Messy Staircases

As I sit here at my kitchen table I am listening to some of the music that soothed my Mom for her last year and 4 months.  It is excruciating and beautiful all at the same time.  As I hear, “Blessed Assurance” and “Savior like a Shepherd Lead Us” I am transported back to her dimly lit open living space with her laying in her hospital bed central to whatever was happening.  She was always the focus no matter what else was going on; home care workers, nurses, friends and family.  Life went on outside her window, people coming and going with their groceries and children.  Sometimes I would just watch them as they went on with their lives having no idea what was happening behind the partially drawn vertical blinds.  But life seemed to stand still in apartment 101.  As her newly peaked interests started to fade from everything that she was so thankful to enjoy to barely moving the one thing that kept her was her music.

And now that music keeps me.  Some days it feels a bit like torture to listen to “It is well with My Soul” and I wonder why I do it but it is also the best memories I have of my Mom.  Her time of sickness was also her time of peace.  But we helping her gain peace left me pain.  I am left with wounds and scars that may never heal.   I do not regret a minute of it but I am here to say, “Tread lightly.”  There are things that doctors, nurses, etc. do not tell you about caring for a family member.  I feel haunted some days.  I hear someone breathe a certain way and I am instantly sent back to her last hours when her breathing became raspier.  I hear my son say, “OK, ok.”  And I’m instantly transported back to her bedside listening to her say that same phrase over and over while she struggled to keep her thoughts together as her brain and body became weaker from starvation.

Living with almost constant tension, anxiety and exhaustion for a year and a half has left me with painful joints and tension that have finally started to let up 8 months later.  I have also been left with mild anxiety issues that used to turn into panic attacks.  They have lessened greatly but every once in a while I know that I have to back away from a situation to keep it in check.

I have been told the typical phrases of well-meaning “consolation” many times over the years through many periods of grief.  I know the steps of grief not from a book but from life.  I know that the steps of grief are not a straight clean staircase with a few landings put in for resting.  The steps of grief are messy.  There’s stuff all over them that has to be dealt with.  You can just step over the stuff but it’ll just be there waiting the next time you come around.  Some staircases holding the steps of grief are winding, you never know what’s around the bend.  Other staircases are narrow and treacherous and you feel like you are going to lose your footing and fall back to the bottom of the stairs.  And some days you do fall.  Then there are staircases that seem to go in a never ending circle and you just keep ending up at the same place you started at.

I am here to say that care giving and loss are painful.  There is no quick fix.  I will not deny or ignore my grief because I have watched others make that attempt.  I’m not okay.  I’m grieving.  I’m grieving for not only for my Mother but other family who went before her.  Her absence makes their absence more apparent.  I grieve not only for my Mother’s death but also for the relationship we had finally started and more so for her suffering.  And not just the 18 months of suffering but the 33 years before that as well.  I know that she is in a happier place and she doesn’t care about the suffering that she went through and I’m so happy and relieved for her.  But I do care; I am here on earth and still feel the pain that we helped her carry.  I know this will become a little easier but until it does I have the music.


Thankfully Mom was amazing at recovery.  She surprised and impressed the doctors with how fast she was up and walking.  Her determination was legendary on the 7th floor.  It was so great to see after so much difficulty.  She was so excited to tell everyone how far she had walked the last time and how far she hoped to get on her next walk.  We were all so relieved.  She would go and sit in the visitor’s area and talk to whomever was there.  She met some amazing people.  There was the lady who sat and knit.  She would hardly look up; she would just sit and knit.  Finally, she started to join in conversations and we found out that her son was on the 7th floor due to cancer.  He had been battling for a long time and he was in very bad shape.  She was there day and night with her knitting.  About 2 weeks before my Mom left I went after work and he had passed away in the night.  My Mom didn’t talk about it but I could tell it bothered her.

