Here's another excerpt from the story I'm writing about my mom's cancer journey.
She's had Multiple Myeloma (bone and blood cancer) since March 2011, nearly six years.
But this post is different.
Usually I share something long after we deal with it. Like the weird neck pain or the miraculous hip surgery and the way it changed our lives.
This one I'm sharing in real time.
This is really happening right now...
At 8:30pm the phone rang. It was Mom.
If I’d thought about it, I would have realized it was weird. She never called in the evening. And she especially never called without a reason. Somehow that didn’t even cross my mind.
“How are you doing?” She asked.
“Ah, whatever. Not that great.” I’d had a crummy day. My head had pounded half the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about Liz, and the wine wasn’t bringing the happiness it promised.
“Oh? Why is that?”
Before I could stop myself, I was describing what had been the hardest year of my life. “I was even thinking today, has it really been harder than the other hard stuff? Worse than returning home penniless to live with my parents? Worse than a nervous breakdown it took a year to recover from? Harder than leaving our church family? Yes. This is much more painful than all of that.”
In January I’d left a ministry I’d invested myself in for five years. Leaving was painful, I mourned the relationships, and wondered if anything I had ever done made any difference at all. Here, eleven months later, I still didn’t know what the point had been. That’s hard.
Three months later Liz died suddenly. I discovered her in her apartment, and the whole panicked 911 scene unfolded. We had both described our friendship as that of twins or kindred spirits. We were actually going to build onto our house so she would come live with us. Instead, that day, she died and was no longer in my life. I miss her a lot.
And Mom was dying. Slowly and painfully, cancer was eating her alive, hunching her and breaking her a piece at a time and I hated it. I hated cancer. I hated mortality. And I hated the helplessness of it all.
And that was only some of it...
“Wow, that’s a lot of stuff.” Mom said, “I wish you would have told me this sooner so I could pray for you. I knew you were down, but I didn’t realize how down or about what.”
A childish instinct rose up in me. Was this a guilt trip? I rolled my eyes and immediately felt sorry. What am I, twelve? As Mom continued, I decided to believe her. Maybe it was not a guilt trip, but simply her way of expressing how she wished we were closer. I could relate to that. I’d wished that for years too. I chose instead to be thankful she was verbalizing it. I hadn’t really verbalized it much. At least one of us was.
“You can call me anytime you know,” Mom said, “I already pray for you, but if you call and ask, I can pray more specifically.”
“It’s a two-way street though,” I said. “I don’t want to just be the one asking. You can share with me too. It should be mutual.”
We agreed to both share our hearts and prayer needs, but it sounded like I would have to initiate the call. Alright. I’d try.
After all of that, Mom got around to the reason she was calling.
She was in the hospital.
“Yeah,” Mom laughed. “Surprise.”
A blood test the day before had revealed high levels of a toxin, Creatinine, in her kidneys. Hospital staff called her in for a same-day kidney flush, which they would administer overnight.
“That should fix it, and then I’ll go home in the morning,” she said, relentlessly upbeat and optimistic, “But I thought you should know.”
The next day though, they discovered the kidneys had not responded to the treatment. She would stay a second night. I planned to stop by after dropping the kids at school.
“Too bad we can’t visit Grandma,” Ethan said as he climbed out of the van.
“Yeah.” I said.
“Say hi to her for me!” He said, and disappeared into the school building.
At the hospital I felt quite naughty visiting at nine in the morning, far outside of visiting hours. Would I get caught? What would I say? I tried to look confident as I walked through the halls, pretending I was supposed to be there. No one seemed to notice or care about my being there. I liked to think my plan had worked. More likely, no one really cared.
Arrived at room 212, I heard a male voice and then Mom’s voice. I waited in the hall until the staff was gone, and slipped into her room. I rounded the curtain to find Mom sitting on the edge of her bed with the hospital tray in front of her. Her hair was flat and askew and strangely sparse, and her arms were bruised from multiple blood tests and IV insertions.
Doctors had just been in, and she was still processing the news.
The kidneys didn't respond as well to the treatment as they'd hoped. As she'd hoped. She would be released by noon, but this was hardly the end. Actually, it seemed it would be the beginning.
Mom became wordless and stared a hole through her tray. I let the silence hang.
“My kidneys are failing.” She shook her head, perhaps in disbelief, perhaps in refusal of this new reality.
This was it. This was raw Mom. And I got to be here for it. I was so thankful to share this intimate moment with her. She hadn’t had time to get her head around this next phase in her long journey, so the discouragement and confusion were right there at the surface.
“Dialysis is next. I don’t know what the schedule will be, but I’ll probably go in two or three times a week…” She stared through the floor like people do who wonder, what now?
Dialysis was only done in Winnipeg, and hour away, and she would miss considerable amounts of work for it. Also, traveling back and forth that much and paying for parking every time gets expensive. And dialysis was a long-term problem.
Besides that, her body was failing. More. Again. Perhaps fatally. She'd seen people go down the dialysis road and knows it doesn't end well. Her friend was on dialysis. A man from her church had been on dialysis for years and had finally died the month before. It wasn’t a pretty path she would have to walk.
She looked around at her semi-private hospital room with its wall-hung machinery, metal night table, and IV stand, and held her arms out and shrugged. “This is going to be my life. In and out of here I guess.”
As she sat there feeling all the feelings of it, her eyes moistened. I sat on the bed next to her and held her long and firmly and didn’t let go as she sobbed softly into my shoulder. It was a precious, tender moment I was deeply glad to have shared with her.
It didn’t take long though, and Mom was back to joking and teasing. The jokes were more subdued and had an edge of sarcasm to them, but they were there.
The nurse came in to remove the IV and promise to release her soon. As the nurse carefully, attentively peeled the tape from Mom's arm, Mom leaned in and said, "Boo!"
That was weird, I thought. But the nurse didn’t even jump. She told us of how another patient had done that while she was changing the dressing on a wound in his chest.
“They say we're not supposed to yell at patients but..." the nurse joked.
“Well," Mom said after the nurse left, "You gotta make it fun. Some people are so very serious..." and she crunched her face in a sourpuss, "I'm too serious for life" face. I laughed, but wondered if she saw me as one of those people. Probably not. I did though. I’d known for years I was wound too tight for living.
By the end of the visit, Mom was smiling and saying how thankful she was to have visited her sister, my Aunt Judy, who was on the same floor. They'd had a fantastic, long-overdue visit and Mom had been blessed by their time together.
When I left, Mom and I hugged, and she assured me it would get better.
"As Liz put it, ‘it’ll get better one way or another'." I said.
I am grateful to my mom for allowing me to share this story - especially as it's happening.
That's a brave thing to do, and I appreciate the transparency.
If you're wondering how you can help, I'm pretty sure Mom would request prayer. It is the prayer of friends and family that has enabled her to get this far. She's the first to say that. (How else does one continue to work full time and walk / drive / sit / move when one has a completely shattered hip?! There is no other way. It was God-given strength.)