On the way to the doctor’s appointment she mentioned the sign I’d bought. Either someone else had told her about it, or I’d sent her a copy of my blog posting mentioning it. I don’t actually remember, as the days have kind of blurred together recently.
She’d liked the idea of a sign that said so much with that one simple word: LIVE.
In his office, she didn’t come out and ask how long.
Instead, she skirted around the question.
“Will I see my February birthday?”
The doctor hesitated only briefly before saying, “You might live until then. Or you might not. Everyone is different and their cancer is different. But you are living today. Concentrate on today. Do the things you want to do. Paint. Talk to your children. See your grandchildren.”
I liked that he remembered that she painted, that she is an artist. She’d decided on radiation of her brain because of how important that brain was to her creativity. She hadn’t wanted to lose that.
Bravely, she’d faced the mask that held her head and shoulders down and the 15 radiation treatments that gave her headaches and made most of her hair fall out. And the fatigue. The numbing, bone-weary fatigue that made something so simple as going to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee seem overwhelming. Eating was a chore.
After asking questions and talking to the doctor today, she made the decision against pursuing chemotherapy treatments that would not cure the cancer but perhaps might extend her life a bit, although not in a quality way.
On the way home, she seemed relieved, somehow. The decision was made, and now she could move forward and live. She talked a lot, her tongue loosened by the coffee and love she’d shared with family members at Panera Bread’s outdoor table after the doctor appointment.
She stumbled a little, getting out of the car, and I grabbed ahold of her thin arm, steadying her. I had a brief glimpse of her frailty before she righted herself and walked with dignity to the house. She wanted to sit outside so I brought a cup of coffee out before hugging her. I could feel tears welling up inside, filling my throat so that my voice caught a little when I told her I needed to get back home, and that I loved her.
Then I left her alone, glancing back once before driving out of the driveway. She turned her head slightly, and waved. I kept the tears at bay until I’d left the driveway, when they coursed down my cheeks freely.
On the drive home I reflected on the doctor’s words.
“Sometimes cancer can be a gift. You can say the things you want to say, do the things you want to do, and say good-bye to the people you love.”
When I opened my door, there was my LIVE sign, laying against the cabinet, waiting for my husband to paint the entryway. It was the first time I noticed how the “LIVE” sign also looks as though it spells “LOVE.”
Today my dear mother gave me permission to write about the elephant in the room, the elephant that is my mother’s cancer.