Mom fought really hard to keep her mental health in the only way she knew how; self-preservation and denial.  She focused on anything and everything positive and tried to deny that anything was wrong.  She insisted many, many times over that she felt at peace.  Which was good but she was also trying to keep up the appearance that she was fine.  She didn’t want to show any weakness like if she did she was acknowledging the possibility of mortality.  Before I would leave for the night I would “put her to bed”.  I would take her for her last walk around 8 or 8:30 and we would sit and watch the sun go down over the Assiniboine River.  The nurses would come to do their last checks of their shift and get Mom comfortable in her bed.  Then I would make sure that she had enough water, a midnight snack, clean off her tray and make sure she had her newspaper or crossword book nearby.  I would stay till about 9:30 or 10; with her usually telling me gently that I needed to go.  One particular night I could tell that Mom was putting on a brave face.  I could see that she was upset but wouldn’t talk about it.  She didn’t want to worry us.  I did something I had never done before; I knelt down by her hospital bed and whispered in her ear.  I told her that it was okay to not always be brave.  That we were thankful that she was feeling peace but that didn’t mean she couldn’t tell us her fears.  I tried to give her permission to cry, to be angry, to break down; to talk to someone.  I told her she didn’t have to talk to me or anyone else in the family.  Just talk to someone.   But she was quiet.

At some point while she was in the hospital she asked me after sitting quietly, “Did they really say that I have breast cancer or do they need to do more testing still?”  My heart broke.  I didn’t know what to say but I had to think fast and be honest.  I told her “No Mom, they did say that you have breast cancer.  I’m so sorry.”  She crinkled up her mouth, looking out the window and very disappointed and said, “That’s the one thing I really didn’t want.”  Meanwhile I’m sitting there stunned.  She had been told about her breast tumor over a month before and it had been discussed in numerous meetings.  And here she was in the hospital due to a mass number of tumors throughout her abdomen that couldn’t be cured.  But she was worried about a 2 cm slow growing tumor under her arm.  I didn’t know what else to say.

As difficult as those weeks were the fact that she recovered without any infections or complications was nothing short of a miracle.  We were so thankful.  By the end of her stay I was far more concerned about her emotional health than her physical health.

Post Surgery

It was around 11:30pm when the surgeon came to talk to us.  He said that there were a lot of tumors throughout her abdomen, more than they had expected.  They had gotten the majority of it but it had been just too much so they had to leave some behind.  They had also done a colostomy; what Mom, along with the rest of us, dreaded the most.  The surgeon said that someone would let us know when they were bringing her back up to her room.  So we waited and waited.  We got restless from exhaustion so we started wandering.  We couldn’t find anyone – it was about 1:30am.  So we went up to her room, but she wasn’t there and the nurses hadn’t seen her yet.  So we went up and down the elevators looking for good vending machines, and got a little giddy from hunger and exhaustion, well that’s my story anyway.  We finally shared a little bag of chips and went back down to the surgical floor.  Still no Mom so we sat there for a bit and went back up to her room and there she was!  We had somehow passed her in the elevators.  She was hooked up to everything and the machines were making a lot of noise so we left.  But now what?  It’s about 2:30 by now so we decide that we should try to get some sleep.  So we go to the end of the hall and each took 2 visitor arm chairs and put them together to sleep on.  Auntie went and found some pillows and I think we may have dozed a little.  We woke up at 4:30, checked on Mom and decided we needed some food.  So we went to find breakfast at 5am.  The coffee was extra good that morning.  We went back to the hospital and Mom was still sleeping so we checked in with the nurses and just sat for a while.

Then I decided that I needed to make some family phone calls.  I had called and texted my sister a few times through the night to let her know how things were going but I had Aunts and Uncles that would be worried.  So I went down to the hospital atrium and called them one by one before they all left for church.  I not only had to tell them how Mom’s surgery had gone but we had also had a meeting with the Oncologist during the week and I needed to give them an update.

The Oncologist had an incredible bedside manner, and she needed it.  She made it very clear that Mom’s cancer was not curable.  She never used the word terminal, never gave a timeline or a date which I was thankful for.  My Auntie A, my sister and I were all there with Mom and it was very difficult to listen to some of the worst news possible in this situation.  I kept looking at Mom I was so worried about her and saw that soon after the doctor started talking Mom checked out.  She just glazed over and didn’t really listen to what was being said.  I can’t blame her for not wanting to know.  The doctor also said that they still didn’t have any answers as to what type of cancer Mom had.  They had sent off the pathology to the Mayo clinic in Minnesota and a lab in Toronto to see if they could get some answers.  There were about 3 or 4 doctors that had opinions on what the cancer was but they couldn’t agree so they sent it off.  I think Mom was in awe of how many people were involved in her case.  We were all baffled at the situation.  It is quite rare to have 2 independent cancers at the same time so the doctors wanted to be extra sure of what was happening.

