So it was January of 2006. Mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and proceeded to start treatments of chemotherapy. I was pregnant with our first baby at the same time; due in mid-March. He was to be my mom and dad’s first grandchild. I wasn't working at the time so this allowed me to plan more freely to aid in mom's care. Our lives consisted of frequent visits to the cancer center in Montgomery, Alabama. My hometown is Wetumpka, Alabama. It sits about 20 minutes north of Montgomery. This is where my parents lived. Mom and I spent a lot of time at the cancer center. I can still recall the smell and the configuration of the center’s sections such as the lab and treatment areas.
Before mom's diagnosis was confirmed, she had a CT scan (Computerized Topography scan also commonly called a CAT scan). A CT scan is series of x-rays taken from different angles that produce images of inside the body. It is more in depth than a regular x-ray. Upon review of the CT scan, the surgeon told us that her scan either showed cancer or tuberculosis. He knew tuberculosis was the least likely of the possibilities. I’ve never hoped so much for a tuberculosis diagnosis in all my life. Even with my then limited medical experience, I knew tuberculosis would be better than ovarian cancer.
I always knew that I’d have a career in healthcare. I was eager to learn everything I could about the inner workings. In fact, I was intrigued by the processes though I hated that my mother had cancer. It was during this time that I gained a true understanding of what nurses do and the immense impact they have on patients, especially in oncology. This was the start of my love-hate relationship with cancer. I love the patients but I hate the cancer! I still remember my mom's primary nurse, Kelly. She was responsible for administering her chemotherapy and helping to manage her symptoms.
Chemotherapy days were long and sometimes grueling. It's no wonder you develop close relationships with some of the staff. At the end of the day, we'd both be exhausted. Yet, mom didn't complain. She was also trying to make sure I was ok and had what I needed (as I was pregnant and then post-partum during this time). She remained graceful while fighting for her life.
I remember when she lost her hair. It all came out in the shampoo bowl. Even though you try to prepare for this it can still come as a surprise and take an emotional toll. We got wigs and India Arie's “I am Not My Hair”became a song that made us smile. As a day one India Arie fan, I was happy to introduce her music to my mom who had never heard of her.
It was difficult for Mom to eat despite her trying really hard. My family, including my husband and dad, would prepare or purchase anything she thought she wanted to try. Her nausea, vomiting and bloating were horrendous. Breathing sometimes became difficult due to the ascites (fluid caused by the liver) and pleural effusions (fluid buildup between the lungs and the chest). The weakness and fatigue were debilitating. She did not have much pain though she was very uncomfortable at times.
Over time it became more difficult for mom to do everyday things. It was hard for her to teach her beloved kindergarteners. She ultimately retired early completing about 20 years in education. It also became hard to pastor the congregation whom she loved. In the end, she didn't make it back as she had hoped. She continued to mother us the best she could too. My dad did all he could to help. He even attempted to seek alternative treatment outside of the country. I saw the toll mom's illness was having on him even though he tried to conceal it.
As far as we know, Mom was the first person in our family to have ovarian cancer. She was the only one of her siblings to have ever been diagnosed with cancer. There were eleven total children between her mom and dad. To say cancer was unchartered territory for our family was an understatement. To even think of all the folks in the world to get cancer, I never in a million years thought my mom would be afflicted.
Mom's journey was wrought with challenges, but it was not without rewards. Mom’s journey was bitter, but it was not without some sweet. She continued to touch the lives of others even through her illness. The overwhelming love and support we received was a testament to the life she lived. Mom continued to fight as did the rest of us. We were all in it together including our family and friends. Mom was a beautiful, sweet, generous and compassionate soul. She was a true blessing to all who encountered her. You may say I’m biased but I have many witnesses who also agree. She was the epitome of a woman. After nearly 12 hard-fought months, mom passed away with me at her bedside on November 30, 2006. She died as a result of this silent killer that ultimately became obnoxious, unruly and extremely loud.
Our lives have not been the same since mom died. Grieving has been a process that I'm sure will last in some capacity for the rest of my life. I am doing my best to make lemonade from the lemons of losing my mom. Through my career as a nurse practitioner, I care for patients who have cancer. This allows me to positively impact many patients and families. I am also able to speak to groups and offer support by sharing relatable information.
Losing mom has been devastating. Not a day goes by that I don't think about her in some way. I don't cry as much as I use to and I smile at the fond memories more. I recognize I can't get her back. No one can replace her. However, I'll continue to do my best to impact the community the best way I can. I know this would make her proud.
How has the loss of a loved one impacted your life? What lessons have you learned through the process?
In future posts we’ll discuss the grieving process and techniques to cope.
Read Part I - https://www.ccthenp.com/post/design-a-stunning-blog