Day 321/365 Her Lens

I have told the story before about how, after my father’s death, I became more keenly aware of a lack of photos of my mother. The reason being, she is an avid and talented photographer, thus is always behind the lens.

When I mentioned this to my mother, she said, “When I die, I will leave behind photos of all of the people, places and things that I loved…as they were through my eyes. Isn’t that better than a bunch of selfies?”

I was so struck by that, as was my daughter, Beau, who heard my mother say it. She still brings it up now and then…remember when Nana said…

My mother’s photography is how she expresses her love of the world…of her world…to all of us.

It is her. 

Nine months after her husband’s death, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I cannot speak for her, because it begs a question I have been afraid to ask, but…

If my partner…the man I had loved for fifty-five years had just left this Earth, I think I may have wanted to die, too. If the doctors told me that if I did nothing, I would soon be with him…I may have curled up and quietly said, “As it should be; take me too.”

My mother didn’t do that.

She chose to fight for her life…and I know in my heart that she did it just as much for us as she did for herself…perhaps for us even a bit more.  

I was there with her every step, but I can never truly know how awful it was for her – still freshly grieving while enduring a heavy course of chemotherapy, followed by major surgery.

I marveled constantly at her strength, and I was frequently overwhelmed by gratitude for all she was willing to endure.

She fought. She struggled.

She did not pick up her camera for eight months. She did not share her view of the world. I think it was just too dark a place.

In late April she was given a clean bill of health. She was (is) considered cancer free.

Florida bound for our annual family trip, she brought her camera.

Once again, she was ready to show us the world through her lens.

Day 316/365 Google is an Asshole

“I am concerned about two areas on the lung x-ray that look as though they could be related to the cancer,” he said.

What I heard was, “Your mother now has lung cancer.”

Wait…but….she just finished chemo. How can she have NEW cancer already? 

I used to be an eternal optimist.

Even now I can pull out an “Everything is going to be fine!” but lately…

Maybe it’s my recent life experience, or just getting older…but I have begun to brace myself for the worst. Often I can dial it back and force myself to be present with what is known – to not get too crazy over what is not (yet) – but the fact is…

I am not the Pollyanna I once was.

As I sat there across from this unknown doctor, my mother laying between us on the bed in the ER, I was sure I was “hearing” what he wasn’t saying…what he was trying to tell me with his eyes…which was, THIS. IS. BAD. 

We weren’t even supposed to be there. More than two weeks out from her very last chemo…we were on a break! A month off before phase two – the big surgery.

Her body had different plans.

She spiked a fever, and protocol had her going straight to the ER. They ran all kinds of tests to make sure she didn’t have an infection, the flu…pneumonia. She had none of these things.

In fact, they saw no reason to keep her there.

So it was – Go home, get some rest, drink lots of fluids…oh, and…you might be dying….better get that checked out as soon as possible. Have a nice day. 

I thought about those stories you hear – the people who find out they have a brain tumor only because they hit their head and needed an x-ray. You have to believe that it was divine intervention – at least, I do. A higher power wanted it to be known. So applying that logic, I thought – she surely has lung cancer. That’s why she ended up coming to the ER for seemingly no reason, and had gotten a chest x-ray.

A higher power wanted us to know what was there.

And so it began…

Waiting to get in for a test.

Waiting for results.

She might be dying. Have a nice day. 

Waiting to get in for a different test.

Waiting for results.

She might be dying. Have a nice day. 

And so it continued – for an entire month.

The month of “reprieve” between chemo and surgery turned out to be no reprieve at all.  She did feel better physically, but the testing and the waiting…oh, the waiting. Trying to act normal when your mind keeps creeping over to the darkest places. Trying to stay with what is known and to not go crazy thinking about what is not.

My mother and I joked that if we got bad news, we might be looking back on these awful days of waiting as the good ole’ days.

In the words of Dylan, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”

They did let us know that if her cancer had metastasized to the lungs, she would not be having the trifecta of “ectomies” that were planned. We did not ask what the new plan would be, though I had read (before we’d even left the ER that day) that breast cancer metastasized to the lung is, in fact, terminal.

Sometimes Google is such an asshole.

However, in an act of optimism, they never cancelled her surgery. Then, three days prior to the surgical date, we finally had an answer.

Her lungs are fine.

I sobbed with relief and joy.

Once I composed myself I couldn’t wait to tell the small group of friends and family who had been waiting with us in the hell of the unknown…

Aaaaand I wanted to go down to the hospital and punch that ER doctor in the face. 

(Just keeping it real, you guys.)

Deep breath.

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Longing for the days when we could concentrate on important things like hair accessories.