I moved my 96-year-old mother into my facility from the east coast a year ago. That was after having had cancer, but I had withheld the information from her because I'd been informed by my family that her dementia was bad enough that she wouldn't remember, anyway. Well, when she moved here, I found no signs of dementia, just advanced-age memory loss issues; definitely not the same thing.
When she was eventually told about my cancer, she was flippin' mad and I didn't blame her. After all, doesn't every mother want to be there for her child in time of need? I had stolen that away from her.
So when I visited her a few weekends ago, is was to let her know why I wasn't at work anymore.
Let me tell you: informing a mother that her 8th and youngest child has a cancer recurrence is brutal. Not only did her husband (my father) die of the same type of cancer thirty years ago, but there is a possibility that I may, too. Not anytime soon, I hope, but this could eventually take me.
"How come you're so strong about it?" she asked through sobs.
"Because I've been here before, I don't feel sick, and I am good at accepting life on life's terms."
It's a motto I adopted from 12-step programs when I stepped into the rooms of Al-Anon over two decades ago. My marriage to an addict got me there, but what saved my sanity was learning how to stop fighting the craziness of living with a man who couldn't stop his addiction--not even for me or our children.
When I stopped resisting the inevitable--that he wasn't going to change, but would instead continue dragging us down the slippery slope of addiction with him--I got honest. I got help, and I took action.
It took a while, but I eventually left him and moved on. And in time, I healed the fallout of our destructive marriage and moved into a bigger and better life.
"The truth will set you free" is not only real, but it works. The hardest part is surrendering to the reality of the event, whatever that is: A looming divorce; a child on drugs; a job loss; a miscarriage; a bankruptcy.
I still fight circumstances on occasion, but for really big issues that are entirely out of my control, I know better.
I have learned to cave, to surrender, and to accept whatever has landed into my lap.
But no, I wasn't always good at this. I had to learn it by landing on my face time and time again. It was through those hard knocks that I was properly prepared (and ready) for cancer's arrival.
But what other choice do I have but to accept this?
Sure, I can holler and scream and cry, but what good would that do? It won't make the cancer go away; in fact, it may even cause it to proliferate. And if I focused all of my attention on resisting my diagnosis by staying in denial or anger, I wouldn't have any energy or motivation left to seek out alternative treatments, or to heal.
But a positive attitude, I know, works like magic. Not only for cancer, but for all of life's unexpected zingers.
I believe it contributed to my quick healing last time, with no significant health problems during the 7-months between diagnosis through chemotherapy and radiation. I was still able to work; I regained my stamina and energy after each chemo; radiation only gave me a short-term sore throat; and I've been feeling great since it all ended in November 2018.
Now that it's back, I don't ask "why?" because my only focus is to get better. And that means getting honest about my life and how I can improve my chances of healing by paying attention to my diet, exercise, attitude, and treatment options.
But my mother insists on understanding the "why?" Perhaps she is still mourning the loss of her husband of 45 years, or worrying that her youngest may succumb to this as well. Perhaps understanding the reasons why cancer has shown up again in her child while she is ready to leave the planet at 96, may help her sort out her own pain about the past and the present.
It's how she and I are fundamentally different, my mother and I. I care about the "Why?" only so I can better understand what I may be able to do to avoid a prolonged relapse, and to ensure a better outcome.
I spent over an hour with my mother as she cried and vented. I was grateful that I had on sunglasses and a mask since behind them I was a snotty mess. But there were also moments of levity. Through tears she said, "I wish it was me and not you," to which I replied, "I do, too." It not only took her by surprise, but also made us both laugh out loud.
"Why this/Why now/Why me?" are mere distractions on my road to recovery. And I've never been one to play the victim card.
I believe it's why I've made it through sex abuse, two miscarriages, a marriage to an addict, divorce, and cancer.
I'd also like to think that being a bad-ass is my super power.