Bittersweet Journey- Part Two

Mom will probably start chemotherapy this week. The first four months will be standard chemotherapy treatments every three weeks. This is the chemo that makes people lose their hair, as it attacks the whole body. She will have frequent tests to measure the damage to her organs. If the chemotherapy makes her too weak, she’ll have to take a break from the schedule, which will lengthen the amount of time it takes to finish. She’s healthy in most respects, so her side effects could be minimal. She’s been given a battery of drugs to combat nausea. After she finished the first four months, she has to have a specific type of chemotherapy that only attacks the actual cancer cells. It’s easier on her system, but it’s every three weeks for a year. Dad doesn’t think she has any idea what she’s facing.

We reach the little town my parents live in just as the sun is setting. I look out the window, across the fields of corn and soybeans, and watch the sun sink below the edge of the horizon. I marvel at it, as I’ve grown so used to watching it slip behind a tall ridge, knowing that the sun still shines down on the valley below.

Dad points out all the highlights as we ride through town. The last is the VFW. That’s the first place he wants to find in any new place. I don’t think I’ve ever been to one, but he always wants to know where they are. His neighborhood is across the street from the VFW. I don’t think he’s set foot in it yet.

Mom is waiting on the porch when we pull up. She’s thin. My Mom has always been heavy. She gained more than fifty pounds with each of us kids, plus some in her own right, and has always hovered around 200 pounds. Now she’s down to 155. I have to remind myself- this is not the cancer- she’s been working on losing weight (successfully) for a year or so now. Her chest is flat as a board, too, and that is the cancer. I hug her and it’s strange to feel her flat chest against my own healthy, whole chest. The breasts that are, in many different ways, such a part of my self image, my identity. It used to be to hers too. The breasts that fed her children. The breasts that gave her confidence in her clothes, in her figure. A symbol of her femininity, gone. I now have the biggest rack in the family. I feel guilty, both for still having my breasts and for valuing them so highly.

She looks good, though, happy and healthy. We do all the routine visit things that families do. My Dad offers to have Mom show me her scars. I decline. I’m not ready to face that yet. I don’t want to see my Mom’s scars. I don’t want to be reminded that she has cancer, that her body parts have begun the process of turning on her. I don’t want to see it when I close my eyes to go to sleep. I don’t want to wonder if my chest will look like that someday. I don’t want to be ashamed of being that selfish in the face of my mother’s struggle.

My Mom brings up their final wishes. She is wasting no time on this trip, and I’m wishing she could wait. At least until I can put some sleep between what I’m already dealing with and this conversation. Dad is too sober to discuss it. Mom says that she thinks that he wants a funeral. He says “I don’t want a funeral” and changes the channel on the television. I review what I know, what we’ve discussed before: cremation, where to scatter the ashes, what to do about the certain uproar over the lack of services. My Mom talks about my sister and I splitting things up between us. I tell her it’s fine, that we aren’t going to fight and argue, that we both realize we need to give and take. Someone, thankfully, mercifully changes the subject. We talk for another hour or so and then one by one, fall into bed. The guest room is cool, the bed is comfortable, and I’m drowsy enough to drift off without thinking about much of anything.

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3 Responses

  1. What a tough conversation… I went through this with my mom, and it was absolutely awful and terrifying. The worst year of my life. BUT she came through it strong and healthy. She had three relapses after the initial round, but has been cancer free for 6 years now, which is INCREDIBLE! I’ll keep you and your mom in my thoughts…

  2. I’m sorry to hear about your mom. Chemo is really ahrd to go through, or watch someone go through

  3. i’m sorry to hear as well. sending my karma that way…this is so beautifully writen.

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