After I updated the family and some friends the morning after her surgery I went back upstairs and tried to rest.  The phone calls were so draining.  Just repeating over and over that my Mom had terminal cancer was so difficult but it prepared me for much worse phone calls to come.  I wanted to be there when she woke up and for part of the day to be sure that she was okay.  I stayed till about 7:30 that night.  I know my Aunt was there but can’t remember when she left.  I hadn’t hardly been home all weekend and had to get ready for work the next day.  I couldn’t stop shaking as I sat in my kitchen trying to process what we had all been through.  My kids rightfully wanted my attention but I just couldn’t focus and could hardly speak.  I still don’t know how I made it through work the next day.   I’m thankful for understanding management who let me take breaks when I needed to just go for a walk or go in another room to cry or take a phone call.  I’m not sure how I would have made it otherwise.


So, back to my Mom on the 7th floor of St Boniface hospital in August of 2009 after an emergency due to cancer.

Mom seemed to be improving but a few days after I got home from vacation I got to the hospital and found that they had put the tube back down into her stomach.  She had a setback.  They did more tests and decided that surgery would have to happen but they would have to wait for her to be off the stomach tube and stable again.  They were most likely going to have to do a colostomy.  Mom was very matter of fact and just said if that was what they had to do she would figure out how to deal with it.  So, she became stable again and was taken off the tube.  The surgery date was decided but there happened to be a shortage of surgeons due to multiple emergencies and vacations etc.  So we waited.  It wasn’t that long, a couple days at the most but it felt like an eternity and it really upset Mom.  They would get her ready and say that they would be there in half an hour but then another emergency would come up and she would get bumped again.  My Aunt A, who is from Warroad, Minnesota, came in from Steinbach early that Saturday morning and I got there around 5 that evening.  Most of that Saturday was spent just trying to keep her calm.  She had an amazing room mate who I will talk about in a later blog who helped out a lot.

Finally around 8pm they came to get her and took her down to surgery.  Auntie A and I went down with her as far as we could go and stayed with her till the last minute.  My Uncle H (Mom’s brother) had told me on the phone that morning to pass on a message to my Mom that he was thinking of the old hymn, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.”  So we talked about that and tried to keep the mood light.  But then the OR nurse came and asked Mom to take off her rings.  We had known that this would probably happen and it was heart wrenching when it did come up.  My Mom had 2 rings on, her class ring and her wedding ring.  She had been wearing her class ring since 1959 – 50 years and her wedding ring for 36 years.   And she couldn’t take them off, they were too tight.  The OR attendants tried to pry them off every way they could but they just wouldn’t budge.  Finally they said they would have to cut them off and my heart stopped for a second.  I just felt so awful for my Mom but what do you say?  What do you do?  She took it pretty well on the outside but I could tell her heart was breaking.  I stood there as they snipped each of them and placed them in my hand.  It was a surreal and incredibly sad moment.  This is what it had come to.  I stared at the rings for a bit trying to process what was happening.  Not knowing what would be found, what would have to be done, whether anything could be done?  We held hands; my Aunt A said a prayer and they led her away on the stretcher.  Someone led my Aunt and I to the surgical waiting room and we sat.  And we waited.

Finding the Beauty in the Battle

My Mom didn’t die in an accident, of a heart attack, or a stroke the day that she was diagnosed with cancer.  She wasn’t taken from us suddenly.  I realized this shortly after she was admitted to the hospital the first time.  Now this may seem pretty simple.  But it changed everything.

