November 25, 2019

My Mom

Taken July 2019

Normally around this time of year I’d be sitting down to make a list of what I’m thankful for. And I could make up that list if I wanted to. Because the truth is, I can look back on this year and name beautiful moments that I wouldn’t undo or take back. I can name small moments in recent weeks that brought me joy. But this is also the worst year of my life and these last few months have left me in this constant state of trying to focus on the good and feeling unable to let go of my pain. My grief. So instead of pretending that I’m okay and that this Thanksgiving is like any other year by producing my usual “happy thoughts” list, I’m going to share what’s really on my mind.

My mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. But she was one of the “lucky ones” – they caught it very early, she immediately had a mastectomy, underwent chemo for year as a precaution, experienced none of the horrible side effects you hear about and went into remission. I knew she wasn’t cured but it felt like she had beat it, mostly unscathed, and aside from regular check-ups, she and the rest of us resumed normal life. Two years later, it came back. This time it was stage IV and it had metastasized, meaning it had spread. But again, her oncologist looked at us and said: “What does stage IV mean to you? It’s just a number, we can figure this out.” And she did. While the cancer never went away, it was under control. Going to chemotherapy every three weeks was just something my mom did to manage her illness, akin to a diabetic giving themselves insulin shots every day. She responded well to treatments, eventually moving from chemo to antibodies and hormonal therapy. Looking at her, you’d never know she was sick and it was easy to feel like this would just go on for the rest of her life because she was strong and healthy otherwise.

Then in January, we started to see physical symptoms of my mom’s cancer and we got the news that it had spread again. And more, this time to her bones and lungs. But instead of the oncologist’s usual confidence, she kept saying she was sorry and that she would try other treatments but she wasn’t sure if they would work. She wouldn’t stop saying sorry. My parents and I didn’t really grasp what that meant at the time. And I kept telling myself that her oncologist would be able to fix it like she had in the past. That I needed to be strong for my mom and tell her it would be okay. But as the months went on, nothing was changing with her prognosis and soon little things started to cause alarm. A wound that wouldn’t heal. Feeling tired easily. A stumble here and there. It wasn’t until mid-July when she had to be admitted to the ER for shortness of breath caused by fluid in her lungs that it began to hit me. What all this could mean.

I wasn’t in denial but I knew the best way for me to cope with this realization would be to do something. Anything. So I took over. I took over managing all her doctors appointments, especially when her team of medical professionals tripled. I learned how to do wound care from the hospital and went over to my parents’ house almost every day. I stayed overnight with her whenever she was admitted, whether it was a single night or a week (I’m pretty sure I drove all the nurses crazy with my hovering). I dealt with insurance and whatever else needed to be done. I just thought if I could take care of her and make her comfortable, then maybe it would give her doctors time to find a new treatment to try. I was still holding onto that hope. But then things just deteriorated so fast and I knew that even though her oncologist said she possibly had a year left, it was going to be less.

My mom passed away towards the end of September. I had been at the house the night before, had kissed her on the cheek and said I’d see her tomorrow. The next morning, my uncle called me saying he didn’t think my mom was breathing and that the paramedics were on their way. As I drove to the house I kept thinking “not yet, please not yet” but when I walked in and saw my dad's face, I knew.

It’s been two months since that day. After the funeral passed, all our cultural traditions were honored, thank you cards written and the paperwork completed, I’ve settled back into normal life but I don’t feel the same. Work is a good distraction, despite how unmotivating and frustrating it can be. My family and friends provide me with so much comfort and love. But I can’t stop the waves of sadness. I’ll go one week without crying and spend the next dissolving into tears almost daily at the most random moments. I’ll have a fun day out, only to go home and feel her absence. And it’s so hard to share that out loud. I feel this constant need to put on a brave face and grieve alone. But most of the time I just think about how much I want my mom right now and how I can’t believe she isn’t here.

It’s hard. In these last few weeks, I was caught up in the excitement of planning the holidays like I normally do. And whenever anyone wanted to talk about how sad Thanksgiving and Christmas would be this year, I didn’t want to hear it. Because I knew eventually I’d be feeling it. And I am. It’s just like my day-to-day, caught between finding moments of joy and struggling with the loss. But.. I do want to embrace happiness when I can because that’s what she would want for me. So I’m trying. I’m trying my best to remember every moment I had with her this past year and every year before and be thankful I had that time. Trying to remember that in the end she told me she wanted to go and find peace. And most of all, trying to learn how to co-exist with the happiness and sadness inside me.

5 comments

  1. <3 <3 <3 That's such a lovely photo of you and your mom. I'm so sorry for you loss and I totally understand wanting to take control. I'm glad you're still able to find moments of happiness through everything!

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  2. I don't really know what to write here but I wanted to comment. I am sorry that you had and have to go through this. I cannot imagine how this must feel. Your mum sounds like she was an amazing woman. I'm sending lots of love your way

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  3. I've already told you this, but I love you. I'm still so sorry for your loss, and I'm always here for anything at all you need that I can give <3

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