June 22, 2018 was a life changing day for my whole family. If you’ve been following along on this blog, then you remember. Mom and dad arrived early at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Soon thereafter, mom was taken into surgery and about 12 hours later, her surgeon emerged with the news that she had removed all visible cancer.
During those 12 hours, we waited. We paced. Strolled to admire the photo gallery on the walls. Talked. Played games on tablets and phones. Read. And waited.
The next 2 weeks were challenging as we watched mom navigate her new body, rebuilt by a team of physicians in an operating room. Visitors came and went. There was a constant flow of texts and calls. We came to love the team of nurses and staff at the hospital.
Eventually I had to get back home to my job, my home, and my new relationship with Ted. But I quickly returned, to help my parents at home and settle into our “new normal.”
The next year was incredibly challenging with the highest highs and the lowest lows. Mom had complications with Cdiff and we watched her wither away.
She mentally gave up. We said our goodbyes. “Do you want me to speak at your funeral?” I asked her in January 2019. Our favorite clergy sang songs of peace on the phone to us.
And then mom’s doctor said it wasn’t her time to go. We encouraged her to fight. She went home; Dad and our aide Sophia nursed her back to life. She grew stronger and stronger. She started coming back to us.
By the summer, we celebrated 50 years of marriage between my parents. Our favorite clergy (minus 1) celebrated with us. It was a beautiful day.
Then we heard a magical word: remission. We had kicked cancer’s ass.
Life began to feel calmer. We started getting our lives back, whatever that means. But, I’m not going to lie. I had the word “reoccurrence” in the back of my mind. So, when mom’s test numbers began to elevate this winter, no one was surprised. Ovarian cancer is chronic; it usually returns. And it did, as demonstrated by a cat scan. Even though it wasn’t a surprise, I still cried to Ted. It’s not fair, I thought.
Now we are here again – 1 chemo session down, many more ahead. But mom is handling it better this time and despite Covid, she’s staying social, mostly on the phone, between the naps caused by chemo fatigue.
I’ve been wondering why my sleep is so disrupted lately. Probably Covid- related? No, I think it’s because I try to carry the weight of the cancer on my shoulders so my parents don’t have to carry it.
So, what now? I look at this time as precious with my mom and dad. I may be 5 hours away but we’re in each other’s hearts.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned during these last 2 years:
1. You realize quickly who truly cares about you when you’re going through something like this.
2. Sadly, you also learn who doesn’t care enough or is “too busy” to support you.
3. Don’t wait to share your will, funeral requests or the like with your adult kids. Be open and honest, like my folks.
4. It is crucial to practice self care while also supporting a sick loved one. You will be a way better support for them if you also take time for yourself.
5. Caretakers must have an outlet to talk, vent, cry, laugh. Clergy, significant other, therapist, friend – or all of the above!
6. Taking a sleep aid or medication to get through things is not a weakness nor does it mean it is a permanent solution.
7. Having a supportive boss/job is crucial, but it doesn’t mean you don’t need to put in the work to balance it all.
8. Find your catharsis. For me, it’s writing. For dad, it’s nature & photography. For mom, it’s helping others in need. For my brother, it’s picking on me (just kidding!).
9. It’s ok to be vulnerable with your sick loved one. It’s ok to share you’re sad, mad, frustrated, and whatever else you’re feeling. It’s better to just be honest.
10. We can’t control everything. So, sometimes, you just have to accept being dealt a shitty hand, and hope for a good one next round.