Mom battled cancer like a rock star. Very few people knew about it for the year and a half that she was sick. People surely speculated about the changes in her appearance and her out of the norm absences from work, but she never let on to what she was going through. She said she was going to do it her way and that everyone needed to respect that. She didn’t want to be brought down by people staring at her or constantly asking how she was doing. She wanted to focus on living, not on the disease or feeling sick. She didn’t want people’s good intentions to bring her down.
I, on the other hand, wanted to tell the world. I wanted people to know so they could enjoy her, so they could help her, so they could bring more happiness to her life. I wanted people to have the opportunity to learn from her – the signs and symptoms, the screening, the treatments. It took a village to raise a child and at least that many to help a patient and his/her family go through cancer. I’d been through this before with four other people I loved. Why didn’t she get it, I thought? Well, quite simply it didn’t matter what I thought. She was the sick one. She was the one who was to go through treatments. She was calling the shots. We were to keep the cat in the bag. Non-negotiable. Period.
That came from the lady who drove off in her BMW z4 after chemotherapy, sporting her wig as she drove off with the top down. I could help but laugh and cry at that site.
When she broke the news to me about her diagnosis, I was in shock. “I have cancer. I’m going for radiation and then surgery. The doctor is optimistic.” That’s the gist of what she said. Huh? That’s it? I fired away with my questions: What kind of cancer. When did you find out? Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Who else knows? My mind was reeling. The four others lost their lives to cancer and they were tough, tiring battles. Each so different. I wanted more information than she was giving me. I needed everything I could get my hands on so that I could do research and figure out how to make her better. Surely I could help figure out how to save her. I had to do it. I had to find the right doctors and facilities. I had a job to do and I didn’t have time to acknowledge my feelings or cry. Or, maybe that was just me trying to cover up the fear. I might have thought that crying would be equivalent to giving in. Maybe it was all of the above and the fact that I thought mom would outlive me.
Mom had always been physically and mentally strong. She rarely ever got sick. I was the one who was always in the doctor’s office so why wasn’t I the one with this dreadful disease? She was the one who went out and did things – and wanted to live. I just, well, sort of existed. It didn’t make sense. She deserved her life because she made better use of it.
Little did I know that this experience would restore me. It would breathe new life into me and set me down a path quite different from the one I had been on. Steve Jobs was right. Death is life’s change agent. Not just for the dying, but also for the people around them.
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” Steve Jobs