I knew we were all in a battle; with Mom at the centre.  Not only was she battling for her life, we were battling for her and sometimes against her.  And there were times where it would have been much easier and preferable to walk away.  Walk away and say that we weren’t that close anyway.  Why should I stick around?  Or do the bare minimum, or less.  I had to decide early on and at times it was a daily decision to stay and fight.  So many times I had to take deep breaths and talk myself into going into the hospital or to my Mom’s apartment.  I was so tired of the battle.  Some days I just wanted to retreat to my home with my husband and children and hide under the covers until it was all over.  Other days I wanted to run; get on a plane, or just keep driving on the many days and nights that I was going to or from one place or another.

But, one of the major things that kept me going was that she hadn’t died in an accident.  My Mom was still here.  I knew that she was going to die from cancer from the day she was diagnosed.  But she hadn’t yet.  She still had a chance to die with peace.  She was still able to make amends where necessary.  She and I still had a chance.  My children still had their Grandma to make memories with and to learn from.  I didn’t take this lightly.  What my Mom and the rest of the family would have given to have time with my Dad; time to say goodbye, time to share memories and make new ones for those left behind.  I also have friends who have not been so blessed.  Their mothers passed suddenly without the opportunity that I was being given.  If I were to squander or ignore this opportunity I felt that I would be disrespecting what they had gone through; to throw away something so precious that they would have been so thankful for.

So I knew that I was in the battle whether I wanted to be or not and I was going to make the best of it.  I stepped up with doctors, nurses and other professionals when needed not because I wanted to be a hero but because it just needed to be done.  My Mom didn’t fully understand what was happening to her and so didn’t always understand or want to know what the doctors were talking about.  I also knew that she had always struggled with feeling like she had the right to speak up or make a nuisance of herself.  And so I knew that if we didn’t speak for her, she most likely wouldn’t.  I wanted to be sure that she wasn’t letting too much go because she didn’t want to make a fuss.  A great example of this is in her last days one of her last words was “sorry” when we would move her and she would show pain.  She felt guilty for feeling pain.  I also wanted to be sure that the doctors knew that she had advocates on her side.  There were also times where her choosing to not understand her condition became a danger to her.  We had to keep on top of every possibility to be sure that we were ahead of as many disasters as possible.

But her illness wasn’t all battles.   That was the beautiful part and I was determined to see the beauty in the battle.  If I had run away trying to avoid the pain I would have missed out on so much more.  My children would have missed out.  My Mom would have missed out.  Instead I determined to make the most of every minute we had left.  As painful as some of the memories are now I would rather have them mixed with the good ones rather than to be left with only regrets.

Eternal Hope of a Daughter

There are a few posts that I have dreaded and the next few are among them.  I have been thinking about this for at least a month; pondering, writing and rewriting in my mind.  I have been writing about my Mom’s illness this summer and it has been good.  But I came to a sudden stop.  Because I knew that I had to write this.  The last post was supposed to be this one but I avoided it, just one more time.   This time I can’t.

The facts, dates and research are somewhat easy to write.  Even though the memories are very painful, it is much easier to write than the emotions.  I hate crying.  I hate crying in front of people even more.  And writing out the emotions of my Mom’s illness is like crying in public.  I feel so vulnerable, so exposed.  But, it needs to be done for me to move on.

When my Dad was killed just before I was born my Mom wasn’t able to breastfeed.  In the first few days it was discouraged due to hormone issues and medications that she had been given.  But even after those initial frightening, horrible days we weren’t together much.  She had a farm to help run, lawyers, trials, grieving, among a million other things that she hadn’t planned on.  I honestly don’t think she knew what to do with me.  I represented the hopes and dreams of a future that was never to come.  Her parents were there and helped take care of us.  So I bonded with my Grandma and later Auntie D more than I did with my Mom.  My Mom and I never regained that bond.  We both knew that us having very different personalities was not the only issue in our relationship.  We never actually discussed it; we didn’t seem to need to, even on her death bed.  Our lack of bonding had been a necessity of the moment.  And once I was old enough to understand what had happened around my birth I understood that she had no choice.  But her lack of choice didn’t, and doesn’t, take the hurt away.  I didn’t have a choice in any of it.  I was an innocent child who not only would never know my Dad; I would never really know my Mom.  The woman who was to be my Mother was taken from me.  She was changed in such a basic, cellular level; her hormones, brain chemicals, physical appearance and personality changed.

