Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mom Sings

Been a while, and though I think of Mom daily I haven't had much to say about it, until today.
I have a cassette tape that my Brother and I recorded on when we were little kids.  You can hear my mom talking in the background on some parts and then there is a little part where she sings, " a mockingbird in a windy tree. And that ain't no place for me. Been there one time, been there two times, been there three times more than I care to be. But we're gonna make it through, gitchy goomy ...,".
I have played that part over many many times in the past and never knew what song it was.  So today, for reasons I'm not sure of, I felt compelled to search the lyrics and I was quite surprised that I actually found them.  The song is "Gitchy Goomy" by Neil Diamond.   

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Letting Go

I had no idea that Halloween would be the last holiday I would spend with my mom.  I vaguely remember it.  It was a Friday.  I carved a pumpkin on the kitchen floor while my mom watched Regis and Kathy on TV.  They were having a Cher look-alike contest.  Later that night I went out with my friend Nicole.  That's it.  That's all I remember.  I had no idea that a week later my mom would be gone forever.  

She went into the hospital Monday night because she was having trouble breathing.  She had pneumonia.  It was a result from the radiation treatments they had been doing on her chest area.  We visited every evening that week and on Thursday night when we left the hospital, it was a snowing and oddly peaceful.   The next morning I went school and was on my free period when I saw my dad walk in the building.  He didn't see me so I went to him. He says to me, "Les, your mom requested a morphine drip and the doctor said that if she goes on it she'll fall asleep and probably won't wake up."   My heart started pounding and It felt like I had a huge lump in my throat. I ran to my next class to tell my teacher I wouldn't be in class.  I started crying as I told him " I won't make it to class today cause my mom is dying.".  He told me to calm down and wanted to make sure I wasn't driving myself.  I assured him I wasn't and left.  I cried most of the way to the hospital.  

When we arrived at the hospital there were no close parking places so my dad decided to try the valet parking.  Unfortunately there wasn't a valet there to take the car and as we were about to pull away my brother opened the door and asked me to go up with him.  He didn't want to go up by himself and I didn't either, so we went up together while Dad parked the car.  

Grandma Helen, my two aunts Dana and Jenette, and Jenette's friend Fred, were all in the room with my mom.  I immediately started crying again and after hugging everyone, I went over and held my mom's hand.  She had and IV in her arm and an oxygen mask on.   

My mom kept calling for my dad because she wanted him there when they put the morphine drip on.  He showed up and so did my Aunt Jill and Uncle Phil, but it seemed like an eternity before the nurse came in and hooked up the morphine drip.   After the nurse left, my Aunt Jill went over and held my mom's hand.  She opened her eyes, looked at Jill and said "goodnight".  I broke down in tears once again and kissed her on her burning hot forehead.  

The morphine didn't work the way Mom wanted it to.  It took away the pain, but she still couldn't relax enough to breath easier.  So Dana stood by her side and talked her through some relaxation techniques.  After a while, the doctor came in to see how she was doing  and then told the nurse to give her a shot of something to help her relax.  I don't know what it was but it helped and she was finally able to get some sleep.

Friends and family came and went, each of them saying their good bye's. Mom woke up enough to see some of them and I'm sure she knew the rest were there.   At one point I went with Dana to the gas station across the street from the hospital.  We kicked through the autumn leaves that were on the ground and even though we were sad, it was fun for a moment.  

After a while some of the crowd left and we all relaxed in the quiet.  All I could hear was the bubbling water hooked to the oxygen and an occasional person passing by.  I memorized the signs on the door and above her bed.  They were bright yellow and read:  Do not use right arm for BP, IV, or LAB.  Around 10:00 pm I left with my brother to try and get some sleep.  We went to his friend's apartment because it was closer to the hospital.  Dad and Grandma stayed with Mom..

After watching a couple movies I fell asleep on the couch.  About 5:15 am on Friday November 7, 1997 the phone woke me up and after fumbling around in the dark I found it and tossed it to my brother's friend to answer it.  It was my dad telling us to get to the hospital because she had passed just five minutes earlier.  We were the first to get there.  

At first I didn't want to go in the room so I waited in the lobby area while everyone else went in.  I was afraid to see what she looked like dead, but after people telling me that it looked like she was sleeping I decided to go in.  The oxygen mask and IV were gone and she looked so peaceful.  She was no longer struggling to breathe and the room was so quiet.  After her siblings got there, we all gathered around her bed holding hands       
and the chaplain said a prayer while we wept.  Then we said our good bye's and left.  

Dana stayed behind to watch over the body until they took it away.

I remember being so tired and relieved.  I didn't want her to be dead but after fighting cancer for two and a half years it was good to know that she would no longer be in pain.  Thirteen years and nine months later I miss her just as much as I did that day and it still hurts like hell.  I've just grown used to it.   

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Battle

For some reason, when we found out the dreaded news, I thought cancer meant my mom was going to die immediately.  I'm not quite sure why I came to this conclusion but it scared the hell out of me.  It wasn't true of course, the doctors never gave her a time limit and were willing to fight for as long as she was.

