July 20, 2017
We’ve all had them, haven’t we? The phone call or we-have-to-talk talk that flips your world around. Unfortunately, with my cynical nature and experience, I am wont to panic as soon as anyone wants to tell me anything. And when your mom is being treated for breast cancer and you are about to close on a crucial refinance that has been full of hiccups, one might be especially jumpy, mightn’t one?!
The whole breast cancer thing started back in March. My mom, who is a teacher, was on spring break. She did what any awesome grandmother would do and invited each of my children to an individual time with her and my dad. One evening, we had spent some time together at their house and we were heading out to go home. She pulled me aside.
“Sarah, I’m having an ultrasound on Friday. They found something on my mammogram and they want to check it out.”
Now, I knew they had found something on the mammogram because we had talked about it earlier that week. At that time, she had dismissed it, referencing another incident where “finding something” was nothing more than human error on the part of the tech administering the test. This time, the gravity in my mom’s voice put me on immediate alert.
On the short trip home, my overthinking brain immediately went into overdrive. One thought dominated the others: I’m not ready for my mom to die! Given the nature of human life, losing your mom is bound to happen. Being the sort of person that I am, I often try to prepare myself emotionally for losses in my life. Does the preparation pay off? No- and I don’t recommend it!
Once we got home, I was standing inside the front door when a positive thought finally pushed its way through. Even if- worst case scenario- she DOES have breast cancer, that doesn’t mean she will die soon. I could breathe a little better.
The next morning I called my mom up and told her I would come with her and my dad to the ultrasound. I had to bring my nursing baby. My poor dad was recovering from a knee replacement surgery a week or two before. We were a sorry little bunch, each in our own little sphere of trepidation, but we were together and that helped me at least.
You see, this wasn’t the first time our family has gone through this. When I was just a freshmen in high school, my mom had breast cancer. We had gone through the whole rigamarole; waiting for the next test or the results of tests, the treatments that seemed to go on forever, the sickness, the fatigue, the hair loss… but in the end, she had emerged victorious. Bruised, battered, down a body part, but alive.
Other loved ones in our family, however, have recently left us alone here on earth while they joined the glory of heaven. My aunt- my mom’s sister-in-law- had died just about one year before, after her breast cancer returned. She had been an integral part of our lives; I can’t even walk into one room of our house where I don’t see evidence of her generosity and influence. Another aunt, my dad’s sister, had died of lung cancer about two months later. She was also very dear to me. These losses were still very fresh in our hearts when we made our way up to the breast cancer center.
I’ll leave the rest of the details for another day, but in the end, my mom did have breast cancer again. She did twelve weeks of chemo (and let me tell you, they have come a long way in being able to manage chemo side effects since the first time she went through it almost 25 years ago!). This past Monday she had an MRI to find out how effective the chemo had been, but we thought we wouldn’t know results until her oncologist visit today.
Remember when I mentioned getting that phone call or “Let’s talk”? When I answered the phone yesterday morning, it was my mom. As she began to tell me that her doctor’s office had called, she started to choke up and couldn’t continue for a few seconds that seemed more like a few minutes. Panic mode was setting in. But then…
“Sarah, the cancer is completely gone!”
And just like that, the panic subsided and was replaced with joy.
Here’s the thing. As a Christian, my own death is not something I fear. I have had friends and loved ones die, and to be honest, sometimes there has been a longing to be them. They get to experience the utter perfection that is living in God’s pure, unadulterated presence. They have shed the worries and cares and trivialities that are part of life here, while we are left to struggle on with a gaping hole in our life. I don’t mourn on their behalf, I mourn for myself and the other loved ones who have to keep going without them. It will be a great celebration to join them someday. For now, I am so grateful to have my mom alive and with me for the time being. Yesterday- and every day really- are days to celebrate the precious time that we have together. Life can be taken in an instant or after a long drawn out battle and I’ve experienced both. I have close friends whose mothers are gone either physically or through debilitating illness, and I see their pain. My heart aches for them. Today I am so thankful for the gift of more time with my mom.