I was and am so thankful to have other Moms to fill in the gap.  I don’t know where I would be without them.  My Mom was sometimes threatened by these other mother figures but I think she was thankful for them as well.  But as thankful as I am to these women, I had always somehow hoped that my Mom and I would magically grow this bond and be as close as other mother/daughters.  There is the “what if”; no matter how many times I told myself how unhealthy it was.  When it comes to our parents it seems that we all become eternal optimists holding out hope.  Would my Mom and I have been close if my Dad had lived?  Or would we have still clashed and this way I got my “other” mothers?  Did I actually gain by losing?  We will never know these answers and I’m working at coming to peace with what I did and do have so I don’t have to ask “What if” as much as I used to.  When she became sick I had every emotion possible swirling around me.  As much as I had known that day was coming it is still painful to be looking at the end.  Not only of my Mom’s life but also at the end of the eternal hope for that magical bond.  Would we come together just in time?   Would we have enough time?  Could we accept each other after all these years?

I knew there was a cost to both scenarios.  If we became close while she was sick it would only be to lose her all over again.  But if I ran away instead and didn’t at least try what regrets would I have?  Could I live with myself?  Could I walk away from a relationship with my Mom even if it was fleeting?  Could I handle the pain of either choice?  Again, this was a choice that wasn’t really a choice.   I had no choice.  I couldn’t walk away.  And I have no regrets.

The 7th Floor

For the next 5 days I tried to relax; tried to enjoy my husband and kids because I had a feeling that this would be our last chance for a while.  But my mind was back in Winnipeg.  I knew that my Mom was now stable but there was a chance of another emergency at any time.  And I felt so guilty about having left when she was in such a bad state; even if there was no way for me to know what was going to happen.   After leaving Minnedosa we went to visit my Dad’s sister in Saskatchewan.  It was comforting to be with family at such a difficult time. Of course cell service was spotty at best so I was thankful for my Aunt’s land line to keep in contact with my sister.

Friday night we stayed in Brandon, 2 hours from home.  When we got up it was pouring rain and I just wanted to get home.  We had to drop our speed and actually come close to a stop on the highway a few times because I could barely see the road.  But all I cared about was getting home to see my Mom.  We drove in the driveway and it was still raining but not as hard.  Pasith took the kids in the house and helped me get the luggage in.  I threw everything in the back door into the kitchen, said bye and left.  I got to the hospital early afternoon and was in a near panic to get up to the 7th floor.  I hadn’t spoken to her yet, only my Aunt A. and my sister.  The rain had finally cleared.

There she was in her bed by the window with a beautiful view of the Red River.  She had the tube out of her nose and they were allowing her broth and light foods.  She was so excited to tell me about how much better she was and wanted to know how our vacation had been.  I told her that I didn’t want to talk about it because I felt guilty for sitting on a beach and visiting family while she had been in such a horrible situation.  She said that she had wanted us to have a good time and had hoped that we wouldn’t come home.  She wanted to know about our vacation to take her mind off what she was going through.  Mom was allowed to go for short walks and wanted to show me how well she was doing.  So we went down to the end of the hall to the visiting area over looking downtown and both rivers.  While we sat there we got caught up on most everything; except her condition.  She didn’t offer up much information on what had happened or was going to happen just what she had to and then asked if I had spoken with my sister or Auntie A.  I knew Mom well enough to leave it alone.  I helped her back to her room and said I had to go to the washroom.  I went down the hall to the nurses desk and asked how she was really doing.  Surgery was still a possibility but it depended on her condition.  They had drained off another liter of fluid from her lungs, so that was 3 ½ litres in 2 ½ months.  They were going to have to “tap” her lungs to get rid of the fluid once she was well enough.

I stayed till about 9:30 that night, went home overwhelmed but relieved to be back.