The doctors decided to start their part of the battle with chemo therapy because the cancer had already spread.  They tried multiple types of chemo.  Some made her very nauseous and  her hair fell out. Another gave her an entire mouth full of canker sores.  They were given in different ways also. One was given all at once through her port-a-cath, another was administered over a longer period and needed a little pump machine thingy(technical term).  Unfortunately the chemo didn't work and they eventually did a double mastectomy  and even radiation.

My mom decided to start her part of the battle by giving up beer and cigarettes.   She read positive affirmations daily and tried to meditate as much as possible (all of the pain medications she was on  made her drowsy so meditating was a little difficult). She would meet her siblings at my grandma's house every Sunday to do a healing circle.  They would turn on quiet music and sit in a circle. Each person would close their eyes and focus on sending my mom positive, healing energy.  She even tried to eat healthy and exercise.  One summer day while she was at her sister's house, she felt like she wanted to try a new way of exercising.  She decided to try rollerblading, unfortunately it didn't turn out so well.  She fell and broke both the radius and the ulna just above her wrist. After that she decided that walking was a lot less dangerous and would do just fine.

Even with all of that going on she still made time to be a mom.  She would make my lunch and take me anywhere I needed to go.  She gave my brother money when he asked, even though she couldn't really afford to.  She told us how much she loved us at every chance.  She kept dreaming of tomorrow and what could be accomplished. I helped her strip the avocado  green paint off of her old dresser and stain it a natural wood color.   She told me each time she scraped off a strip of paint she would try to envision that it was the cancer and she was removing it from her body.   She started crocheting a table cloth.  This was  hard because you have to count each stitch and when those pain pills kicked in it was hard keeping her eyes open.  I wrote a poem about this my senior year in high school.  It was published in the literary magazine and I like to think she would have been proud.

I wish I would have been more supportive of her while she was battling this consuming monster but the truth is I was selfish.  I was so caught up in how it was going to be when she was gone that I forgot to just cherish all the time we had left.  If I could do it over I would would make sure to tell her I am proud to be her daughter and I would ask more questions. I would shave my head when the chemo took hers.  I would make her lunch instead of asking her to make mine and I would drive her wherever she needed to go.   I guess that's why they say hind sight is 20/20. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

In the Dark

I was in junior high and my brother, Phil, was in high school when my mom started getting sick.  She was in constant pain and eating ibuprofen like it was candy.  One summer day she was in the midst of an anxiety attack when she called me into her room.  Sobbing, she told me that she didn't know what was wrong but in case she died she wanted me to know about her lock box.  It had some money stashed in it and a few other personal items that she wanted me to have.

How was I supposed to take this information?  I was just a teenage girl who was emotional about zits and the boy I thought was cute.  Now my mom, who was also my best friend, is telling me that she is pretty certain she is going to die.  I was completely devastated. I didn't know what to do so I kept it to myself.

The pain progressively got worse and when she went to the doctor he blamed it on her beer drinking and cigarette smoking. While I agree they are not good for you, and most certainly didn't help, how can I believe they are the only source of all the pain?  Later we find out they aren't.  And on new year's morning it reached a new height. She was brushing her hair and suddenly she felt a pop in her back and couldn't move.  Off to the emergency we went and after hours of waiting they told us nothing.  They just sent her home with a shot and some pain meds figuring it was just a common strain.  The next day she went to her doctor again so he sent her for x-ray's.  I personally don't think he looked at the x-ray's.  He told her it was her sciatic nerve and sent her to a physical therapist.

After a couple months of faithful therapy and no improvement, her physical therapist told her he didn't think the sciatic nerve was the problem and she should get a second opinion.  She disappointingly agreed and went to her ob/gyn.  He found a lump on her breast and told her it didn't look good but he didn't want to make false assumptions so he  made her an appointment to get a lumpectomy.  The surgery was scheduled for the next Monday.  That weekend she came down with an excruciating headache.  She couldn't eat and any light or noise was too much to bare so back to the emergency she went.  They figured it was a migraine and gave her a shot and sent her home with more pain medicine.  It didn't help.

Monday morning she went to her scheduled surgery and when they did their routine pre-surgery tests, they discovered that the calcium level in her blood was at a toxic level and nearly lethal.  This was the cause of the headache.  They postponed the surgery and admitted her into the hospital so that they could get her levels back to normal.  Once her levels were normal they did the lumpectomy.  Our worst fears were confirmed. She had breast cancer.  It had spread through her body and was in her bones. She had spots on her ribs and spine.  It was leaching calcium into her blood and was also the cause of all of her back pain.

We received this information a couple weeks after my 15th birthday.  I knew with all my soul that she would not survive and it hurt like hell.   At first I tried to just keep it bottled up, but being the emotionally sensitive person I am, the bottle filled up quickly and began to overflow.   I began to withdraw from school and became very angry.  I just wanted my mom, my best friend to be around when I needed her.  I wasn't ready to let go.