Have you a worst nightmare? A situation in life you know will happen one day, but you still try hard not to ever think about it? Keep it stuffed in a mental file drawer in the big file cabinet of the brain and hope it stays there in its little file folder at the back of the drawer, hidden in the dark? Mine is losing my mom, and though I knew 8 years ago this time was going to come, I tried to keep the drawer locked and shoved things in front of it so that file folder at the back of it would not surface.
Monday that file needed to come out, and the drawer flew open and the folder drifted down onto the floor of my brain and opened to the first page of the contents: The Beginning Of The End For Mom.
She has cancer of the appendix. I know, who the heck has heard of this and why is this even a thing? It was discovered about 8 years ago, when they thought she had appendicitis and her appendix appeared to have ruptured. I knew something was up when the surgery took a heck of a lot longer than it was supposed too. The doc simply explained it away as it took awhile to locate all the pieces and remove them. Okay, we can go with that, it made perfect sense at the time. Cancer was the furthest thing from our minds. But when she went for followup we learned that it had not ruptured but rather this cancer had basically eaten it for lunch.
What followed was surgery to remove anything that looked like cancer, part of her colon so that the microscopic cancer cells would be gone, then a chemo wash of her abdomen (super heated chemo in fluid form filling the abdominal cavity for 45 minutes in the hope of reaching all those little *&^%$# cells and killing them). I don’t know the actual cancer type but it is rare, and mom set out like the fighter she is to research it. That didn’t take long as there just isn’t much known, it is rare, weird and always terminal. Life expectancy once found 5 years. She found it early because after having beat breast cancer she pays attention to subtle changes in her body and something just wasn’t quite right. No pain, just a twinge at times. Being a cancer warrior who beat it, they watch for those things and thankfully did what was necessary to discover this little killing creeper.
She has had 2 more tumors that were surgically removed over the years. It keeps coming back like a bad headline over and over until it finally wins. The first time it returned, in surgery her femoral nerve was stretched and damaged, leaving her unable to use her leg at all when she woke up. NO feeling, unable to move it, she was unable to walk. Scared? Heck no, she was flaming pissed off! But that subsided 80-85% and she was walking again with physical therapy. She lost a lot of feeling in her leg but she could get back to work and she did. My mom is a trooper, a real warrior and nothing stops her easily.
The next round she all but threatened the surgeons lives, not that it was really anyone’s fault, that is where Pandora happens to have taken up residence, next to that nerve and close to her right hip. Oops, sidebar note here: my niece named this cancer Pandora, as once out of the box it isn’t leaving and sets off a series of most unwelcome events.
She has done chemo of all sorts, which have helped to shrink it at times, holding it at bay, but it always returns. She has suffered so many side effects from the various chemo rounds, lost her hair multiple times (comes back different each round too), neuropathy in her hands etc. that she has been through the war with this vicious little disease.
Last year we almost lost her to the side effects of a rather strong chemo her body couldn’t work with, she lacked an enzyme she needed to work with the chemo to fight the cancer. This year we tried again, only with all kinds of infusions of drugs and a lower dose of the chemo, which for a while kept it in check, there but not growing. But the chemo became too much and instead of 2 out of 14 days between treatments, she was 12 days of feeling like total hell. She tossed in the towel and said enough.
She was preparing to go on one more kind but the cost was through the roof, and odds only 30% it would hold back the growth of pandora for any amount of time. Her goal was one more Christmas with us, this last summer on the deck each day, see her 6th great-grandchild come into the world, one last birthday for mom. Tuesday’s test results ended that chapter short of the goals.
She has been having trouble, throwing every few days, some wretched looking stuff and tons of fluid. Then feeling okay again for a day or two, then repeat. She feared a bowel obstruction, which was a possibility as pandora grows and pushes her mean self into areas she shouldn’t have the right too. Monday she was admitted to the hospital, and Tuesday I was there for the scan results and that is precisely what has happened. Pandora is shoving her way through and causing a partial obstruction, that will become full blown soon. With an NG tube up her nose to drain the nastiness out of her gut so she stops heaving, mom and the doc discussed options. Basically it boils down to Hospice or no Hospice, the end has arrived. She and God are now writing the last few pages of the final chapter of the book of her life.
I was too shocked to be anything but numb. We thought we had one more Christmas, this final summer, time to find a smaller house, time for baby Elijah to come into this world and meet his Gigi.
After the doc left the room mom looked at me and said “don’t freak out.”. Oh no worries yet, I hadn’t processed enough for a freak out. Actually I didn’t ever freak out, it isn’t my way with something like this at all. I just got a bit misty eyed as the reality soaked in and the pain in my heart began to grow. When sis got there we told her, then when mom’s phone rang she and I left the room for a waiting room and the flood gates opened. After the initial water works we pulled it together and went back to her room to begin getting all those damn end of life ducks in rows.
That night we cried a lot, planned, cried, sipped coffee, and cried. My kids went up to see Gigi and then my son dropped by my house later with a letter he had written mom when he got home. He had some things he wanted to tell her but couldn’t have said them, he had to put it all in writing. She has that with her now.
My mom is the matriarch of our family. Top dog with grace, fearlessness, golden heart and more love than you can imagine. I mean, she is actively dying and is worrying about all of us and our lives, trying to help us! She has faced everything life throws at her with strength and dignity (yes she blows a gasket at times but somehow does that gracefully as well). She is our rock, the voice of reason, the family compass.
When I thought my divorce was the end of my world, my husband basically kicking me aside, it was the biggest gift of my life! I have spent the past 7 years living with my mom, getting to make memories with her and my sister and nieces. Working out every crisis with her wisdom and love. And coffee. When sh*t goes sideways in life, mom always made coffee. I can’t function in a hell storm without coffee now. In fact my sister and I came home Tuesday night and made coffee because that is what mom would do. Yes we drank it. My past 7 years has been such an amazingly, wonderful blessing! But now it has to end.
I’m lost. I’m numb mentally. I’m in shock. I’m in such horrible pain inside. I do not know how to do this!!!! On this road of life we walk with others next to us. As the road goes along, they sometimes go off on another path nearby, but they are still parallel to ours and we still chat etc through the trees and flowers. But along that path are gates that lead to eternity, and each gate has a name on it. And when that person arrives at their gate, there is no more path in front of their feet, they must enter through that gate. And once through and that gate closes, we can no longer see them. The gate locks and fades away leaving only our memories to carry with us. Mom’s gate is now in view, the end of the path is there in front of us and the gate is swinging open. Soon she will say good bye and go through the gate, and it will close and vanish, taking her with it to the other side. And I cannot begin to imagine how I’m supposed to take the next steps and continue down this path of my life without her.
I’m not angry with God, my Abba has blessed me so much. In fact, the only thing I know to do is curl up in His arms, let His Word wash over me, and seek comfort from Him. These next few weeks all I can do is cling to Him and know that He is in control of all of this, and that mom will soon be with Him.
Me, Mom, and Sis