(Kris Kristofferson reference)
(Part 5 on dying…. much of this repetitive, I’m afraid.)
My mom was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in 1974 -75. I happened to be in college, my freshman year, when this all went down. My dad called to give me the news. I took it on a public phone in the lobby on my dormitory floor, among the vending machines and guys goofing off and screaming and yelling. The usual, back then.
No one in my family had ever even gone to college at that point, much less graduated. My very presence at Virginia Tech, I learned only years later, was something of a prestigious thing for my parents.
I was advised to stay in school, that my mom would be fine. And that turned out to be right. Later I would see the scars: it looked like they took a chainsaw to her, to be honest with you; but I would never know what the rest of my family went through during that arduous journey. I was insulated by college and I am certain that mom and dad both wanted it that way.
We were a Navy family, and the Navy did the work on my mom. I’m not saying the Navy doesn’t do good work. Hell, the main guy on my head/neck surgery was former Navy. I am only saying that maybe in 1974 they had limited tools. I am only saying that while civilian surgeons were using scapels, they were using chainsaws.
That is unfair to them, I am sure. I am still fairly embittered about how my mom came out of that. Amazingly, it didn’t seem to faze her.
Bear in mind this woman had grand mal epilepsy by the time I was born, and that she was mother to five others over the next 10 years or so. Bear in mind that she raised us on a sailor’s paycheck, and that while she did, he was often far away at sea. She had to raise four boys and two girls virtually by herself for half of each year back in the day, and we thrived on Puffed Wheat and tomato soup when we had to.
She could hit you with a plastic hairbrush in the back of the head as you tried to run out the door from thirty feet away. She was a ninja before her time. She had to be. What other defense did she have? Telling us that our dad would hear about it when he got home, well, she tried that, but we scoffed: how could she remember every bad thing we’d done by the time he got home? Of course, there were other reasons why she would forget about our shenanigans when he got home, but we were not privy to them. You get my point, I hope.
She had to be tough to raise us, and she was. She made us tough by extension. She could not always be there for any one of us, because she had two or three or four or five others, depending on the year, to look after as well. So we had to fend for ourselves on occasion. Want to play baseball? Sign yourself up. That sort of thing. I honestly know that my mom, in particular, made it to a game or two over my years of playing, but I mostly did it all on my own, and I do not blame her a bit.
How I went there, I don’t know. Fast-forward 20 years or so, and my family is packing to move from the town where mom and dad live, moving closer to wife’s mom and dad. It is, as I acknowledge, her turn.
We are advised right at this moment (we should never move) that my mom has ovarian cancer.
She insists that we continue with our plans, and visions of 1974 come back to me, when I was not there, when they wanted me to do what was best for me.
This time, it is really my choice, and there is really no choice. The house is packed away, the new place is paid for and waiting, the new job for wife is there (I will seek work when we get there, while continuing to make money as private contractor).
We must move. And she wants us to.
And so we do.
We know nothing about cancer. Even if my mom had breast cancer, I never looked into it for some reason. There was no internet to speak of, but that is no excuse. I simply never looked into it. And now, I know nothing of ovarian cancer. I am more aware of cancer and its effects. I have seen my mom in a bathing suit after all. But I do not know an ovary from a canary. I can make kids but I cannot describe how I do it, at least not so that a medical journal would accept it :).
I do not know that ovarian cancer is lethal. Hell, I did not know that breast cancer was lethal. But, apparently, neither did my mom.
This time proves to be a bit more difficult. After 20 years, her BC has returned, and has invaded her brain. So while she is battling the ovarian, it is also in her sweet, sweet, loving brain.
I did not know this at the time, no one did. But we learned.
I am not the fighter that she was. But I am pretty sure I got my sense of humor from the mix of her and dad. He was the one to tell the straight up jokes, and she was the one to say things that didn’t seem to make sense until you thought about them. Okay, I’m lying…she couldn’t tell a joke if you gave it to her in Braille. But she tried. And somehow she made people laugh down at the old cancer joint. She bet on the Cowboys, bet with the docs, I’m saying, and would come in to collect when she had chemotherapy or radiation or whatever they were doing that day.
And they would laugh and give her the dollar she’d won :). That, by the way, is some good caregiving by some good docs and nurses :).
Her husband, by the way, was a wealthy man, my dad, that is. That dollar was a treasure to her, to be sure, but it was not like she needed it for cat food. No. It was what she did, what they did, to keep it light. That was my mom. And, to their credit, that was them.
My mom decided that she was going to see my daughter graduate. High School, I guess it was. Dad rented a big mobile home, one of those with cameras in the back so that you can see when you are going in reverse, just a beautiful piece of moving living space, and they came to see us, picking up my brother and his wife along the way.
We had a memorable time for a lot of reasons. I do not remember my mom seeming frail, probably because she had always seemed that way to me, in one sense, because of the epilepsy.
I do not know how long it was after they got home that my dad called to say it was time for me to come home, that my mom was dying. I rented a car and took my family down to Texas, and there my mom was on the back patio, beside the pool, cool as a cucumber and waiting for us happily.
How much of that was bravado and image, and putting on a show for us? I do not know. But for the time we were there, time we expected to be involved with funeral arrangements, to be honest, she was fine.
It is amazing what people can do, I tell you, to get to something, to have something, that they truly want. My wife is a nurse, and she tells me that all the time, how amazing it is that people can live to some focus point before they decide, it seems, to pass on.
So it was, it seems, with my mom.