I had planned to write a post about my break from chemo, which started about 1 1/2 weeks ago and is going on until January when I go on maintenance – one chemo by pill for 14 days and one week off. Instead, this post is about my mother, Victoria Peters, who died yesterday and whose funeral is tomorrow. My mom had reached the point where she just could not fight off the latest infection to hit her.
I have written a bit about the struggles she has gone through for over 6 years, as a result of sepsis, an infection she contracted while in the hospital in March 2008 for pneumonia. It ravaged her. She was never able to return to the home she had shared with my dad, but instead went to an assisted living apartment. During her ordeal from sepsis, at least three times the doctors told me she likely would not survive and they would be calling in hospice. She surprised them. She did survive, against the odds. To this day her doctor says he cannot believe she survived it. Her ordeal did not end, however, because over the years she had many hospitalizations. Many times the doctors told me, again, she likely would not survive, including when she broke her hip, had five blood clots in one arm, had a mass in her colon, and had severe infections. She fought back. It was often agonizing,but she did not give up, in part because I, and her sister and brother, urged her to fight and get well enough to go back to her apartment. Each time, however, her strength and her levels were lower than they had been before the latest health emergency. In February of this year, she was put in hospice, was sent home for hospice care, and less than one week later, fought back again, and was well enough that hospice kicked her out because she was no longer eligible. But that hospitalization left her weaker than ever, and over this year it has been a slow downhill. This has been painful for me to watch. Indeed, over the last 6 1/2 years, her struggles were always painful to watch.
I never told my mom I had cancer. I feared she would give up and die if she knew. While she saw my wig and remarked on how good my hair looked, she accepted it as a new hairstyle and it became the new normal for her. My aunt and uncle kept it from her as well, at my request. Luckily for me, they were there for me, and have been my substitute parents.
As I became my mom’s caregiver, and as she deteriorated over time, I became the parent, taking care of her. While she had some moments when her mothering took over such as when I called her after Sara left for graduate school in Boston and said how sad it was to watch Sara leave and walk into the airport terminal. She said she was always sad watching my brother and I leave, including when my brother moved out of state. It was emotionally draining over the years to watch her go downhill. The emotional aspect was much harder than even the most exhausting physical acts of taking care of her. I missed having my mother, being able to talk with her, going shopping with her, travelling with her and my family, and enjoying her cooking.
Once I started chemo, my nightmare was that she would be hospitalized when I was in chemo. I knew that another hospitalization would happen, and happen soon. My nightmare came true. I was in the middle of my last chemo when I got the call that she was taken by ambulance to the hospital with a severe infection. I could not go. Luckily, my aunt and uncle went there, and then my husband Alan and cousin Mary took over and told her I was sick. She could not fight off the infection – she was too weak. When I visited her, she was unresponsive but I talked and talked and talked because the nurse said hearing is the last to go. My kids, my husband, my aunt and uncle and my cousins all said goodbye to her this past weekend. All talked at length about what she meant to them, and about what they were doing.
Not only was her toughness and strong will front and center during these past 6 1/2 years, but my mother continued to be the sweet, undemanding, generous, and unfailingly social person through most of the last six years. I heard time and again from the people at her apartment how they loved her, how sweet she was, how she did not ask for anything. A testament to her spirit was evident in February when she returned from rehab, and five aides were so excited she was back they came to her apartment just to visit her and welcome her back. That was my mom. She did not ask for anything for herself, but always thought of others. She always was so thrilled to see me or any of my family. At Thanksgiving, because she was too weak to go to my cousin’s house, my family visited her. She was so excited we were all there, and came to life.
While my mother has died, her spirit lives on. Her generosity, kindness, loving nature and her fighting spirit will remain with me. I hope I have half the spirit she had. Thank you mom for the example you set.