It’s been a long time. A hefty combination of writer’s block and lack of motivation have played a heavy role in that, but for the past few months there’s been something else as well. Something that I’ve wanted to write about but wasn’t really sure how or when the right time would come.
My mom’s been quite open about the whole experience, but to this point there had been nothing on Facebook. So I figured I should wait until she was ready to break that barrier, even if it took a little prodding of sorts from her crazy son.
Three months ago my parents came to visit me for a weekend in Ashland. They’d done the same the previous year, since I wouldn’t be able to come “home” for Thanksgiving. The first time they came we spent the weekend driving all around Ashland looking at possible houses that were for sale as we made my place in the Rogue Valley a bit more permanent. This time the experience was a bit more sobering.
In the days leading up to their trip down, my mom had received some test results from the doctor that had shaken her reality a bit, to say the least. It was tough to stand 500 miles away and listen to her tell me the news over the phone that she had breast cancer, but the initial prognosis was at least very positive. They’d found the tumor very early and would have surgery in the coming weeks. And in the immediate future, suddenly my parents’ trip to Ashland would have a different purpose of helping my mom take her mind off the difficult road ahead of her.
Their visit was wonderful, and a few weeks later I was blessed with the opportunity to fly up and surprise them for my mom’s surgery. It was remarkable to see how my mom’s approach had changed in the weeks since first hearing the news. She no longer seemed nervous or fearful, and the morning of the surgery I’m pretty sure everyone else in our family was more nervous than she.
Since then, a successful lumpectomy and two of her prescribed six sessions of chemo have brought us to this point. All signs have been very positive, although I’m sure it has not been easy on her. She has dealt with weakness and sickness after each of her treatments, and – as evidenced by recent Facebook pictures – has lost her hair in the past few weeks.
Having some friends whose mothers experienced similar struggles, I’d been warned that the next time I see her my mom might not look nearly as young and strong as before. I realize it has only been two sessions of chemo, but when I was on the bus north yesterday and waiting to meet her I was nervous about how she would look. Had the treatment taken its toll?
I’ll admit that I’m biased in this situation, but I don’t know that my mom has ever looked stronger. Granted, she now wears a wig (which looks amazing, by the way). But physically she looks amazing and both emotionally and spiritually she is thriving. While I lament the fact that I cannot, for the time being, continue my favorite lifelong tradition of messing up her hair (the wig just doesn’t work the same way), I have never been so proud of my mom.
I have been blessed throughout my entire life. I’ve always had all I need and never been wanting for love or opportunity. I’ve grown up very close to my extended family and still share a great bond with all of my grandparents and many of my aunts, uncles and cousins. Even better, my most difficult experiences have been the fairly typical social frustrations characteristic of the stereotypical suburban American childhood.
All of this is to say that this has definitely been the toughest, and closest, trial I’ve ever endured. I think that’s why I was so willing to join my mom in the Rogaine club. While she sees my dad and sister all the time (despite my constant efforts to convince my sister and brother-in-law to join me in Ashland), she only gets to see me once every few months. That’s probably harder on me than on her, but it makes me want all the more to show support for her battle in any way I can.
So this weekend became the time for solidarity. I know it was a big step for my mom just to remove her wig and reveal her bald head to me – in a lot of ways it’s a sign of a vulnerability she’s never faced. But through it all she stayed strong and we had a lot of fun through the process. We even had a chance to relive some of her most infamous hair cutting experiences from my past, which we “affectionately” refer to as “Oops” moments in honor of the word she would exclaim when accidentally hacking off an unintended section of hair in previous haircuts. Let’s just say there were some times I wore hats to school for a while.
When the time came for our bald picture together, she didn’t hesitate. She was ready for her experience to make it to Facebook, and the responses from both my friends and hers have been amazing. And while my current reflective dome is probably a sad forecast of my not-too-distant future, hers is hopefully a passing phase that will be gone in the next year.
At that point, these photos will be a reminder. A reminder of vulnerability. A reminder of a journey. And a reminder of strength.
All my life I’ve looked up to my parents in pretty much every way (well, physically it’s been probably close to 15 years since I “looked up” to my mom, but in every other way…). In the past five months, my parents have dealt with health issues they never could’ve imagined. And while they might not realize it, they’ve thrived.
I have never been so encouraged by my mom’s faith as in the past few months. Whether it was while we were in San Francisco wondering what was ailing my dad’s gall bladder (turns out it was my dad’s gall bladder, which can never again hurt him – he and those doctors showed that gall bladder who’s boss), while we were sitting in the hospital room waiting for her to go into surgery or while she was shaving my head, her faith has brought on a strength to which I can only aspire.
Through it all, my mom has known that God loves her and will take care of her in one way or the other. She hasn’t wavered in that faith, and even if something were to change in the prognosis she would hold firm in that faith. As this journey – this battle – aims to weaken her body, she is instead taking strength in the three greatest things: faith, hope and love. And she has never been more beautiful.
I haven’t written in a long time. I just couldn’t find the words I wanted to say on really any subject, because one has been at the forefront. And now, through photos and words, I ask you to share in the struggle and strength of the most amazing woman in my life.