Since my mother died in mid-December I have barely had time to grieve her. While I cried many times in the days before she died and after, at the time I had to make funeral arrangements, buy the casket, clean out her apartment, all before going to Utah to ski. Then I came home and was sick for one month as a result of the Xloda, including almost 12 days in the hospital. Then I was off to South Beach for the long weekend I had previously cancelled because of my hospitalization. Then I went to Phoenix for law firm meetings and then a few days just with Alan to enjoy yoga, hiking and the good weather. Now I am about to get on a plane to Houston for my long sought appointment at MD Anderson to get a second opinion and discuss clinical trials.
When I returned from Phoenix, as I unpacked my bag and put away some things, I came across my mother’s wallet. I have had her wallet since 2008 when she first was sick as a result of sepsis, and when she asked me to take it and her good jewelry and keep them at my house for safekeeping. I never returned the wallet – she did not need it at her assisted living apartment. The wallet was a microcosm of her life in 2008 when she was still independent and living at home. She had a drivers license, which only expired in 2012. She had high school pictures of her grandchildren, and a photo of my dad and her at the same wedding where they had the photo of them dancing. She had her Kroger card, Chase card and other discount cards, along with the extra key to the Buick and a voter’s registration card. As I flipped through the wallet, I started to cry, to really grieve for my mom for the first time since she died and I cleaned out her apartment. I cried for the healthy and independent mother she used to be. I cried for the last year of her life, in which her quality of life went downhill and downhill but which was also the year she joyfully celebrated her 90th birthday with friends and family at her apartment. I cried for the memories of all of the Sundays at her house having Sunday dinner, of the trips to Florida with her and the kids, of her helping me after both of my pregnancies, bringing sanity to the household, and of the years when we were kids and she drove old Betsy to the park with all of us, including my cousins. I cried for her years at Jacobson’s where she was everyone’s favorite saleslady in fashion jewelry, and where she so enjoyed the social interaction with her customers.
That grieving turned me to another sort of grieving – grieving for my life before I knew I had cancer. Before that knowledge, I could make plans for the future without having to take into consideration my treatment and the schedule for that treatment. Before that knowledge, I assumed I would live a long life like my family members and did not have to face my mortality daily. Before that knowledge, I could go about my day without thinking about bodily functions and making sure everything is functioning properly. Before that knowledge, I ate what I wanted without concern over its difficulty in digesting. Before that knowledge, I did not admit my age; now I am looking forward to another birthday tomorrow. Before that knowledge, my family assumed I would be around for a long time and never worried about my health. Before that knowledge, I took no medications, never thought of medicines and was always healthy. When I got a virus it was gone quickly. Before that knowledge, I assumed that like my mother, I would be there for my children when they had children, would help them and would get to spoil my grandchildren. I grieve for those days when cancer was not even a word in my personal vocabulary and I took life and health for granted.
On the other hand, because of cancer, I have learned a deep appreciation of being in the moment, enjoying each day as it comes, enjoying every minute with family and friends, going away for long weekends just because, not sweating the small stuff, and most important I have learned how many people care for me. I do not take life for granted. I tell people I am healthy and strong, which is true, because I have found a strength I am not sure I knew I possessed, in this fight. I am off to Houston for the next stage in this fight and by next week should know what treatment I will be on, and the schedule. I will spend my birthday in Houston meeting with the doctor and having yet another series of tests. Again, the grieving has to be set aside while I deal with the next steps. But I know my grief for my mother will show up again, just as I know that I will have times when I wish for the days before I knew I had cancer, when I blithely lived my life, assuming I had many, many more years to go, with no long term health issues. That grieving will not affect my fight, nor determination to succeed and survive, long term. Before and after cancer will not define my life.