I wish this blog post would reach billions of eyes in shock, sadness and horror, but it won’t. Nothing new or earth-shattering for the masses. It’s just another post that joins too many others with the same story line: Cancer taking over a loved one’s life (literally & figuratively). That loved one in my world? My Mom.
I said, “You’re talking about “NoMo” and “Phoenix”…and your service, right?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Your (SMAC!) monkeys wouldn’t miss it for the world, Mom,” I said. “They have been part of the plan since the beginning and they are going to hike up Squaw Peak (Piestewa Peak) with me. Your quilt will be part of it too.”
“I should have known you would have already thought of all of that,” she said.
Then, she said, “I just think you should make sure all of my plans are taken care of.”
Wait….what? My Mom has NEVER said this to me before. Never.
We have talked off and on over the years about her wishes: Her ashes to be spread over Squaw Peak (we still call it that out of habit); and for two specific songs to be played: Taken Care Of by Winfield’s Locket and Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.
I have asked her many times if she wanted a service at her church in Phoenix and/or in Gothenburg, Nebraska (where my brothers and I were raised). She never really ever gave me a straight answer. It was usually, “Oh, whatever you think is best or want to do.” However, this time my Mom was direct.
“I would like a service at my church here. It’s called Palo Cristi Presbyterian Church. We have an interim pastor right now.”
Whoa! What does all of this mean…this, this urgency? Is this a sign my Mom is coming to terms with the whole “terminal” part of her cancer? It’s been seven long years of lung cancer mercilessly trying to take her down (No, she never smoked. You don’t have to smoke to get lung cancer). She has consistently fought back with the same viciousness, but with unbelievable grace and dignity. Try that for an oxymoron.
Is this a cue that my Mom can sense the end may be near…or that she may have to determine that fate? Is she “coming to peace” with the outcome, regardless of what leads her to it? Is it a combination of everything? I don’t know. Part of me is relieved to hear her talk so openly about it, perhaps reaching some state of acceptance. The other part of me is immeasurably sad, obviously.
One thing I do know, Mom’s upcoming scan is causing probably the worst “scanxiety” she has ever experienced. I completely understand why.
Mom’s scan will reveal whether or not the Tarceva’s she’s been taking is working. This is a biggie, as radiation is no longer an option, blood clots continue to pose a big threat, she’s Stage IV, and if the Tarceva isn’t working, what next? That is the bazillion dollar question. What next?
OK, let’s say the Tarceva is working. Yay…right? In my opinion, yes and no. My Mom feels like absolute hell and has for far too long (again, in my opinion). She is so very tired. Just so tired.
Seriously, how much can one human body take of treatments to keep the cancer at bay, but still suffer from the awful side-effects? Seven years of fighting to remain on this earth to what…be confined to the couch, in pain, beyond fatigued, skin flaking everywhere, nauseous, no veins left to prick and constantly out of breath? Fighting like hell and not be able to take part in even the simplest of pleasures, like grabbing your grand kids and getting ice cream; having some of your closest friends “retreat” because it’s just too painful for them; feeling unimaginable loneliness and isolation? The list goes on and on, believe me.
To be completely honest, I don’t know how she has carried on this long. I really don’t. I have to re-share one of my favorite quotes from a good friend and fellow cancer survivor, Bob LeDrew. I think he probably sums up my Mom the best:
“I have a new favorite cookie. It’s the Leslie. It’s the toughest one I’ve ever seen.” – Bob LeDrew
Certainly the toughest cookie I’ve ever encountered – harder than molasses and ginger snaps combined. Wanna crack your teeth and your jaw? Just try getting a piece of my Mom, stupid cancer.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), I’m seeing bits of crumbs here and there…and more of them now. No, my Mom’s not giving up or giving in. I think her heart, mind and body may just be softening a bit – coming back to the surface, if you will. I think that “fight, fight, fight” mentality can kick into overdrive for too long, leaving one’s soul and spirit virtually empty. This isn’t sustainable, either, in my opinion. I think my Mom has (and can) finally taken a deep breath (as deep as she possibly can) and is listening – wholeheartedly and voluntarily listening to her innermost needs…finally.
I have to say, a few days before my Mom called, I had been walking by a box in my bedroom (that’s been unopened for months) feeling a strong urge to finally check it out. A group of amazing friends sent me a video camera that I can wear as I’m hiking up Squaw Peak, with “Phoenix” and “NoMo” in tow, where we’ll take my Mom to her final resting place…together. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to open the box, unwrap the camera, read the instructions and then give it a try. No, it just seems all too wrong. Too premature. Too real.
A few months ago, I started going through old family photos to create a slideshow. I selected about 20 pics one night and my girls asked me what I was doing. “Oh, just going through some pictures, you know. ” I have been very open and honest with my daughters about grandma being sick, why it makes me sad and what the outcome will be…someday. But, again, this “proactive” memorial service organizational stuff feels uncomfortable to me. I have many, many plans in my head, and have for a long time, but to actually put them into motion before they are needed? Tough, “Leslie Cookie,” tough, but it’s gotta get done. And it will.
Yes, I literally created a Pinterest board titled, “Planning Mom’s Memorial,” where I can pin all details in one spot. May sound macabre to some. For those who know me, not so much. This is my normal. OUR normal. Open. Honest. Telling my Mom’s story through social media to create change – and Pinterest is highly functional. Wow, a two-for one package deal. The title of the board may make some do a double-take or feel a bit uncomfy. My condolences in advance.
I am happy that we will be able to hold the kind of service my Mom has hand-picked, but I’m not completely sold on the “It’s a blessing you have all this time to prepare” thingy. Look, I’m not even the one who actually has cancer and I’m exhausted. I’m so tired of seeing my Mom suffer. I cannot even imagine how my Mom feels. Cannot. Even. Imagine.
Purely from my perspective, here’s how I can best describe what it’s like living from scan to scan: Looney Tunes…literally. Like Wile E. Coyote running around with an anvil ready to drop on my head at any second…and ACME the very next second. The weight, hanging down on every morsel of my body is indescribable: Anxious. Relieved. Angry. Confused. Nervous. Tired. Optimistic. Hopeful. Anxious. Realistic. Hopeful again. It’s not odd to experience all of these emotions in one single day. Now, imagine riding this emotional Tilt-A-Whirl for seven years…and being the one with cancer.
I don’t know what all of this means. I just know I had to write about it. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic whatsoever. I’m just conflicted, but not an ounce as much as my Mom has to be. Her peace of mind and body is the priority. I want to help her achieve that in any way possible.
Mom and I made a pact: We would share her story – all of it – to create change for this dreaded disease. And, her story will NEVER end. It will continue to be told as long as I’m alive and as long as Squaw Peak still stands.
It’s not easy. It’s damn tough. “Leslie Cookie” tough…with bittersweet chocolate added.