I don’t write about my mom much because . . . well, because it’s hard. It’s easier, for example, to write about something emotionally neutral, like my big fat butt. I mean, OK, maybe the subject of my big butt isn’t TOTALLY emotionally neutral to me, but I’m used to thinking about it, and sort of existing with it on a day-to-day basis. I’m not used to my mom having cancer. I am not going to get used to existing with it on a daily basis, or any basis.
Overall, the news is rather more hopeful than sad. Since her surgery in March, during which the surgeon was able to remove every last shred of visible cancer, she’s had chemo every three weeks, as well as a new drug called Avastin (which inevitably causes me to think “Avastin, ye mateys!” whenever I hear the word). And overall, she’s responded well to the chemo – her appetite is good, and on most days, she feels energetic enough to do things around the house, or run errands, or get together for a cup of coffee or dinner. But her cancer numbers fluctuate – it’s no longer a straight downward trend. They’re up, they’re down, they’re all over the place. It takes away our confidence for remission, which I guess is just part and parcel of the whole stupid cancer game.
And, following round after round of chemo, her white blood cell count is dangerously low, while her blood pressure is dangerously high (a side effect of the Avastin). Sometimes she overestimates her energy level, and overdoes it. Then she crashes, and she needs to come into the hospital for a fluid transfusion, or a blood transfusion—to bring up her white blood cell count—or both.
Last week, my dad was on business in California—the first time he’s been away from her since her diagnosis. Mom was a little worried—we all were, actually—but she seemed stable enough that Dad felt relatively confident about leaving for a few days. Unfortunately, right before he left, one of their dogs became suddenly and mysteriously ill. Kirby (the dog) could barely move and wouldn’t eat. The vet determined that it was arthritis, and strained ligaments in his hind legs. Kirby was prescribed painkillers and anti-inflammatories and rest. Mom figured she could handle it while Dad was gone, even though Kirby’s condition meant that Mom had to carry him everywhere – outside to go poop and pee every couple of hours, even at night.
But the day after Dad left, Kirby developed a fever and a cough, and seemed worse than ever. Mom took him to the vet—a 40 minute drive—where they decided to keep him for observation, and regular hydration. The vet recommended leaving him overnight, but Mom couldn’t stand the thought of Kirby being alone all night long by himself. So every morning for about four days straight, Mom would get up, drive 40 minutes to the vet, leave Kirby there, and drive 40 minutes home to spend the day resting. Then, in the evening, she’d drive another 40 minutes back to the vet, pick Kirby up, and drive another 40 minutes home, where she’d exhaust herself looking after him – carrying him inside and out, liquifying his food and feeding him with an eye dropper, not really sleeping because of worry.
By the end of the week, not unexpectedly, Mom crashed. She came in for a blood transfusion, but was in such bad shape they admitted her to the hospital. She stayed overnight and actually got a good night’s sleep because Kirby was at the vet’s office.
The next day, armed with new white blood cells, she was released, and went straight to the vet to get Kirby—who had been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder.
Dad made it home that night, where he could take care of Mom and Kirby, who made a pretty dramatic recovery once he was on the proper medication.
Mom’s doing fine now, but we’re all left with a renewed sense of how delicate she’s become, and how easily it is to overestimate what she can do. Even though most days she feels relatively good and she looks fabulous with her blond wig and svelte new body—she’s lost over a hundred pounds this last year—the fact remains, she’s got cancer. In fact, she’s going in for yet another round of chemo this afternoon, another round in an indefinite number of future rounds, however many it takes until her numbers come all the way down and stay there.
And that’s where it gets hard, because there’s no comfortable way to think about Mom’s future. Maybe there will be one, and maybe there won’t. And that’s pretty much where, emotionally, I’ve got to stop. Because I can’t think about the won’t.