Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One Year Ago: Mom's Diagnosis

Today is an anniversary and milestone of sorts. One year ago, Nathan and I were at his parent's home in Oregon when I got the call that Mom had a brain tumor and needed emergency surgery.

Mom, a regular Curves client, was healthier than she had been in years. A few years prior, she had high blood pressure and was pre-diabetic. Her doctor wanted to put her on medication but Mom refused and instead, said she would change her lifestyle. I'm sure doctors hear that a lot, knowing people rarely follow through, but Mom really did. She started following the Forks Over Knives diet, lost quite a bit of weight, and no longer needed medication. But lately she had developed bouts of nausea and dizziness following "the worst headache of my life." A headache so severe that she could not even get to a phone to call anyone. Not wanting to worry me, and hoping it would pass, she didn't tell me about any of these symptoms for a week or two. By that time, we were in Oregon, and I pleaded with her to go to the emergency room.

Mom didn't want to go to the ER because she had already seen her primary care doctor, who didn't seem too concerned. This "doctor" told Mom she may have a slow brain bleed, and ordered an outpatient MRI, a procedure that would have taken weeks. Not feeling any better, Mom finally acquiesced and agreed to be seen. I remember that day in Oregon, waiting for the call.

Sitting around all day and waiting was killing me, and so I decided to go on a three mile walk. I went down to the frontage road and back by myself while everyone was preparing dinner. Their property in Oregon doesn't have cell coverage, something I really love. As I was walking back, I remember the strong feeling that these could be the few last normal moments before everything in our lives changed. Somehow, I knew.

I was numb when Dad told me that an MRI showed a tumor in Mom's cerebellum and that she would need brain surgery as soon as possible. That's all we knew. We didn't yet know that it was cancer, and had spread from somewhere else, though that fear was surely in the back of all of our minds. As he spoke, I wrote what he said down, while Nathan looked on. Nathan nodded to me and began checking flights.

What you remember the most in the moments following devastating news is the kindness of others. It is paramount, and means so much more than it would on an ordinary day. I remember his brother, Thaddeus, researching what hospital to transfer Mom to, something I never would have thought of. You have choices, even when it feels like you have none. Rebecca, TJ's girlfriend (and now fiancĂ©e), expressing genuine kindness and concern in the kitchen and hugging me. His Mom and sister Brittany, taking turns being with me as alternated between blankly staring at the wall and crying, making sure I wouldn't have to be alone.

His Mom opened up and shared her personal stories about her loved one's care. She began preparing me to advocate for the best care for Mom. Brittany and Pat, agreeing to take my dog Trevi with them on the long drive back to California. His brother Ben, who knew something was wrong and was sad right along with me. Uncle Don, visiting from Pennsylvania who slipped Nathan $50, knowing the cost of last minute flights. And his father, who woke up before dawn and drove us to Portland to catch an early flight. Lastly, and most importantly, Nathan, who is my rock. He sprung into action, yet remained calm and sweet toward me in the face of all this, and held me that night while I cried myself to sleep.

I also remember the kindness of strangers. On the plane, I realized I was really thirsty. I was barely holding it together as I asked the flight attendant if I could buy a bottle of water, like the one she was holding in her hand. She abruptly told me they weren't for sale, and that she could only give me a cup. I was curled up in my seat, and didn't want to put the tray down or hold a small cup of water. I didn't say anything except a weak never mind. Somehow, she read my body language. After she had attended to everyone in her section, she came back with a new bottle and a smile, giving it to me free of charge. I was so touched by her simple gesture that I turned to Nathan and began to cry. She didn't notice, but still to this day, that small act means so much. When I got off the plane and walked past her, I thanked her. With tears in my eyes, I told her it meant so much more to me than she knew.

And the kindness of friends. We were all also buoyed by the financial support from those near and far that allowed us to move Mom and Dad out from their home in Yucaipa to an apartment less than 2 miles from our home. While she was still in the hospital, I would daily check her Go Fund Me page that my dear friend Delia created. We were - and still are - all amazed and humbled by what people donated. A few people I had never met contributed, and others gave anonymously. Amazingly, we raised $4,950. Without this, the move would not have happened for awhile, if at all. Our savings had already been put down on deposits for our wedding, which was 4 months away.

So much has changed in the past year. Somehow, I found a strength and resiliency that I never knew I had, or was even capable of having. Now, I rarely get upset about Mom's condition, and can't tell you the last time I cried. But back then, I could barely hold it together long enough to go to the store. When I went for a run, I cried. During a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, I cried. If you had told me that I would come to a place of calm acceptance and actually feel thankful for the time we have, I probably wouldn't have believed you. Even putting these thoughts down takes me back to that fragile time and I can't believe how far we've come. I find myself wondering how it changed, and unable to put my finger on it.

I wish I knew and could give you my secret, but I haven't "done" anything to shift my perspective. It has just been shaped by time. Physiologically, most people just cannot remain in a state of despair and stress for too long. If your natural, basic temperament is one of happiness and optimism, you will naturally progress back to that state no matter what life throws your way. Like water seeking the lowest ground. I have had the help of many friends who listened and made Mom feel special, like inviting her to our get-togethers. I made it a point to get sleep, exercise and take care of myself, but aside from that, I haven't done anything to reach this new perspective. Somehow, it just happened.

Yesterday, at Mom's intrathecal chemo. appt. She re-told the story of the bishop who stopped the processional in high mass, stepped over others kneeling to pray, touched her head and prayed over her. It was Christ the King church, the church they were to be married at years later, in Reading just outside of London. Her Mom, my grandmother Lilly, told her it meant that she had a cross to bear, and he was giving her strength.


Today, we all talked and collectively made the decision to skip the chemo she was scheduled for today. She has lost 16 pounds in 2 weeks, and is very weak. She has the Roar and Snore on Friday, several nights in San Diego, their 45th wedding anniversary, a yard sale, a move into our home and an overnight trip to Catalina Island, all in the next two weeks. We all want her to be able to enjoy it. It's a decision we all feel good about. Back then, I could barely absorb or retain what the doctor's said, let alone formulate thoughtful responses or questions and make these types of decisions.

I guess my point is this: if I can be happy and function normally in spite of all this, anyone can, in due time. Whatever your greatest fear in life is (this has long been mine), if and when it comes to you, I promise you that will find the tools to handle it, and it won't be quite as bad as you have imagined. 

2 comments:

  1. I'm sorry to hear about your mom's struggles. She lucky to have such a loving, committed daughter.

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    1. Thank you Jessah, that's very sweet. I'm only this way because of her!

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