Nowadays, having Stage 4 cancer is no longer a death sentence. With the emergence of radical surgical procedures, more effective chemo drugs and a slew of cancer vaccines entering clinical trials, hope is a tangible reality rather than a pipe dream.
Last fall, my mom underwent a series of advance liver surgeries, with the goal of eradicating her cancer. The surgeon told her that there was a chance that she could be cured, but worst case scenario, terminal would be erased from her disease. The first surgery went smoothly and the surgeon was pleased with her response. We felt like we were dancing on a cloud, within the limitless space of miracles.
It was a wonderful six months, but sadly, it was not to last. Shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday, excruciating pain hit my mom like a Mac truck, my poor mother being the road kill. After a week of going in and out of the hospital, a 17cm tumor was discovered on her ovary; just to give you scale, 17cm was approximately the size of an orange, which was directly on top of her ovary, the size of a robin’s egg.
Upon first hearing this diagnosis, we asked the oncologist if there were any signs that the cancer had spread to her ovary in her last CT scan? He didn’t know. When we asked him if he was doing full body CT scans on a regular basis, he didn’t know. When we asked him why he didn’t know, he defensively claimed that my mom’s tumor had become more aggressive during her liver treatments and probably wouldn’t respond to chemo as she had in the past. I asked this oncologist how he could make such a horrific claim when he had limited information and no biopsy, he said nothing. Apparently, he did not know.
It turned out that our oncologist had failed to do full body CT scans as needed for Stage 4 cancer. I could only watch as my mom’s faith in the medical community disintegrated the moment the doctor kept saying “I don’t know.” Her pain rapidly worsened and it was even a fight to receive the proper pain meds from this inept doctor. Sad that we were battling our doctor more than the disease, itself.
We spent Christmas with my mother on high doses of morphine. As we opened presents under the glittering tree, my mother was a mere shell of her once radiant self. As people sung carols, I could hear the death rattle at our door. At this point, there was nothing that we could do but wait to see if the tumor shrank enough to be removed.
Due to the size of her lump, my mother couldn’t walk or sit comfortably so was bed ridden for the next month. The morphine barely controlled the pain and consequently, stole her will to live. For the first time in her life, she didn’t care if she died. Her apathy was a bad omen. Here was a slip of my once vibrant mother and the only thing that I, Jerry and my sister could do was beg her to hold on during this time. In a drug stupor, she promised to stay but we weren’t sure if she could actually hear us.
We all know that I have a fear based disorder; this entire website is dedicated to it. So, it doesn’t take a mental genius to see the difficulty with conducting my day to day while my greatest fear, my mom’s death, was breathing down my neck. Like a Barbie doll with a fixed smile, I had to create a public persona in order to hide my volatile self. Everything seemed to trigger my OCD fits, which was a tall tale sign that I was completely overwhelmed. I suppose, it's similar to the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Funny, how once you're seen as strong and competent by your family, it's difficult to allow yourself to be weak. It's no one's fault but my own. I didn’t allow myself to be the daughter while I was tryng to be the pillar of strength. Although I continuously cried during this time, I'd had kept it hush, hush from my family. I’d be in the grocery store and tears would stream down my cheeks. I guess that I should have been embarrassed; truth be known, I didn’t care if strangers knew of my sadness just as long as I kept it from my boyfriend, family and friends.
I was having one of my private moments with my tears when I realized something pivotal. I was purposefully hanging on to the fear. Not because of dysfunctional thinking or mismanaged emotions. I was hanging on to it because when you love something so much, it’s hard to let it go even if it’s best for everyone. Until that moment, I thought that I was holding on to love but it was merely desperation.
With this awareness, I surrendered my fear to God and for the first time in a month, I felt hope. I didn’t know when my mother’s time would be up; I was grateful that we had two more years since her first near death experience. Shamefully, I had to admit that I was greedy and wanted more time, but at what cost? I didn’t want to guilt my mom into staying on earth if she had no quality of life. So, that day, I asked God to heal me and if it was his will, to heal my mother. In so doing, I placed my sickly mom into his competent hands.
I’ve always believed that we, humans, tried to control our surroundings because of our need for security. Yet, security is an illusion. At best, we only have control over our reactions and as a person with OCD, I know that this is easier said than done. The only thing that I could do is admit that there was nothing to control, to appreciate what moments I had and to do my best to be there for my family. There are no guarantees outside of the fact that we loved one another, which is a fortune unto itself. It's really that simple.
Fortunately, the tumor has responded to the chemo and shrunk considerably. We’ve transferred my mother’s care to an incredible doctor who is just as vested in my mom’s welfare as we are, which is a blessing in itself. My mom’s strength has no bounds as she discontinued the morphine and instead, bares the pain. She refuses to live without purpose and I love her even more for that. We still have good days and bad days, but for the first time in several months, we can see hope on the horizon.
For me, in surrendering, I’ve found my sane self. My tears have lessened and my coping skills continue to develop. Of course, surrendering my fear is more of a daily process not just a onetime deal, but that’s o.k. My OCD has become a thermometer for what’s going on internally so now, when I freak out over the small things, it signals that I need to release my fears and I’m grateful for that. I know that all challenges in life are learning lessons. Even during these dark times, there's a light. My mom says that it was this very twinkle of light that kept her here. I love that light. I look at my lesson and am surprised by its irony. Who would’ve thought that waving the white flag is a strength rather than a weakness? But, clearly, this has been my lesson to learn, surrender.