…since I found out that my mom has cancer.
It’s been around a year since I learned it was Stage 4 Lung cancer.
Now before you read on I want you to know that she is in a good place. She is as strong as she can be. She is as healthy as she can be. She is alive. She is living. She is dreaming. She is traveling. She is setting goals. And she is here.
I can call her. I can talk to her. I can text her. She texts back. She calls back. We laugh, and we cry. We argue. Just like normal. There will be weeks when days go by that we don’t talk – as if nothing has changed. Same ‘ol, same ‘ol. Just like it used to be.
And in a way that’s nice. I like being in a place where we “can” forget – at least for a moment that she is suffering from a terminal illness.
This Halloween Zane and I went to St. George to be with my mom and dad. They were down in between treatments.
She is now in a clinical trial. She was going through chemo and at first it was working. After around 4 treatments for whatever reason it stopped. All 3 of her tumors which had been shrinking started to grow again. And rapidly. It was then a wait and go period while her doctor tried to figure out what was the best next step for her. A clinical trial. But even once she’d found the one that would best help her it was a matter of qualifying. Anyone who’s been through or knows someone who’s had cancer understands that all treatments are not made available to all individuals suffering from cancer. Just like a good college, you have to apply. You have to complete a ton of paperwork, and you have to meet certain criteria. Then, maybe, you’ll get in.
The time in between was hard. For us. She went in to a dark place. Stopped returning my calls. Stopped texting me. And I was left in the dark. It was hard for her because the chemo had stopped and she didn’t know what that meant. That went on for around a month. When I finally got her on the phone, she told me she didn’t want to ‘bring me down.’ I told HER that I was in it for the long-haul. Of course. I wanted to be there for the good times AND the bad. I couldn’t be there in person, but I could be here for her. I’m her daughter no matter what and even though it’s painful for me to hear her in pain, it’s just as painful for me to be here NOT hearing her in pain. I know that at times she feels very alone, and I want to always be a safe place for her to turn.
Luckily, my mom did meet the criteria to get in the program. She’s been in that clinical trial ever since.
Now, she did go through a short stint of radiation on her hip but only because she was having a difficult time walking. Her doctor really didn’t offer many other options to her at the time being that she said clinical trials (in a way) like patients who are ‘green’ – meaning those who haven’t tried a lot of other treatments yet.
The radiation worked. She was able to walk better again, and got in to the trial.
Now she goes in for her infusion once a month. Her doctor visits are more spread out – giving her time in between to do some of the activities she loves so much – lunch with friends, day trips, golfing, trips to St. George, short vacations away with my dad. At the start of her new treatment they administered 2 different drugs. After a few months they scaled in back to one. As long as her body continues to respond to the one they won’t reintroduce the other. So far so good. Knock on wood. While her tumors are shrinking right now, they do consider them ‘stable’, and that is good enough for us.
She is feeling more pain in her hip and back again though. They haven’t been able to nail down why. It’s not her tumor per se. At first she was worried that maybe that tumor was growing again, but scans have shown otherwise. The thinking is that perhaps the radiation built some scar tissue and that’s what’s causing some pain. Not sure.
Back to Halloween. Halloween marked the one year point. I was with my mom when she and I walked in to a Halloween store in St. George. I told her while walking it in that it was exactly one year ago that I was in a Halloween store in Pleasant Grove when dad had called me and told me the news. I was shopping for a headpiece to go with my Day of the Dead costume for the Haunted Half in 2015. I sat down, right there in the store, in the middle of the aisle and just sobbed. My mom had cancer. We’d just barely returned from Hawaii. My mom had always been my idol – my image of health – the strong one. She was going to live forever. That day my world changed. There was so much fear – so many unknowns – so many questions. My biggest fear was losing my mom – my best friend. And I wasn’t even with her.
The first doctor we met with basically wrote her off – stating that she had a little as 3 months to live but possibly up to a year. Wow.
So our walking in to the Halloween store a year later, together, was a huge milestone for both of us. She was alive, healthy, and really for the most part, just like her same old self. Just mom. Healthy. Strong.
It was also a milestone in another way. I’ve shared this with several of my close friends, but I’ll share it with you now. My mom used to always dress up for Halloween. It was always such a fun time in our home growing up. My mom had drawers and tubs full of costumes – some she’d bought, some she’d sewn (I never got that gene by the way – I broke my sewing machine the first year I got it as a newlywed and figured it was a sign), and some she’d thrown together – mixmatched pieces. But it was always a fun time. We’d start trying on costumes well before Halloween. I even remember a time as recent as maybe 15 years ago that as full-grown adults Heidi, my mom, and I got out some of the old childhood costumes and tried them all – just for fun. Raggedy Ann meets Chaplin. Bunny ears. You name it. Just silliness.
Mom and Dad would always host huge extravagant Halloween parties in the name of Dad’s company but inviting all of their closest friends and family. Their parties would go well in to the morning, and I always loved being a part of them. I’d sit on the stairs as a young kid and just watch them. I loved how dressed up people would come. They would totally get in to it. As I got older, I was invited too, and I loved taking part in helping my mom prepare for their parties and then dressing up too.
Around 10 years ago my Grandma Ward passed – my mom’s mom. Now, my mom was just as close to Grandma as I am to her. They were tight. Grandma passed away at Halloween time, and that holiday changed for my mom. No more dressing up. No more parties. No more celebrations. She mourned for a really long time. Honestly, she still hasn’t gotten over Grandma’s passing, and I don’t blame her. I miss Grandma completely, but it’s different when it’s your mom. I can only imagine (don’t want to) what it will be like when I no longer have my mom. Anyway, Halloween wasn’t fun at all any more to my mom.
So this year when Zane and I went down, I took a bunch of Halloween costumes with me. I was determined to recreate some of our old memories. Have some of the same fun we used to. I succeeded. Slowly but surely my mom found that fun dress-up spirit again and tried costume after costume and wig after wig on. She felt silly at first – she kept reminding me that she’s 70 – but she still had fun. When she learned that none of her girlfriends would be dressing up on Halloween for their ladies golf date, I reminded her how jealous they would be when they saw her dressed up and not them. Luckily, she still dressed up.
Mom and I dressed up 3 separate times that weekend. I took tons and tons of pictures. We had such a great time.
Right now I am trying to make the most out of every moment we have together. There are times I fail miserably. There are times I forget. And like I mentioned early on there are days that go by when it almost feels like none of this is real and none of this is happening.
But more times than not we make every day moments special. We plan ahead. We set goals. I try to tempt her with bucket-list events. I want her to live, dream, and conquer. And I want to be a part of it with her whenever I can.
It’s been one year one month…with hopefully many more years and months to come.