My mom is going to have surgery and radiation to remove cancer from her breast tomorrow. The procedure will be done at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, the hospital in which I was born. I don't want to think of the cruel irony that could possibly play out.
Yet here I am, thinking about it.
Her older sister has battled breast cancer twice, the first time when she was in her 50s. My mom considers herself lucky because she didn't get it until her 70s. Yeah, besides that whole Parkinson's thing for the last 20 years, pretty lucky!
My mom doesn't want and never asks for pity or sorrow, and I certainly won't. That's not what this is about. When I write about my mom, it's never about that. It's more about taking every opportunity to discuss and talk about the love and admiration I have for her. I didn't vocally express my love for my parents for a long time, and I want to make sure to do that as much as possible now.
And sometimes I simply need to vent about the constant shit that the universe rains down on good people, over and over. My mom's Parkinson's diagnosis 20 years ago contributed to my loss of faith and belief in God; the last 20 years has provided a daily reminder that there is no all-knowing, all-seeing, compassionate, omnipresent being. Her latest diagnosis assures me that even if there were a god, he/she/it is a fucking twisted asshole.
One of the things that gets me, besides the general cruelty of putting such a caring, giving, kind woman through all of this, is that she still goes to church. For me, her Parkinson's and cancer are clear evidence that god doesn't exist, or at the very least, that god doesn''t care about anyone. I realize I'm just projecting my thoughts and beliefs on her; maybe my closeness to the situation is not letting me see any other perspective. I also realize that for some people, these obstacles or challenges or shitty situations make their faith even stronger. I don't personally get that, but I know it happens, and I respect it. One could argue that she has lived a relatively healthy life since her Parkinson's diagnosis and that's something to be thankful for; I might even agree with that. At the same time, Parkinson's is is an awful, painful, incurable disease that gets worse over time, so what's there to be thankful for?
Breast cancer on top of that just ain't right. There's no "greater plan" that can include that. Don't give me that "it's a test" shit, either; she's passed any possible test with flying colors in her 71 years.
I try not to get sad when thinking of my mom, but it can be difficult. I hate seeing her bent frame. She always had good posture and made sure my brother and I sat up straight at the dinner table. I hate seeing her hands tremble. She used to paint beautiful ceramic figurines. One year she gave me a ceramic Gizmo (from Gremlins) that played music when you turned the knob on the bottom
I'm fighting tears as I write this. Some of my sadness is probably out of self-pity. I think about how I've lived with her having Parkinson's longer than I lived with her not having it, and I think about how I will have more memories of her with the disease than without.
That's probably fucked up, right? I think all of these thoughts are pretty fucked up. But they are frequent. Too often, I think about the future and what the hell I'm gonna do without her in my life. That doesn't go too well.
I realize I'm being overly sensitive about it. I should just appreciate the time I have with her. A lot of my friends' parents have gone through similar things. Some of my friends have even lost a parent, or both parents. I know I shouldn't complain or be sad when she is still here, and still herself. But I will complain goddammit because my mom doesn't deserve this shit.
The only possible benefit of seeing my mom go through all of this is that her strength and resilience are on ready display. My mom isn't defined by Parkinson's but her perseverance and determination in the face of it does define her. She is facing the cancer the same way. I'm making a much bigger deal about it here than she ever has or will.
Another thing that has been made evident since the day of my mom's Parkinson's diagnosis is my father's strong yet gentle and loving disposition. Dealing with Parkinson's symptoms and the steady stream of doctor's appointments and trial procedures can be almost as difficult on the sufferer's partner. I think about how I can barely handle my mom's sickness, then think about how my father has been by her side ever since, no questions asked, and I wonder if I will ever be half as strong. Now, dealing with this new diagnosis, I am even more amazed by his resiliency.
I am amazed by both of my parents. I know that any good in me comes from them. I feel their love and guidance every day. I see their love and their lessons brought to life in my brother's daughters. I try to emulate my parents' love for each other and their love for life. It takes a real love of life to continue vacationing and cooking and walking the dog and loving one another, unabated by a neurological disease. And I'm sure this latest diagnosis and procedure will be no different.
Ok. I'm not sure. That's the problem. How can you ever be sure? Sometimes I wish I had faith in something. That might be comforting. Actually, that was part of the problem. I thought a god figure was comforting until it was really needed. Then it provided no comfort.
Anyways, if people are so inclined to pray for my mom, that's cool. Anything to even slightly increase the chances of things turning out fine. Personally, I am trying to think positive thoughts and spread good vibes and just generally not freak out. I figure if I spit out any negative thoughts, that would leave only positive thoughts, so I apologize if anything here comes off harsh, but if I know anything, it's that life can be harsh and bleak and down right brutal.
Thankfully, my parents have showed me that we can make a choice to focus on the beauty of life. It's not an easy choice, because it's easy to be overwhelmed by life's brutal realities. My first tattoo reads "The struggle is the blessing..." It is a sort of combination of the buddhist belief that life is suffering and the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. I believe that the struggle is the blessing, yet I need to constantly remind myself because that is counter-intuitive. How can struggle be a blessing? I view struggle as a sign that you are living, you are fighting for something. When you don't struggle, you have given up. My parents, and Jimmy Valvano of course, taught me to never give up.
The idea that "the struggle is a blessing" is also a reminder to appreciate the present, as well as the past. Oftentimes, we don't appreciate the effort we put in to achieving a goal because we are so focused on the goal itself. Then, when we reach that goal, we realize that the real glory, the blessing, was in the effort we put in. Sometimes, I think about the future and life without my mom, when I should really be appreciating the time I've had with her and the time I still have with her.
Overall, viewing the struggle as a blessing, and using mindfulness to focus on the present are my ways of keeping perspective during tough times. There's got to be a reason for all this, right? That's what I'm really searching for, and that's why I seek solace in certain philosophies. They try to give meaning to things that seem to have none. The same goes for religious people, albeit in a slightly different manner, so although I might seem like I'm bashing theists, I swear to...my mom that I'm not. We're all searching for meaning and comfort and happiness. There's nothing wrong with finding alternative ways of doing so.
Right now, the number one way for me to find meaning and comfort and happiness is knowing that my mom is all right. So make sure she's all right, universe (i.e., doctors and nurses taking care of her).
UPDATED 10/29/2016: Mom is doing well after surgery. She will do the radiation treatments in a few weeks when she has healed. So it goes.
I Love You All (Especially You, Mom and Dad)...Class Dismissed.