Less than two weeks ago, it was a pretty normal Tuesday. Matt left on a business trip. I dropped the kids off at school and headed to work. Mom had gone to the doctor’s office the day before – she’d been more tired than normal (just how much more, I really didn’t know). My day progressed pretty normally until around 3p when my dad called. He let me know that her doctor had gotten her blood test results back and didn’t like what she saw. Mom was being admitted to the hospital for a bone marrow biopsy.
I talked to Mom, but nothing seemed too urgent just yet. At this point I was still thinking things like “anemia” not “cancer” yet I felt panic. I told my uncle (we work together) and called my best friend. Convinced there wasn’t a ton I could do, I went on with my evening, taking the kids to karate and our “normal” evening.
I visited Mom in the hospital the next morning on my way to work. She was in the cancer ward and her oncologist was there when I arrived – unsettling. Mom was scheduled for her bone marrow biopsy later that morning, but her oncologist and the pathologist who had viewed her samples were pretty convinced that they knew what was going on: CML or chronic myelogenous leukemia. This condition, while very serious, is also generally treatable with daily drug therapy. Patients can live fairly normally indefinitely. It seemed like we had an answer and a pretty good one, though nothing was certain until we had the biopsy.
So life progressed for a couple more days. I kept things together at home and at work more or less. I went to see Mom before and after work. Meanwhile around us, the state was under water and everything was going crazy. Just driving around town was suddenly a huge challenge. Somehow this resulted in the biopsy results getting back to us more slowly than they might otherwise have. We thought we’d hear on Thursday and then it ended up being Friday.
I’d gone into work for just a few hours and came to the hospital to get the official word from the oncologist around 10a. The diagnosis was not, unfortunately, what we were hoping for. What mom had was acute myeloid leukemia. The scary kind. The chemo kind. We were all freaked, obviously, tears were shed, but our path was clear. Mom signed her chemo waiver without hesitation. “I have too much to live for,” she said.
The plan was to do chemo for 7 days and then let it take effect for 7 days. At the end of the 14 days, Mom would have another bone marrow biopsy and have a 50/50 chance to be cancer free. If not, we’d repeat with about a 20% chance after that. But it didn’t matter. We adopted “14 and done” as our motto.
We notified family and had lots of visitors. And with our plan in place, my dad and I left to get stuff settled in preparation for spending a couple of weeks in the hospital with Mom. Dad went to work to get things arranged and I went to Mom’s house to pick up some comfort items. I was shaken and cried through the entire time I was at her house.
I went to visit my grandma and give her comfort. After sending mom’s stuff with her sister, I went home to give Matt and the kids some love. My sister had gone by the hospital on her way home from work and came by my house after that. We hugged and talked some more about the plan.
The sleep that night was fuzzy and bad. I awoke for good around 7 and had just pulled myself out of bed around 8 when my dad called. Mom was in the ICU and we needed to come. “Quickly” was never said, but it was felt. We rushed to the hospital, picking my sister up on the way. Matt and the kids dropped us off where we raced to see Mom. Instantly, we knew things were bad. Mom had gotten up sometime in the middle of the night and arrested. I called Matt back and he dropped the kids off with our neighbors and came.
Over the next few hours, we assembled pretty much the whole family. Experts came and went and we learned the worst. Mom had been out for a while before she was found and she was brain dead. We sobbed in cycles. I held mom’s hand, touched her hair and talked to her. I tried to memorize the feel of her soft skin and the color of her beautiful hair. I wanted something to hold on to. I wasn’t alone and there was some comfort to that, but not much. Before we could even withdraw care, she passed away.
Even as I write these “facts,” they don’t seem real to me. Over a week has gone by. We’ve done all the ceremonial stuff. We’ve gathered pictures, held services, eulogized, sobbed, purchased flower arrangements, written obituaries, hugged, done airport pick-ups and drop-offs and sobbed some more. But I keep expecting to see her … sometime soon. Yet I miss her.
My mom was one of my best friends. I worked with her and saw her almost every day. We spent leisure time together almost every week. We talked about everything. She was like a second mom to my kids and also the greatest grandmother possible. I’m truly grateful that we had so much time together, but I wanted … will always want … more.
Tomorrow I return to work after being gone in body for a week, but mentally for almost double that. I dread seeing her office and the portrait of her that will now hang next to my grandfather’s in the front of the office. She deserves this honor, but I so dread the reality of it. The finality of it.
There is so much more to Mom than this crappy, unsatisfying, unfair, totally abrupt ending. I will share that at a different time. For now, I will try to get back to whatever the new normal is going to be and just keep going.