Today is New Year’s Day. I took a walk with my boyfriend and his dog, and as with most things I share with him, it was lovely. We speculated on what he might want to do to improve his house and watched a hawk land on a tree branch. While walking hand in hand with him I suddenly remembered where I was last year at this time…..I was taking a walk alone and I was trying to reconcile the fact that I was about to watch/help my mother endure a stem cell transplant. Prior to the beginning of last year, she had spent 8 solid months getting her body ready for a complete restart. She had chemotherapy and bone marrow biopsies and countless doctor appointments all to help ensure the addition of a few years onto her life. My mother has multiple myeloma, which is a blood/marrow cancer. There is no cure. She will always have it. But all doctors have said that people who do well with stem cell transplants can add as many as 10 years onto their lives. Years in which they can work and travel and live.
Everyone seems to think this is great news and in many, many ways it is. Science is an amazing tool and asset. Without it, she could be gone. But I can’t help but think about and process the fact that her life has been shortened. By how much, I can’t say, but shortened just the same. I know I don’t know that for certain, her life will be as long as it’s supposed to be. But when the diagnosis of cancer comes and it’s a strong, incurable, non-remission kind of cancer, it’s incredibly difficult to not feel fucking angry and robbed of the assumed 20+ years I hoped she would have. Now you’re telling me she might be able to have 10? Go fuck yourself.
I used to drink the pain and uncertainty about my mother’s illness away. I certainly did when she was in the hospital last year for 2 weeks. She had to stay that long because they gave her a massive dose of a chemo drug to knock her immune system down to zero so that when her stem cells (yes, her stem cells, it was pretty amazing to watch actually) were implanted back into her they could start with a completely clean slate. Her entire system was starting from scratch to help her body combat the myeloma cells more efficiently.
I camped out in a hotel, alone, for a good chunk of the time she was laying in a hospital bed. She was there for almost 14 days total and I was there for 6 of them. Watching the woman who raised you, loved you, never judged you and took care of you no matter what lose her hair, throw up repeatedly, and lose her dignity all with a graceful smile on her face is heartbreaking in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined. Seeing her go through that, being alone while I watched, feeling like I could do nothing to make it easier broke me open. It felt like life was poking and digging its’ greasy, ragged fingernail directly into my heart – as if it were fishing around for every extra bit of strength I had. I could barely stand it. So I drank to help salve the aches I felt. But it didn’t help. It took me away, briefly, which sadly I needed. But ultimately all the booze did was zap what precious little energy I had. I was giving everything I had either to my mom or to the bottle. It was an awful, awful time.
But that was last year. I got through it. She got through it. And she began to heal. Over the past year she started working at a little part-time gig with our dear, dear family friend who is like the sister I never had in her consignment shop. She traveled with her best friend. She celebrated another mother’s day and another birthday and another Christmas, with me. She got to meet my best friends’ sweet baby boy. She got to meet my wonderful new boyfriend. She got to read a wonderfully written and heartfelt letter from my brother’s favorite friend that brought her to tears. She got to see another year begin. She got to live, even if it was very different from what she (and I) is used to.
I’m so grateful for that. I’m grateful to see her smile, even if the smile she wears nowadays is incredibly sad. I’m grateful for the pain, even when it stops my breath. I’m grateful for my journey, even though it has exhausted me time and time again. I’m grateful for my strength and wisdom. I’m grateful that I still love to laugh as much as I do. I’m grateful that I see so much beauty in the darkness (sitting quietly next to my mother while she slept in the hospital, knowing she would be comforted to see me when she woke was fucking gorgeous). I’m grateful that I was given some perspective on my walk today. Last year I was walking alone, wondering how in the blue fuck I was going to get through what was coming toward me. This year, I was still wondering how I’m going to get through…but I wasn’t walking alone.