We all laughed.   And cried some more.  She is after all, my mom, and she still wants to make it OK for me, to blunt my pain.  And I’m just grateful for every day she’s here, teaching me, inspiring me, and even driving me a little crazy every now and again.