The Bottom of the Hill

As August approached along with our week of vacation I got nervous.  I was scared to go too far from home.  Mom just seemed on the edge.   But what edge we didn’t know.  Mom had a CT Scan of her abdomen at the end of July “just to be sure”.  Even though the breast tumor had been found the doctor wanted to be sure there wasn’t something else lurking to explain Mom’s quickly failing health.  Pasith and I were leaving on our trip on the Monday but the doctor requested to see Mom that day so we drove south to Steinbach before heading west.  Mom, my sister and I went in to hear what the scan results were.   I had done this enough times that I knew if it was requested that Mom bring her daughters it couldn’t be good.  There were “nodules” found in her abdomen; all over her abdomen.  Not contained in a particular organ but on the outside of them.  When asked if the nodules were cancer the doctor answered with the obligatory response of “we won’t know without a biopsy”.  Well I had my answer.  Mom took it in stride as she had everything else that summer.  It was a combination of not understanding and not wanting to ask to gain understanding.

After the appointment we took Mom back to her apartment and she just looked sick and tired.  She had a hard time walking or talking and requested to just go inside.  Auntie A helped her up the 3 steps and my sister, Pasith and I took a walk.  I was having a terrible feeling about going away but was told to go and have a good time.  Everything would be fine.  My sister and I discussed the “nodules” and what it could mean.  The analogy that came to my mind was one we had used with Pasith’s Dad during his first major emergency.  That first jolt is like you are suddenly rolling down a hill out of control.  You land at the bottom looking up into the faces of doctors and nurses who now control your life.  Your life is no longer your own.  The bottom was coming.

Pasith and I left and I was sick as we drove away not knowing if I was going to regret this decision to go on vacation at this time.  We went to Minnedosa, Manitoba to lie on the beach for a few days and the weather was perfect.  Being in a remote location our cell service was spotty, especially in the hotel.  So on Tuesday morning when I saw that there was a text from my sister saying Mom was in the ambulance on her way to St Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg it was a horrible jolt.  And the text was over an hour old.  I ran around the lobby of the hotel trying to find a signal to call her back.  Mom had gotten up in the middle of the night and started throwing up, really bad ugly stuff.  She woke up Auntie A to take her across the street to the hospital.  By the time she got there she was in very bad condition and they were discussing surgery but the surgeons in Steinbach aren’t trained for specialized intestinal surgery.  So they decided to send her to Winnipeg not knowing if she would survive the ambulance ride.  Auntie went back to my Mom’s and collected a few things and took off behind the ambulance.  My Aunt can describe this scene much better than I can since she was there but I just know that it was a grave situation.  They got Mom settled in with a tube down her nose into her stomach and tubes coming out of just about everywhere.  The doctors decided she wasn’t stable enough for surgery they would have to wait.  She wasn’t allowed any food or drink, just ice chips.  My Mom was at the bottom of the hill looking up.

The Long July

In my memory the month of July, 2009 is thin.  It feels spread out like a dream that seems to last all night.  It was very confusing just feeling like the answer is just around the corner but when you get around the corner it’s all changed on you again.  Stumbling in the dark not knowing where you’re going.  Pasith and I had just moved a few months earlier and had been excited to get started on projects and settling in.  We had to make some tough choices about what was really important to get done and what could be put off.  We had been planning a trip ending in Saskatchewan visiting my Dad’s sister and his best friend.  And we knew that had to stay in the summer agenda.

Mom was struggling and I think feeling more and more afraid.  I would ask her how she was doing and she would say “Ok.”  But I knew there was more to it.  And I finally asked her to be honest with me.  I was asking because I wanted to know and needed to know.  It took her a while to trust my Aunt, sister and I and to see that we were there to help not control her life.  I was watching for any small change that would indicate a huge change or catastrophe.  Pasith’s Dad had cancer and passed away a year before my Mom was diagnosed so Pasith and I had just been through a similar situation.  We understood what could happen with cancer and how quickly it could turn on you.

My Aunt A. came up for a visit a few weeks after the family gathering in Warroad. She was very concerned and wanted to be with Mom for some of her appointments but also just to be with her.  Auntie A is the family caregiver and I don’t know where our family would be without her.  Auntie A. was staying with her and one afternoon Mom suddenly felt strange and tried to reach a chair to sit down in the kitchen.  She missed and fainted on the floor hitting her hip and her forehead on the way down.  Auntie A. panicked, rightfully so, and called 911.  She didn’t know if Mom had a heart attack or a stroke.  Mom lived a half a block from the hospital so the ambulance was there pretty quick.  Auntie had been able to get Mom conscious and Mom crawled to the back steps of her apartment where the EMS tried to help her stand but she couldn’t.  They basically carried her outside and into the ambulance.  She was checked and released in a few hours.  There was no real explanation for her fainting except that her blood pressure and oxygen to her brain had suddenly dropped because she had tried to bend down.  We were definitely a little more concerned about leaving her alone.  Auntie A. decided to stay a few more days just to be sure.  And we insisted on moving things up for her so she didn’t have to bend down.

