Yesterday I went to Target with my mom. Any day prior to April 20th of this year, that would be nothing much to blog about. But on April 20th, I got the call that my mom was in the hospital. She was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer that they believe began in her fallopian tube and had spread throughout her abdomen. She endured a massive surgery and about two weeks in the ICU. There were many times when we didn't think she would make it. Her first several weeks back at home were almost unbearable, as two of her medications were adversely affecting her so she was almost unable to move, eat, swallow, speak, or stop drooling or shaking. Now she is off those meds and has had 4 rounds of chemotherapy. Two more to go.
The funny thing about chemo is, you never know if it's working while you're taking it. There's no way to know what's going on with the cancer until the treatments are complete and you get a scan (at least in my mom's case). So for now, I am holding out hope that the chemo is working well enough to put her into remission for years. And I want years and years and years.
I want my mom there when my little girl heads off to kindergarten for the first time, and when my son completes his first science project, and when they go to their proms and move off to college. I want her to be there at their weddings. And every morning I have to renegotiate my life to accommodate the reality that she might not ... probably won't ... be there for those things. I can't even begin to tell you the grief that I feel. My sister and I were talking today about how it's like being in a horrible, select little club; one that you wish no one else ever had to be in because it's so awful. Knowing how it feels to have to face this with my mother, I am baffled that people who experience terminal illness in their children are able to go on existing. Because I personally feel like my world is falling apart, and it must be a million times worse if it is your child.
So anyway, mom has a treatment every 3 weeks. The day after her treatment is usually the best day of the whole three weeks. She has more energy and less pain than usual. And by "more energy than usual" I mean that she isn't totally wiped out just by showering and dressing herself. She can actually apply mascara and leave the house. This time, she wanted to take Caleb out to lunch at one of his favorite places, India Palace. I've been taking him there since he was 2, and they have Gulab Jamun, which he calls honey balls. He adores them. And of course, Indian is my favorite. After meeting with my lovely midwife (who just finished her last chemo treatment), I packed up the kids and met Mom and Dad for lunch. It was so great ... so normal! At the end of the meal, Mom said something about how she was going to go to Target and Dad was going to go to Sears. I jumped at the chance! "I'll take you to Target! Caleb can go with Dad!" We had two whole hours until she had to go in to the doctor's office for a shot.
Thus, I got to go to Target with my mom and my baby daughter. It was bliss. Truly. Just the sheer everydayness of it. Walking around, oohing and ahing over the adorable little girl clothes, letting her buy my daughter a U of K cheerleader outfit (she has talked for at least a decade about having a grandaughter to put one of these on) and the cutest, most inane baby shoes ever, letting her buy my son a matching U of K jersey so they can have pictures made in them. We talked about everything and nothing. She looked "cancer chic" in her salmon and black Nike workout suit and the black and white bucket hat Caleb and I had picked out for her the day before. Wednesday was nestled sleepy in the sling, and I was in heaven. Just shopping with my mom.
We've probably been shopping together hundreds, thousands of times (my mom really, really likes shopping). And I always took it for granted that there would be decades of shopping left. But there might not be. The horrible, brutal, unfair reality that I am facing is that this trip to Target with my mom could be the very last one. My daughter may never have a conscious memory of shopping with her Mawmaw. And that pisses me off. I am officially pissed off at the universe. And all I can do about it is cry.
But for all of you who have mothers nearby who are healthy and mobile and active, please go shopping with them soon. Even if you don't always get along, even if you don't buy anything, even if her taste makes you grit your teeth. Hell, even if you don't like shopping, go do something else! But please go and spend some time with your mom. Because even if you don't realize it now, you will miss her when she's gone, and if the time ever comes that she can't do what she's always done, your world will be upside down. And I still haven't learned if it ever gets right side up again ...
Radical Doula Profiles: Andi Johnson
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