I was working at the firehouse the morning almost six years ago my mom called
to say that she was heading to the doctor. She'd been having trouble with
nausea and abdominal pain and was finally seeking an answer. As a kindergarten
teacher, a mid-day trip anywhere -- let alone to the doctor's office -- was
rare, so I understood the significance. But I didn't worry. I don't worry
about the things everyone else does. That's just not how I roll. Maybe that's
why I'm a firefighter.
I went about my day, honestly expecting nothing except a good news phone
call from my mom. Her diet is more peculiar than mine and I'm pretty sure
I credited that with most all of her symptoms. Finally, the phone call came.
She was in the hospital. The ultrasound at the doctor's office found what
they thought were cysts in five areas of her abdomen. She was admitted to
the hospital for pain control and so doctors could take a second look to
figure out the problem. After hanging up the phone, I went into the day room
and briefed my bosses, who gave me their blessings to get the hell out Dodge.
On my way out of the firehouse, I remember saying a little prayer. I tried
to explain to God that at 25, I was too young to lose a parent.
By the time I made it to the small community hospital back home, it was getting
dark. A couple of my mom's friends were outside of her room as I walked in.
My mom was asleep and every light was off. I sat down in the chair beside
her bed, propped my feet up on a second chair and just sat in the darkness. A vast uncertainty
stood before me and I wondered if this was how my mom felt when facing the
mortality of her own parents.
* * * * *
The next day, we met with the local surgeon. I think I'll always remember
him coming into the room, clad in scrubs, walking to the side of the room
between the bed and the windows -- sort of metaphorically blocking the light.
He was pretty sure it was cancer. I watched my mom crumble. I watched some
of her friends sign her death warrant. Even though I didn't write about it
here at the time, my world sort of suspended itself at that moment.
Some moms knit. Some moms cook. My mom's hobby has often been worry. So the
mere utterance of the word cancer sent that tendency into overdrive. She'd
seen my aunt battle through it twice. You might think that knowing someone
who'd beat it two times would be inspirational... but it also gives you twice
the opportunity to know how awful the disease can be. As for some of her
friends, I was frustrated that they were so ready to accept what would become
a premature diagnosis. They weren't rooting for cancer by any means, but
they'd already resigned themselves to that fact. Quite possibly, I would
have boarded the gloom train myself except that someone had to stick around
and be the optimist.
* * * * *
On the third day of the ordeal, we transferred her out of our hometown hospital
and into the big city where she could be closer to me and doctors that were
better equipped to handle... well... anything.
I dare say that there were more people in the atrium of the new hospital
than there were patients in the old. As I walked in through the front doors,
everyone in the lobby seemed to be going about their normal day. Surprisingly,
nobody looked unhappy. I'd noticed this elsewhere, too. The world seemed
to be going about its business without any acknowledgment of this huge thing
happening in my life. My outward optimism aside, I felt as though my entire
life had been derailed with the idea that my mom might have cancer. The world
was running all around me and I was at a crawl.
"And everybody wants to go on laughing
when everything says it might be
time to cry
But I feel alive, seeing inside my eyes -- the saddest eyes you've ever
And I can't let go of someone I need to know
It's not time for you to go..."
-Maureen, Fred LeBlanc
* * * * *
My story has a happy ending. The big city doctors found no cancer. After
a few more days of tests and observation, she was discharged. Within a week
or two, my mom was back to her old self. My prayer had been answered. I
was too young to lose a parent. In the end, there were theories as
to what happened. I'm not sure that any of the doctors really knew for sure.
After all, there is a reason they call it practicing medicine. The
important thing to me was that life resumed. I had my mom back. I no longer
felt as though I was living in a world separate from everyone else.
Tonight, I can't help but wish that Alex had the opportunity to feel that
very same way.