… in July of 2022.
the two years leading up to her death were so difficult, so ridiculous, that I can’t even remember the timelines properly. I’ve put things out of my head, only to be shocked at what transpired on the random occasions I get to talking about it and remember that, yeah, it was pretty bad.
she was diagnosed with breast cancer (of course) in 2009 (I believe). She was 65 at the time, and 78 when she died. she had made it to 78 … her birthday was at the end of march. the first eight years or so went swimmingly. she had a lumpectomy, radiation, and a 5-year course of femara, which seemed to work just fine. a worrier by nature, she was forever anxious, hated the radiation and the nearly permanent tattoo it left on her body where they marked her to identify where to shoot. she was never much for the whole ‘survivor’ mentality. she resented having gotten sick.
every dr. visit was rife with anxiety and flooded with relief. until 2017 when the cancer came back. the cancer that her doctor (i use that term loosely) assured her was nothing to worry about – something she’d live with for many, many years. he started her on a different course of treatment that seemed to keep things at bay.
in 2020, i was at the beach, and she called me because my cousin, a lifelong diabetic, had somewhat unexpectedly passed away at the young age of 50. and when we spoke, i noticed that Mom’s speech was a bit off and she mentioned she’d been bumping into things like doorways. and, it seems, the cancer had metastasized to her brain.
how stupid we were not to realize this was a death sentence. her doctors were certainly too cowardly to come out with this news. how much better, ironically, it would have been if they had. and the next two years were a series of medical missteps, futile efforts to keep her healthy, and all the while we fought for her, and she declined.
did you know dexamethasone, a really potent steroid often given to cancer patients, can drive blood sugar through the roof? or that a hospital would willingly send a patient home who had never been diabetic but who two-days before was admitted with blood sugars in the 800’s? Send her home with sliding scale insulin and a quick tutorial on how to use it, and nothing else?
did you know that oncologist offices, when a physician leaves, may leave a patient hanging for months without a treatment plan or follow-ups? did you know that stereotactic radiation can be helpful in treating brain lesions temporarily but can not cure the underlying issue? did you know that piqray is a really hard-to-tolerate breast cancer drug? did you know that doctors will ignore a patient who complains that her leg can’t be touched because it’s so painful, assuming she has diabetic neuropathy even though she was never diabetic her whole life? did you know an arterial blood clot, gone undetected for a month, can cause a wound so deep that amputation, though avoided in our case, was highly likely?
did you know that eventually, swelling in the brain from lesions and from brain radiation could cause a patient to lose their ability to knit, to write, to speak?
through it all (well, except the last part), she was cheerful, hopeful, determined.
but still. my mom died. my dear saint of a mother, who never asked anything of anyone, who gave everything she had to the people she loved. she didn’t deserve what happened to her, as so many people like her don’t deserve similar terrible fates.
through all of this, we also had to live our lives. we celebrated graduations, sent children to college, worked full-time.
nearly a year after her death, we prepare to send another child off into the world, we are dealing with a surviving parent who, at 86, is far more healthy, but far less agreeable than our mom and not inclined to make anything easy for us. our lives have profoundly changed. i’ve learned a lot … a lot I never wanted to know … and I learned that life goes on.
and it’s short, my friends. it’s so short. so make the best of it and keep on moving forward. it’s all we can do.