When the oncologist came in to talk to my mother after her surgery, he brought her test results. He started speaking to her about using chemo to fight cancer. She looked at him curiously and only asked, “How long do I have to live if I do the chemo?” He informed her, “I have good reason to believe you have about two years.”
“And how long do I have if I don’t?”
There were no tears, no hysterics. No depression, mom was simply mapping out a plan. The surgeon was not prepared for her transparency. He started to patronize her. Harumph! He should have asked me if that would work!
Instead of letting him finish his generic answer, she cut him short by abruptly saying, “How long?” Her straightforward approach caught him completely off guard. He stammered something incoherent, spun around, and left the room. He wanted out of there, fast! She thought she heard him say, “Not long.”
She and I visited about the pros and cons of chemo.
She asked me, “What do you think I should do?”
Whoa! I was not going to make that decision. I am a firm believer that no one can make certain decisions for you, they are not privy to all the intricate details of one’s life, desires, pain tolerance, etc.
I answered honestly. “You should decide that for yourself, but know this, whatever you do I will support your decision.”
Mother was alway full of life! She laughed a lot, even in the midst of fiery trials. She opted for the two years, so she would have more time to have fun.
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The oncologist explained to my mom, “We will have to be as aggressive as possible. We will mix the medicine strong enough almost to kill you, then dilute it a little if we need to.”
Mom gave her consent, and the treatment started. Inwardly, I wondered how I would choose, but did not think I would have chosen chemo.
I really don’t remember how many treatments she had but like most; her hair started falling out. I am a hair stylist and have a lot of experience with women having chemo. Most of them get very possessive of whatever hair they have left and suffer a lot of anxiety. Some have even put it in a paper bag, not willing to throw it away. Not my mom, she made an appointment with me and asked me to shave her head. She said, “That hair falling out is a nuisance. I want rid of it. I’m’ moving on to greener pastures!”We were farmers/ranchers, so farm jokes were not scarce at our house. After her haircut, she pulled out the cutest little ball-type cap that had an inscription on it that said, “Bad hair day!” She managed to keep her keen sense of humor, even on her sickest days
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The chemo was killing her. I watched in total helplessness as her health, sometimes quickly, but strangely slowly, declined. I couldn’t believe this was happening!
I told her” Mom, if you are taking the chemo for you, that’s ok, but if you are doing it for me, please stop!”
She had always been the epitome of strength and courage. Now, she was sick, though she loathed sharing how bad.
She said, “Arhonda, I don’t want to be remembered as some sick old lady! I want to be remembered for who I am, not what I’m going through.”
I thought I understood what she meant, but I had a lot to learn!
One day, after a really bad day of sickness, she answered the phone. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but I couldn’t help but hear her say, “I’m doing great, How are you?” She finished her conversation by asking them, “Have you had your belly laugh for the day.”
My eyes nearly popped our of their sockets. I gritted my teeth and tried to calm myself down. As soon as mom hung up the phone, I confronted her. “Mother, why on earth did you tell them that! You’ve been sick as a mule all day long, and I just saw you vomit blood!”
Not telling people who loved her how she really was, did not make me happy. It wasn’t fair to her or them.
She didn’t see a problem. She did not want to worry them.
She also thought everyone should laugh a lot and laugh each day! That was one thing we agreed on!
She reminded me again, “I don’t want to complain all the time and be remembered as that sick old lady. I want to live, until I die!”
She became the master of disguise. She wore a mask of happiness or nonchalance most of the time, but I was with her and took care of her every day, so I knew. I knew when she was in pain, or when she was sick. I knew about the little things that are easy to miss if one is not there often to witness them. When I saw how the chemo was ravaging her frail body; I wondered in my heart if she would die from cancer or the chemo. Silly me, I didn’t know, either was preferable to her, as opposed to dying a defeated person. in her heart, she determined she was not going to allow cancer to steal her joy, her happiness, or her life. Even if it killed her, it could not steal her life!
I made the mistake one day of asking her if she wanted a pain pill. She was hurting badly. She emphatically said, “NO! Pain pills make me sleep. I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”
She made it through the chemo, and all five of her children rallied around. We decided to take turns taking her somewhere special. She was weak but excited to go. She wanted to experience things she did not have the opportunity to experience on the farm. She would be in a wheelchair, but we were taking her!
I asked her if she would like to go on a cruise to Alaska. She and dad had wanted to go there for years and completely worn out an atlas, marking various routes with different colored pens. Dad passed away and did not get to go, but I wanted my mother to be able to enjoy life as much as possible.
She was tickled pink! We went shopping and bought new clothes. She and I were hillbillies, but we wanted to play dress up. We wanted to go to the formal dinners that they served on the ship. My mother called dressing formal, “Puttin on the dawg!” I knew better. She was less pretentious than anyone I had ever met and if anyone deserved dressing like royalty, it was she!
Our trip was glorious! We had so much fun and laughed so much, people, joined themselves to us everywhere we went. We tried to stay on the sidelines and not get in people’s way because she was in the wheelchair, but laughter is contagious and like a magnet, people navigated towards us. We made friends everywhere.
One day, we were going back to our room, and I pushed the wheelchair up to the elevators. On both sides of the ship, were automatic doors. Suddenly, both doors opened and created a draft so strong; it blew mothers wig off her head. Mom grabbed for it but couldn’t catch it. It started rolling out the door, as fast as a runaway freight train! Mom grabbed her naked head in embarrassment, and I nearly fainted. All I could think of was that wig was a goner. In one second it could blow overboard. If that happened, mom would be embarrassed the rest of the trip. Then, things went from bad to plain ridiculous. There was a sophisticated man and woman coming through the door (which is why it opened). Everything happened so fast! They saw something rolling towards them and thought it was a puppy. The woman nearly had a case of the vapors. I saw the disgust on their face when they thought we smuggled a dog on board and then I witnessed the change on the gentleman’s face when he recognized it was mother’s wig. The hero in him rose up! He knew the wig was in danger of going out the door, so he panicked and stomped the wig with his foot. Before he even had time to reach down and pick it up, he turned every shade of red under the sun. He was flabbergasted that he had just stomped on a ladies wig! He gingerly picked up with his thumb and forefinger, like it was radioactive and brought it to us. Mom plopped it on her head, but it was kind of whomperjawed. We said, “Thank you,” but it was to his back, he wanted out of there! The lady had already left the scene! Mother and I exchanged looks. Neither of us could hold it in any longer. We fell apart giggling. I pushed her wheelchair into the elevator, and we laughed until we lost our breath. I leaned against the wall to keep from falling all the way to the floor and had tears running down my face. I heard the door open, and some people were going to get on. They stopped dead in their tracks when they saw my mother sitting with her wig askew, and me leaning on the wall with mascara smeared all the way to my chin. We both were still laughing hysterically. The man and woman who planned to ride the elevator, looked like they had just stepped into the looney bin. In sync, they backed out and took the stairs. Mom and I were shocked, but when we looked at each other, we burst out laughing again.
There were many more stories like that one, but that would take too long. I’ll just end this blog, (not her story) by saying when Mom’s time on earth was up; she told me, “I’m going to the hospital. My purse is on the cabinet and don’t throw away the cornmeal.” She walked to the car and died two days later. OH! There was a twenty dollar bill in the cornmeal! 🙂