Last night I dreamed I was carrying a heavy bag and while most of the time I could handle the weight, occasionally it would get so heavy I could barely move. I would figure out how to keep moving, but the bag just weighed on my whole being.
Seven years ago, this time of the year, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Doctors threw the book at her – intense chemo, surgery, radiation. Watching the process that ingesting poison does to someone was rough – doubly worse for the person requiring the ingestion. The goal was to cure my mom of cancer and allow her to live. For five years my mom has been NED – no evidence of disease.
Year Six had other plans.
After several interesting health issues this year, a PET scan confirmed what no one wanted to hear: the cancer is back and it’s spread.
This time, there is no cure. There is no long runway. Treatment will be for the rest of her life, up to 3 years. Maybe more if we’re lucky.
Or she can choose not to treat it and start thinking about maximizing the remaining time she has left. The doctor believes she may need to go into hospice within the next 2-3 months without treatment.
What an unimaginable choice.
My first instinct is to go home, back to Colorado, so I can spend time with my family. Care and organization of whatever we as a family unit need to do to support our mom shouldn’t have to fall exclusively on one or two offspring. My dad will also need support, navigating the prospect of living without the person who’s been a constant for 50 years.
But I have a family here that also needs me – my husband, my youngest adult child still living at home, my elderly dog.
It feels overwhelming to think about my mom choosing to not treat the metastisized cancer – but it feels equally awful to prolong life with frequent doctor’s visits, medications, side effects. Living across the country affords me space to live my own life, but my mom is always a text or call away. There is now an expiration date on the ability to chat with her directly.
I think about the stories she’s told about before her kids were born – living in Europe while my dad was stationed in Germany. Photo albums with pictures of places I’ve never been and people I’ll never meet. I remember her best friend dying in her 30s from lung cancer and how that impacted Mom. I remember Girl Scouts and cross-country road trips to visit distant family. How she started a business selling posters with comfort suggestions for labor to doctors and hospitals to help provide a down payment for her mom to get her own condo.
Choosing to recall the positive over the negative.
But Mom isn’t dead yet. She hasn’t even decided if she wants to accept treatment or comfort.
I want to make sure we can help bring about pleasurable experiences while she can still enjoy them, whichever option she chooses. Visiting national parks, a trip to Florida to see where she went to law school for a year, whatever would make her heart feel full. Whether we have only a few months or a few years ……
The bag is heavy for me, but not nearly as heavy as the one my mom is holding.