Monday, February 16, 2009

This isn't supposed to be happening

We learned this week that my mother has breast cancer. The news came from out of the blue during what I thought was going to be a quick "hi, how are you" visit last Monday, or perhaps a "we've got some news about your 93-year old grandmother" conversation since my mother and step-father were coming over following a brief stop at the nursing home.

The initial news was that yes, there is definitely something there but test results weren't expected until Friday so we wouldn't know what it meant until then. Instead the news came in stages -- Wednesday: yes, it's confirmed and it's not benign. Friday -- yes, it's in a few more places than the initial lump that raised the alert, it's in Stage 2, perhaps edging farther, more tests are needed to discover how far it has gone, the probable initial course is 16 weeks of chemo, get a really cool short haircut because it's easier to bear as the chemo takes affect.

For someone whose exposure to cancer had been extremely limited (my grandmother had it 20 years ago but at 93 is still cheering on the UConn Huskies) I find myself writing about it for the third time in this still relatively new blog. That it's my mother who I'm writing and worrying about, that's even more shocking.

I think your perception of your world doesn't always match your chronological position. Internally, you lock yourself into a particular time and place and age. In my mind's eye, I think I'm younger than I am (probably thinner too) and sometimes get caught by surprise as I spot a new batch of grey hairs insinuating themselves amidst the dark brown that I've always had. My parents are young, only 20 years older than me. That's not old. But then I remember that I am now my parents' age when I went off to college and my perception changes again. They're verging on 60, my father suffered a stroke almost 1 year ago to the date of my mother's announcement, and now she's facing a battle like this. The sense of mortality becomes palpable. The desire to fight for every day that's potentially ahead becomes intense.

I can't imagine what she's going through right now, consumed by the knowledge that something inside her is trying to strip those days away. I know she's scared -- who wouldn't be? I know she's angry -- what did she do to deserve this? If it was me, I think I'd be clawing at my skin, crying "get it out, get it out" to anyone who would listen. But I also know that she's determined. She's strong. She's a fighter. She has excellent doctors who have help thousands of women successfully face this same challenge. She has a loving family and a close knit circle of friends, all of whom will be there to provide support and encouragement and to celebrate when it's over. And that gives her something to fight for -- time with those people who love her, time with her family, and most of all time for herself.

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