Taking the Long Way

A celebration of late bloomers.

Posts Tagged ‘cancer

The Big C

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I’m not that in to writing my blog this week…so forgive me this one. I’m warning you that it’s not a particularly happy one. It doesn’t have links or fun pictures or cartoons. I just can’t bring myself…

Instead of thinking about songs or food or jobs or clothes, I have been reading blogs from women undergoing treatment for uterine cancer. Some people whisper that word – cancer – as if saying it lightly will mitigate its power. Unfortunately, whispers give it strength. As far as I’m concerned, we need to say it like any other word so we strip it of its power to bring us to our knees.

I am heartened and heartbroken in equal measure reading the words of these other women, as I search for clues to what lies ahead. I feel more like a lazy Susan, though: scared, fighting mad, hopeful, sad, wounded, weepy, peaceful, pissed.

I am trying to get up-to-speed on Uterine Serous Papillary Carcinoma. My mother was diagnosed with this type of cancer on Wednesday of this week, so I’m learning an entirely new vocabulary, all about CA125 counts, taxol chemotherapy, radiotherapy, abdominal washes, and staging.

Mom’s cancer is Stage III. (There are only four stages.) She has one tumor in her uterus and another near her stomach. We’ll know after her surgery in two weeks whether it has metastasized.

I have learned that it is incurable, but can be treated as a chronic disease. This particular cancer has a high rate of recurrence.

Mom and I have held some odd conversations this week, about life, death and belief. But, we’ve found room for laughter amid talk about wishes, regrets, and hospice – should that need arise. Instead of working on homework, I’ve been writing her Last Will and Testament, Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney.

This is one of those times I hate being the writer in the family.


Written by The Long Way

May 22, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Posted in Family

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Extraordinary mom

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I just finished watching a special on OWN whereby Julia Roberts interviewed Christiane Amanpour, Hillary Clinton and other extraordinary women, who also happen to be mothers.

I loved hearing their stories, especially how Christiane confronted her fears about motherhood while still trying to tell the stories of people in war-torn regions of the world. And of Hillary planning Chelsea’s wedding  while trying to broker peace in the Middle East. So very human, while accomplishing some extraordinary things.

I would like you to meet my own extraordinary mom. Here she is.

Her name is Barbara Lee. My grandmother called her Babs, and I call her that when I’m being cheeky. I love this picture of us, taken in 1986 on Easter Sunday. I can see so much of her in me.

I take that legacy seriously. Although I inherited my father’s brashness and hubris, she bequeathed me her humanity.

There are three lessons she offered that shaped who I am today:

1. When she and my stepfather divorced when I was 10 years old, she had no job, suffered from agoraphobia, and we had no place to live.

We moved to a small town outside of Fort Worth to be near her parents, and she signed on to a temporary position with Tarrant County. She found us a small apartment, where all three of us – mom, brother and me – shared a bathroom.

We desperately needed new school clothes, growing as we were. She went to Dillard’s Department Store, and at that time no one would give single women credit of their own. She spoke to the clerk, then the manager, then the regional representative, telling each of them she wasn’t leaving until she received credit. Just before the doors closed that night, she got her own credit card with $200 on it. She paid it all back in two months.

2. We were driving through the Northside neighborhood in Fort Worth – a tough area filled with gangs. In the doorway of a flop house, we saw a man asleep on the stairs with a liter wrapped in a brown paper bag. She stopped the car and told my brother and I that something had broken that man’s spirit. She then told us that we had been given a lot in life, even though it didn’t always feel like that.

“To whom much is given, much is expected,” she said. “Do you understand what I mean?”

Sort of, we said.

“Get an education. You’re smart kids,” she answered. “Then figure out how to lift people like that up.”

3. A woman around my mother’s age lived behind the DIY car wash near her neighborhood. My mother often stopped at the KFC near the car wash, and always wondered what happened in her life. Mom would buy two meals, and took the other woman food on a few occasions. When I asked her about it, Mom said, “That could have just as easily been me.”

Here she is with my nephew and one of my nieces, holding a starfish I brought her from Miami as a Christmas gift. This is my mom’s favorite role – grandmother.

On April 7, she turned 67 years old. She will retire from Tarrant County this year after more than 30 years. She kept a roof over our heads, food on our table and managed to instill a love of lifelong learning in her kids.

We have been planning her move to Savannah, so that we can finally have some fun together. One of her greatest joys is walking on the beach.

But, those plans are on hold right now.

Last week, she told me that she was diagnosed the week before with uterine cancer. This week, she meets with an oncologist to learn what’s next. Surely surgery, maybe chemotherapy. Probably lots more tests before we really know what to expect.

So, instead of planning her retirement party, we’re taking it day-to-day. This Mother’s Day has a bit of a different timbre, a sense of uncertainty and a bittersweet taste.

But I’m quite hopeful that in this space next year, I’ll have a new story to tell about us finding a sand dollar or a beautiful scallop in the sands along Tybee’s north shore. The taste of salt in the air, a bit of wind at our backs.

Written by The Long Way

May 8, 2011 at 9:01 pm