“The next time you’re faced with something that’s unexpected, unwanted, and uncertain, consider that it may be a gift.”—Stacey Kramer
It's been tough returning to a new school year, faced with the inevitable question from those I haven't seen since June: "How was your summer?" Pause. Should I respond with the truth and tell a co-worker that it was worse than I ever could have imagined? Or what about the ever so common "How are you?" Devastated, scared, and heartbroken. No one wants to hear that. The question is not really even a question, but rather something we all say without really wanting to hear an answer that deviates too much in any one direction from 'good.'
It's impossible to put into words how much my world has changed since Mom was diagnosed with a 3cm brain tumor that turned out to be stage 4 lung cancer which has metastasized to her brain. I actually cannot think of a worse diagnosis, can you? When they detected the mass, we were in Oregon and Nathan immediately booked the next flight out at 5:30 am. I hoped, with all of my heart and soul, that it would be benign. That it would not have spread from somewhere else.
My Mom has always been my best friend. When teenagers go through a rebellious phase, sometimes they drift apart from their parents. Not my Mom and I. We would stay up late, talking and laughing. She helped me through many a broken heart, never telling me that I was being silly, over-dramatic, or that it wasn't that big of a deal. She listened with her whole heart and always infused me with the hope that someone better would come along, and that I deserved that something better. She expressed interest in everything I did, including going so far as to actually fall in love with The Cure, Depeche Mode and NIN. She'd mention songs by names, and ask me to play them, Love Cats being a particular favorite. She is the most optimistic person I have ever met, and I have often said that she has the patience of a saint.
I have talked to her every day of my adult life. Because we are so close, because I love her so dearly, the pain of this horrible reality has completely enveloped me. It now permeates everything I do. And yet here I sit, trying. Trying to put it into words, trying to make sense of it, trying to find hope and trying to be strong, for Mom.
I once had a psychology professor tell me that it is physiologically impossible to have that butterflies-in-your-stomach-can't-wait-to-see-them new love feeling for too long. It cannot be sustained, physiologically, for more than a set time he explained, no matter who you're with. So yes, even the newness of Angelina Jolie (or maybe you're of the Aniston camp) or Brad Pitt would wear off after awhile, even if they were your ideal partner.
Thank God, I'm finding that the same is true for the feeling that comes with the most devastating news. I don't think it would be possible to feel as bad as I did when the news first hit. In the span of three weeks, I have gone from spontaneously crying in many public places and the lowest low I could have ever imagined, to responding with an nonchalant "fine" when asked the dreaded "How are you?" I'm also no longer crying every day. I'm not fine, but I'm fine with that. Most days, I can at least muster the courage to act normal. Three weeks ago, I did not know how I was going to get it together enough to even return to work. Now, I'm actually thankful for the routine.
Yet still, every morning when I wake up, it hits me all over again. Sometimes, it's during the middle of the night and I lay there wide awake in the darkness, thinking. Or, I find myself lost in the moment and actually enjoying something when this diagnosis and prognosis, taps me on the shoulder. It's there no matter what; looming. Mom, on the other hand, has seemingly never been better. She has an amazing positive outlook and sunny personality, that not even the Big C can penetrate. Who maintains that when faced with this? My Mom does. She has not spent one minute of her time feeling sorry for herself. And how do I know that? Not only has she been her usual happy self around me, daily mentioning how "excited" she is about her new apartment in "the OC" but because Dad told me that even alone with him, she has said "I've had a good life."
But, a good life isn't enough. This is not how it's supposed to be. I want her not only to be around for the birth of our first child (Sophia, if it's a girl) but, she is supposed to help raise them; see them graduate from high school. She's only 62 years old, and I am not ready to give her up. That's too young. Yet the statistics are bleak I find myself being thankful for this time now, and mindful that today is a gift. Having her at our wedding is a blessing. I am keenly aware that she could have died suddenly of a heart attack, accident or stroke. She could have died while I was much younger. She's here with me now.
And thankfully, two pretty amazing things have been set in motion prior to this horrible diagnosis that make it somewhat bearable: I now have the most amazing, selfless fiancé and for the first time, I have found some faith.
On one of our first dates, Nathan asked me what I thought the purpose of life was. I think I gave a long, rambling answer involving being a parent, having fun and leaving the world a better place. But his response was simple: service to others. How honest, and prophetic, that answer has turned out to be. Nathan has shown his true colors by daily working, non-stop, on handling everything that this tragedy has necessitated. Prior to being hit with this, I knew he was amazing; I knew I had held out for the very best. But he has surpassed my wildest expectations by stepping up to the plate in a way I never could have imagined.
Right from the very start, when Dad was telling me over the phone that Mom was at the ER and they detected a mass, Nathan sprang into action and was in the process of booking us a flight out of Eugene the very next morning before I was even off the phone. He was instrumental in getting my Mom better care by pushing that we check her out of a horrible county facility in Moreno Valley and drive her, ourselves, to UC Irvine Medical Center. He went shopping daily while I stayed in the hospital with her, picking up items from food to crocheting hooks. He taxied me back and forth when I was too upset to drive.
One night, as I was falling asleep in Mom's ICU room, I texted him that I had forgotten my pajamas. I fell asleep in my jeans, but awoke a short time later to him in the room, knelt down beside me, comfy clothes in hand. He has used humor with my Mom and I when things were really heavy, and asked her questions about her childhood and my childhood that have allowed me get to know her in a different way. He's pushed with the insurance companies and UCI to fast-track all of the authorizations required so she can get treatment sooner than if we left it up to them. One Friday, he was on the phone from 11 am until 5 pm working exclusively on that. He found my parents an apartment in Tustin and set up all of the utilities and helped move them until 5:30 am.
And over the last week, he has been instrumental in getting my parent's place in Yucaipa rented. Drafting the contract, ordering new carpet (using the security deposit from the people renting it), making more trips to clear it out in time for the 1st. Daily, I am amazed at his dedication and stamina and the love he is showing to my parents. He has been beyond thoughtful, talking about making sure my Mom gets in a trip to England next summer, which she hasn't visited since she left at 18. I realized last week that if I were planning to marry someone who was less than supportive right now, I would call the wedding off.
I have also, since last year, begun to dip my toes in the comforting waters of Catholicism. While I still have a long, long way to go, starting to believe in a higher power, praying, and having mom go with me to church has been helpful. Not just to me, but to her. Nathan means gift from God. And right now, that is just what he seems to be.