Both my parents died of cancer. Dad died first. The week after we buried him, Mom started her last round of chemo. Eighteen months later, she was dead, too. It was a really rough couple of years. I hadn’t wanted to think about this today but it seems I pressed the wrong buttons on the remote when I ordered a Pay Per View movie and instead of getting Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson I got a movie about a young guy with cancer who was a given a 50/50 chance of survival.
When I realized my mistake I changed the channel. A few minutes later I changed it back. No way was I going to waste $5.99 and I wanted to see whether I had made any progress with my cancer “issues.” It’s been 8 years since Mom died and I am terrified of cancer and don’t want to be around people with it.
I eat organic, use botanical skin care products and I take damn near every supplement they say will prevent cancer. I don’t smoke, drink, eat gluten, soy or dairy. I get a mammogram every year. I see the dermatologist twice a year since she found two squamous cell carcinomas and I use a chemo cream one night a week on my face. Mom died of colon cancer and I would have a colonoscopy every year if the insurance would pay for it.
The reason I have cancer “issues” is more than the obvious: I watched it kill slowly my parents. It’s what led to my last, horrible major depression. In my mind, cancer and horrible depression are forever linked. I stopped speaking to a girlfriend who got ovarian cancer because I couldn’t deal with it. She is a very, very strong woman – like my mother – and I did not want to watch it eat away at her like it did my mom. Her cancer metastacized, like my mother’s cancer but my friend is doing well now. I need to make a big amends to her.
Everything about my mother’s cancer was surreal. She had never smoked and wasn’t much of a drinker at all. I saw her tipsy once – at my sister’s rehearsal dinner. She ate well, walked everyday, shoveled snow, hung our clothes on the clothesline and seemed to be unstoppable.
I was alone in her hospital room when she came out of surgery. The doctor came in and said the cancer was worse than they had thought. It had already perforated the colon and they had to remove a large segment. She would need chemo and radiation. That seemed to work for a few years but as she neared her fifth year – that magical milestone at which you are pronounced cancer-free – her cancer metastacized to her liver. More chemo. More radiation.
I flew back and forth from Florida to Michigan every other weekend. I was a couple years sober and divorced, still figuring out the single-working mom thing. Her father worked weekends and never took our 10-year-old daughter for the court-ordered, every-other weekend visit. On the weekends I flew up to see my mother she stayed with neighbors and friends. Mom was in hospice for nearly three months. It was the dead of winter, when the Michigan sky turns steel gray. I would sit by my mother’s bed for 48 hours, get back on the plane, fly home, pick up my daughter and go to work the next morning. I was on emotional auto-pilot.
I was in my backyard in Florida when my sister called and said that Mom had died. I didn’t break down or sob. It was just over. I didn’t feel much of anything except – “Okay, what do I do next?” Plane tickets. Dog sitter. Call work. Call school. Get homework. Call attorney. Pack. And on and on.
We had a great funeral for Mom. Everyone was there. The grandkids all made something for her and put it in her casket. We put a Hooter’s sticker on her dress. The devout Catholic, first-grade teacher had developed a taste for Hooter’s wings in her final years. Daryl and Daryl were still digging her grave with a backhoe when we got to the cemetery. They screwed up on the length of the straps used to lower her casket into the grave. Let’s just say Mom didn’t have a smooth descent.
We divvied up all the stuff in the house we were raised in, sold it and got on with our lives. I developed a twitch in my left eyelid and knots in my neck muscles. My dog died eight months later and six months after that, a five-year relationship I had been in ended. Sometimes, out of nowhere, my heart would race. I had all kinds of tests done. My heart was fine. It was my head. Three months later I sunk into the worst depression I could ever have imagined. Finally, I agreed to get help. I was diagnosed with depression and later hypomania. I started meds, therapy and treating myself better.
But my cancer “issues” remain. The guy in the movie lived and it’s a damn good thing because I don’t know what I would have done if he had died. I cried and cried and cried – something I did not allow myself to do much after my parents died. Who knows, maybe I will cry some more tonight. As much as I hate it, crying makes me feel better. I think I made progress tonight with my cancer “issues.” My fingernails and cuticles are trashed but I made it through the movie and am glad I did.
Sometimes, life just ain’t easy. I will say a prayer to St. Peregrine tonight and ask him to keep me cancer-free. Maybe tomorrow I will get some Hooter’s wings. That would make Mom happy.
Highlited “cancer” photo available from Shutterstock.