With my mom’s birthday yesterday I am thinking a lot today about her influence on my life and about how close I still feel to her. I was fortunate to have a wonderful relationship with my mom as I grew into adulthood. We did not live close; in fact, we were many miles apart. But, we had a relationship that transcended distance. When her doctor disclosed the diagnosis of colon cancer, it was like a knife through my heart. My mom endured a lot during so many years of her life, and I used to want that she would not have to suffer more at the end.
My mom had a history of ulcerative colitis, a very debilitating disease that, until lately, no one ever talked about at all. Not only that, there were no effective treatments for the severe bouts of this disease that she had since she was a young woman. For several years her doctor recommended that she have a colostomy, but she always refused. The symptoms would subside for a while and flare again, and then, I think, in her sixties, she seemed not to have any further severe flare-ups. She believed she was cured.
She was 71 when they diagnosed her colon cancer. Her doctor told us that the cancer had planted hundreds of seedlings throughout her abdomen; the words will forever haunt me. One of my two sisters who has been a cytotechnologist for many years glanced at me and held back tears. She knew even more than I what this meant. We talked to the doctor privately who told us, ultimately, they would give her palliative treatment. After sharing the news with our baby sister, we held each other and sobbed.
Mom’s treatment started with surgery: the colostomy she had avoided for so many years but knew she now could not avoid because one large tumor filled her lower intestine. After the surgery she received 5FU until the cancer stopped retreating. She danced into the light on Monday morning, October 13, 1997.
No matter how the time passes, I talk with her all the time and write to her in a special journal. As I make my own journey down the cancer path, I know she is watching me and giving me strength. She also reminds me that the love between my sisters and me is a blessing; sisters are special. This weekend I will be sure to celebrate my mom’s birthday, and I will call my sisters.
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