Cancer: How I stopped crying and started living
I am dying. It will take a while, but not so long as I had expected. I had assumed I would live to be 75 or so. The tumour in my brain has other plans. If I’m lucky I’ll see 60. I’m 58 now.
I’ve spent the last five years building a workable life for myself. A horrible divorce and the death of my daughter forced me to come to terms with what I wanted out of my life. I bought a home in a coastal U.S. town that I loved. It was my heart’s home, a place just for me, and I filled it with things that make me happy. I bought a condo in Ontario, my official residence, where my art friends live and work. And I worked. I made studio space in both homes and I painted my heart out. I sold a few pieces, but had no great success. I could hold my head up among my friends, though, as I was represented by galleries in both countries.
In the spring of 2015, reality tossed me like a shingle in a hurricane. I was found, barely responsive, in my U.S. home and rushed to the hospital. I have no memory of this. The first thing I remember is the voice of my son. “Mom,” he said. “You have a brain tumour. A glioblastoma. You need surgery.” My son Tom lived three states away. What was he doing here? How did he get here? He continued, “The only question is, do you want your operation here or in Canada?”
There was no question for me. I have insurance in Canada. I didn’t know how, but I needed to go north. Later, I found out that the doctors told Tom that I might not even survive the surgery. My son (He of Great Heart) drove me 16 hours straight to Toronto. He flew an Ontario friend of mine down to make the drive with him. I couldn’t even walk on my own. He is my hero, and the light of my world.
I survived surgery with most of my faculties intact. I lost some of my vision, a lot of my physical strength, and I have trouble with planning and making decisions, but I am getting stronger every day. They told me that my tumour was malignant and very aggressive. I did not cry. I immediately started reviewing my life. What could I call achievement? What was unfinished? Those questions would frame everything that was to come.
The first unfinished business concerned my mother. Since 1998, when I became (apparently) financially secure, I had known that I would take care of her as she aged. She wasn’t getting any younger, and I wasn’t going to be able to keep driving back and forth between the southeastern U.S. And Ontario. In fact, I wasn’t going to be able to drive at all. I decided that an independent living facility near my son would be the best solution for both of us. It would be expensive, and it would drain my finances, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my money. Now I had a plan.
First, though, I had to get back on my feet. When I got out of the hospital, a dear friend was there for me. He cared for me, fed me too much, pushed me, and generally took over whenever I hit the wall. I had never known such loving kindness.
Then I spent three months on my own, learning to ask friends for help, to take taxis, to force my brain to plan and organize again, and to regain my independent spirit. I mourned, dry-eyed, for the loss of my friend who had been so kind. We had to part ways, it was inevitable, but it left a flat, empty place in my heart.
Meanwhile in Alabama, Tom was preparing the next step of my life. He renovated his home to make a suite for me. Even though he knew that I was ultimately planning to go to an independent living facility, he still made room for me. [He framed and dry walled and plumbed and wired and painted. Kelly helped, too and she decorated. The result was fresh and lovely. I was very close to tears when I saw what they had done.] And then another illness struck.
Tom’s 18 month old daughter started having fevers up to 107 degrees daily. Hospitalized and examined by teams of specialists, she was diagnosed with Still’s disease, or Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. It’s rare and the treatment is not 100% effective. It’s one of those things where you treat it and hope for the best. Tom and his wife Kelly are devastated, but soldier on. I was still in Ontario, following them on social media, watching as love and prayers poured in from their friends and family. I was witness from afar of the rich blessings this family generated.
With the help of Ontario friends, I made my way back to the U.S. to start cleaning out my house. My sister came from Louisiana, and Tom and Kelly drove up. I made a thousand fast decisions as I pulled my life apart. We packed two vans full of my stuff and headed south to Alabama.
This is when I got to see the wonderful rooms that had been lovingly prepared for me at Tom and Kelly’s house. I got to meet the friends that helped them. And I got to hold my granddaughter in my arms again. My eldest grandson, too. I see the blessings in everything now. Every moment is precious. Every day an opportunity to love.
I have been in Alabama for nine days now and have my medical care underway.
The family decorated the Christmas tree as I tried, and failed, to find appropriate music for the occasion on the Internet. But, this bliss was short lived. Sadness was visited on us again. Kelly’s grandmother passed away. The family hastily packed and headed out to comfort her father. Her heart is heavy and I know Tom’s is too. It can’t be easy for him to go to another funeral after saying goodbye to his sister a few years ago. I wonder if he is thinking that the next one will be me? That’s just too hard to think about!
The family is due to return tomorrow, but I just got this message…
“The baby tripped over the dog and bit completely through her tongue and lip. She is being taken by ambulance to hospital # 2 tonight for surgery.”
God, are you listening? This isn’t funny. Cut it out.
My goal, insofar as it is possible, is to become the loving mother/daughter/grandmother I always wanted to be.
I want to BE love. And I’ll start with the daily affirmation “I AM LOVE.”