Friday, April 17, 2015

The Path No One Wants to Travel

I started this blog after an important shift in my life. Many of my friends know of this shift, but I realized today that I have not ever written about it.

A dear, dear friend of mine is walking the path that I was on many years ago. I pray everyday that hers does not end where mine did. I wrote her a letter today, and then I decided to share a little of my story with you.

My mom had cancer.


My mom is free from cancer because now she walks with Jesus.

My mom's battle with cancer was so random and unexpected. She was diagnosed in the summer of 2005. She had a canker sore that wouldn't go away. She feared she would lose her tongue, but she didn't. They found cancer in her neck so she had multiple lymph nodes removed and some surrounding tissue. She did radiation treatments and lost some hair at the top of her neck. After that, things were fine for awhile. Her doctor said this type of cancer was slow growing and would only appear in her neck and head areas.

A few months later, her lung was x-rayed and biopsied, and they found cancer in her lung. They removed the lower lobe and that was the end of it.

Then my mom had a sore back from working in the yard...except it didn't go away. Sure enough, there was cancer IN her vertebrae. My dad tried to care for her at home (these weeks are still kind of a blurry memory for me). She was in so much pain that we decided to call an ambulance so they could help transport her to the hospital. I remember talking to the EMT's like I was her primary caregiver. They asked me all sorts of questions. My mom was already on heavy painkillers so she was a little incoherent.

She was evaluated at the hospital and they had to brainstorm how to help her. One of her vertebrae had split from cancer growth, and they would use cement to stabilize it.

Around this time, Chris had come home from Iraq and proposed. He had driven to the hospital to ask my parents' permission. The hospital was the first place we went after I said yes! My mom was on morphine, but I could see she was so happy despite her pain.

Soon after, she had a cough that wouldn't go away. An x-ray revealed the unbelievable - both lungs lit up with cancerous tissue. This was the end of ways to "fix" her cancer. As a family, we decided to take her to a nursing home where she could get 24 hour care - it was taking a toll on my dad to have her at home. She peacefully passed 2 weeks later with her sister by her side. We had family take shifts so she was never alone at the end. I vividly remember the last words I spoke to her the last time I saw her: "I love you, and I'll see you tomorrow".

Valentine's Day 2008 was her last day on earth.

And that's my mom's story. (The really, really condensed version that I can remember, anyway.)

During those 2 years, there were so many ups and downs. Small victories. Big setbacks. We cherished our time together as a family. My mother was blessed to keep her sense of humor amid the cloudiness of painkillers.

"I got a fever, and the only prescription is...MORE COWBELL!"

I love you, momma. I think about you all the time.

The grief process is a never-ending one. At the time of her death, I was more of an inward griever. I preferred to cry in my alone time. It was easier for me to process alone, I think. My fiancé was only home for 2 weeks so he had already gone back overseas when she passed, so I had a lot of time to myself in my final semester of college.

Several weeks later I got a phone call from my fiancé from Iraq.

He asked me if I was sitting down.

I immediately knew that something was wrong.

He had been in an IED explosion. A soldier behind him in his vehicle was killed. My fiancé sustained only mild injuries. Respectfully, it's not my story to tell, so those are the only details I will provide.

So now, my fiancé was grieving too, and we were thousands of miles apart.

I hated every minute of the remainder of the time we spent apart.

He was stateside by late May, and I had just had a tonsillectomy and couldn't speak for a few days, so we communicated through text messages. When he came home, we spent the whole summer trying to reconnect. We had both been through so much, but we had not yet been through it together

It was so bizarre to me that someone I knew so well for 3 years suddenly felt almost like a stranger to me. We shared our grief. We shared it again. And again. I will never fully understand what he went through. He felt terrible that he couldn't make it home for my mom's funeral.

We went to visit her gravesite together. I think it may have been the first time I went since she passed.

But I didn't feel like she was there.

It's just her body underground.

She's with me everywhere. Everyday!

I see her in the spring flowers. I smell her in my homemade banana bread. I hear her in the chatter of birds. I feel her in the dirt between my fingers when I garden. I think of her every time I light a honeysuckle-scented candle. 

It pains me that she's not here with me as an adult. We were in the beginning stages of forming our adult mother-daughter relationship when she was first diagnosed. I often wonder what we would talk about today.

There is no doubt in my mind that my mother, from up in heaven, had a hand in delivering our sweet baby Ava to us. Ava should have had health problems, and quite frankly, she could have died due to how labor progressed with her. 

I am already telling Ava of all the things Grandma Nancy loved. I hope Ava grows up with a love for the outdoors and of books and kitties. Ava is already quite silly like my mom always was!

So love deeper. Laugh harder. Hug longer. Kiss sweeter.

Life is just too precious!

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