Mom was stubborn and a little cranky about everyone making a fuss but yet I think she knew that we all just wanted to keep her safe.  Over these weeks she was also complaining about another issue.  To put it as delicately as possible her intestines weren’t working well.  She had talked to her doctor about it but the doctor didn’t seem to be taking her very seriously.  From what happened later we know that she was suffering a lot more than she let on at that time.  So she was getting help from the ER doctor to try to find relief.

I went with her for her mammogram in the middle of July.  She stayed overnight at our house, for the last time, and we spent a large part of the day together.  At the mammogram she had the first pictures taken and was getting dressed when the technician asked her to come back in for a few more pictures.  They had spotted something under her arm.  They had her contort into a nearly impossible position trying to get a better picture.  They found a 2 centimeter tumor under her arm.  It had been too far back for it to be caught on her previous tests.  We thought we had the culprit.  But something was telling me that this wasn’t the whole story.

Time Standing Still

After the fluid was drawn off the first time we waited. My sister and I checked on Mom as much as we could. I think she wasn’t sure if she should be annoyed or grateful. My Mom’s sister from Minnesota was also checking in. Mom tried to put on a brave front and we all tried to sound as encouraging as possible but it was a rough few weeks. I had been doing research on my own since the first day and hadn’t really considered cancer. Because of the lung virus she had years ago I automatically went to that thinking that it was back with a vengeance or had morphed into something new. The information that I found on what Sarcoidosis of the Lungs could do after 20 years was not encouraging either. It can cause the lung tissue to harden to the point of preventing proper breathing, Lung Fibrosis and there is no way to reverse the condition. There were also a few heart and lung issues that could cause the fluid. None of the options were good but cancer was still a side note that I hadn’t seriously considered. We had a planned family gathering just across the border in Warroad, Minnesota for July 4th. My family was coming from Colorado and Oregon; I was excited to see my cousins. My Mom had also been excited to go to her 50th school reunion that weekend. She had talked about it for months. Then the doctor called and needed to see Mom right away a few days before we were to go to Warroad. There were cancer cells in the fluid. But where was the cancer? Breast cancer is a typical answer but Mom had regular mammograms her last one almost a year before. The doctor scheduled another mammogram and a few other tests. And told Mom she couldn’t travel to the States. It was too dangerous. She tried to hide it but she was heartbroken. And so were we. That trip to Warroad was different. We had gone to Warroad without my Mom before but this time I knew without question that she would never go back. We went out to my Uncle’s (her brother’s) house and answered questions; very difficult questions. Everyone was concerned. Trying to understand what was happening and why. As we sat around the table I listened to my Aunts and Uncles tell childhood stories and I slowly looked around the table feeling time slow and my thoughts took over. I was incredibly sad as I realized that this was our new reality. Mom wasn’t coming back home. I went off on my own a few times to think and cry. I walked over to my Grandparents old farmhouse and sat in the yard trying to hear wisdom in the wind. I felt incredibly alone and desperately wished that my Grandma was there to give us some advice or just to talk to. I cried for all of us as a family and the changes we were all about to go through. I cried for my Mom and the sadness she must have been feeling at being left behind and unable to see her family when she needed them most. I cried for myself because I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. This was it. We were embarking on something huge and scary. I talked to my Uncle and Aunt from Colorado. With them living so far away I wanted to be sure that he understood more than anyone else how serious I felt this was. That my gut was telling me it was much worse than we knew at that time. That weekend was so very painful but it was also one of those moments in time where time seems to stop for you to soak up whatever you can get before it all falls apart. And thankfully I was aware of the moment – they are so easy to miss if you aren’t watching for them.