Mom didn’t want me writing about the fact that she had cancer. “Wait ’til I’m gone”, she said.
A few weeks after I quit full-time radio in October 2018, my Mom was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. She had been complaining about her lung “feeling funny” for months, but her family doctor, knowing she was an ex-smoker, didn’t think there was anything to it. By the time they took a look, the lung cancer was stage four and had spread to her lymph nodes, hip bones and liver. Most of the tumours were slow-growing but, as you may have guessed, not the ones in her liver.
I promised her from the start that I would be her appointment buddy. I was still able to work – I freelance – between her immunotherapy treatments, which happened every three weeks. Then I would go to her place and become her short-term roommate for another round of appointments. There were blood tests and CAT scans and visits with the oncologist. I was there so often, I purchased a memory foam topper and orthopedic pillow for her bed. (Mom was a couch sleeper.)
Immunotherapy is the latest weapon in the arsenal that fights cancer. It’s a powerful suite of drugs, as strong as chemotherapy, but it works differently. It boosts the immune system so it can fight the cancer naturally. And it was working for Mom until the side effects became so severe, she had to stop taking it. Her joints swelled and became so painful that she cried most of the time. No type of painkiller worked and she couldn’t even lift a coffee mug. It was hard to bear, knowing the tumours had stopped growing but her body was unable to tolerate the reason why. It was months before the swelling went down and the pain subsided.
But cancer didn’t take that time off.
She had other support, of course. My brother had an innate sense of getting her exactly what she needed at the right time. He proved that again with the robot vacuum he had shipped to her condo after she mentioned that cleaning was getting to be too much for her.
My former sister-in-law, Janet, was Mom’s best friend and always ready to help in any way she needed, and even in ways she didn’t know she needed. And Mom had other friends and family to give her assistance and strength.
I tried to care for her alone for almost three weeks. She didn’t qualify for in-home PSW care, which is truly insane, considering she was unable to stand on her own at that point. After a week and a half in the hospital, she ended her life in McNally House Hospice, the most wonderful, caring and loving environment possible. Her last 10 days were the happiest of her life. She was full of gratitude and peace. We’re so grateful that a place like McNally exists and we could never thank them enough.
Mom would say, “Aren’t you sick of looking after me? Don’t you have something more important to do?” and I’d say, “Mom, there’s nothing more important than being here with you”. Eventually, she allowed herself to believe it. She worried that I was missing work and was overjoyed when Derek and I set up a little recording booth in her basement. She wanted to know who the client was whenever I got a job. It relieved her of feeling like a burden, which she never was. But she was a Mom, and Moms are supposed to look after their kids, not the other way around. At least, that’s how it was in her mind.
There won’t be a service for Mom. She didn’t want one, nor did she want a marker or burial. She will live in our hearts forever, cheering us on and riding the emotional wave of life with us like Moms do. You only get one.
Her official obituary is HERE.