It was January 7, 2010, two years to the day that my grandfather died when I got the call. I was very close to my grandfather and his passing left a huge hole in my heart and in my soul. He died just 3 months before our first child, O, was born. Had O been a boy he would’ve been named after him (we didn’t know what the sex of the baby was). Alas, O was born a girl and our child wouldn’t share my grandfather’s name until our son Jake was born. Jake took my grandfather’s name as his middle and so he was named Jake Henry.
That evening was the second anniversary of the most prodigious death in my life. However, it wouldn’t be the only prodigious event that would occur on that date. When the phone rang it was a normal evening of making dinner and taking care of the babies for my wife and I. The conversation went like any other normal conversation I have with her. Until she told me that she has Cancer.
My mom is relatively young, early (very early) 60′s but looks much younger. She’s always been active, never smoked, doesn’t really drink and overall is a healthy person. Cancer runs in my family but never in a million years did I think either one of my parents would ever be diagnosed. My mom received a call from her cousin who had cancer several years ago. Her cousin told her about the BRCA2 gene. It’s a gene that if present can significantly increase the risk of cancer (mainly in women but can affect men as well). My mom had the choice to be tested or leave well enough alone and go about her life. It was the next decision that would potentially save her life and at the minimum prolong her life. My mom went with her sisters and got tested for the presence of the gene. The results came back positive for her but I don’t think I paid it too much attention. After all, this only meant that her risk of Cancer was greater, not that she had it. On the advice of her Doctors she went in for a Hysterectomy. The reasoning was…You’re not going to have any more children and if we remove your reproductive organs you needn’t worry about Ovarian and other related forms of Cancer.
Had my mother not gone in to be tested for the BRCA2 gene she wouldn’t have known she was a carrier. Had she also not decided on the advice of her Doctors to get the Hysterectomy she wouldn’t have heard this next piece of news. She was diagnosed with Stage II Fallopian Tube Cancer. This is the rarest form of Gynecological Cancer affecting only about 3 in 1,000,000 women. How God or the Universe (or whomever you believe may or may not be looking over us) decided that my mom was one of these 3 women is beyond me. This sort of stuff doesn’t happen to me or my family. It just doesn’t! But…it does and it is.
The next step was to go through six aggressive rounds of chemotherapy to rid her body of these murderous cells. The treatments were progressively harder to the point she couldn’t even walk to the bathroom on her own (on some occasions) and loss of hair would soon follow. What a horrific experience for her to go through. This is my mom why is she to suffer like this? Why her? I came to realize that questioning the “why” wasn’t going to bring me or her any peace. It doesn’t matter why and the reality is we’ll never know why. The focus needed to be on the how. How are we going to get through this?
I supported my mom the best I could over the next 4 months of her treatment. It was hard as I’m living on the West Coast and my parents on the East. Having work, a wife, a 21 month old and a 5 month old made it very difficult for me to travel such distance. So I supported her the best I could by talking to her every day. We were positive and she was extremely positive. We like to laugh…We LOVE to laugh so humor is a way for us to get through difficult times in our lives. She carried this with her through her treatment and we both believed, everyone believed, that if we could get through the final rounds we could go on with our life.
Following her last round of chemotherapy the Doctors wanted to do an exploratory surgery. The surgery was to ensure they got all the Cancer out. We were feeling great about it for several reasons. Her markers were down, all the tests she had done to date looked positive and since starting the process this was the plan. She was to have the 6 treatments and we would all move on with our lives.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. We received the next round of crushing news within the last 2 weeks. The Cancer is still there. That fucking Cancer is still there! It’s spread to her abdominal wall and there are cells that weren’t killed by the chemotherapy.
All the plans were set. Jake’s 1st birthday was to be held at my In-Laws house in Southern California. My parents were to fly out, come for the party (They missed O’s 2nd birthday due to her treatment) and then drive back up to Monterey to spend the rest of the week with us. We’d not only be celebrating Jake’s 1st birthday together but also my mother’s victory in killing this fucking Cancer.
Alas, we’re taken in yet another direction, again. She’s scheduled for 6 more rounds of chemotherapy in just a couple short weeks. This means another birthday, the 1st birthday, will be missed. My mother’s determination to see her family, her grandchildren would not be faltered by the Cancer. She changed her travel and they are coming out here this weekend, before she starts chemotherapy, for the second time.
Where does this leave us? Where are we with all this? I would love to have a happy ending here. I would love to share some great moral to this story. This isn’t what’s going to happen right now though. I’m confident my mother will pull through this. She’s the strongest women I know. The Cancer will be met with a huge battle, even bigger than before. I don’t question my mother’s strength or fortitude or perseverance. I don’t question any of that. What do I question? The unknown’s…
As a person who’s always believed in the power of family. As a person who’s always put (at least in intention) family first I look at where I am in my life. I think of O and Jake and that they have no idea what’s happening to their Bubby (Yiddish for grandma for you Non-Jews). I think of my dad, my sister, my wife, my extended family and how none of us know what’s happening to her. I feel so out of control. I can do nothing to make this go away. Money isn’t standing in the way, political power isn’t standing in the way, physical obstacles are not standing in the way. What’s standing in our way? Nature. Can we fight Nature? I believe we can. I believe my mother can.
While I might not have all the answers now, I know this. I know that my sister and I NEED our mother, my Dad NEEDS his wife, my children NEED their Bubby. In return, my mother NEEDS all of us. She has all of us and we will continue to fight this with her however we can. As I write this, tears run down my face at the reality of the situation. I think what scares and saddens me the most is the thought that my mother might feel alone. Alone to live this death of a disease by herself. Whatever comes of this story I will be with my mom, my dad will be with my mom, my sister will be with my mom, O and Jake will be with my mom, my wife will be with my mom, my Aunts and Uncles will be with my mom.
We are alone with our thoughts but we are together with our struggles and our victories for we are FAMILY.
I love you Mom, you are not alone.