My mom was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer last week.
It’s hard to think about right now. I spend my time cycling between grief and rage, rage and grief, grief and rage. But it’s hard to think about anything else. I can’t concentrate on anything for longer than a few minutes. I welcome distraction, but I don’t want distraction. I want to feel something else but I don’t want to feel anything else.
I think my distress is related to the fact that this puts a clock on my mom’s time here. Granted, it is unknown at this point how much time is on the clock. And if we were being real, I would have to acknowledge that her having breast cancer maybe doesn’t change much. We’re all dying, really, moving one step at a time to a place where each of us will cease to exist. But, if I am not being philosophical about it, I’d have to recognize the reality of her situation: that whether it is 3 months or 15 years, the rest of her time here will be effected by cancer.
The thing is, most of us will experience the death of a parent. Sometimes it happens when we’re young, just figuring out who we are and our place in the world. Ideally it happens when our parents are quite old, peacefully in their sleep. As we grow up, I think our parents become a beacon- the signal that comes to us across miles and states and countries, reminding us that we’re someone’s child, we were someone’s baby, worthy of shelter, care, sacrifice, and love. They are the first people to love us wholly and unconditionally.
I used to think that the people I’ve known who lost a parent when they were relatively young always seemed a little sad. Scarred a bit by their loss, as if they’d been roughed up by life. But at the age of 39, I am not really all that young, even if I mostly just feel like a kid most of the time, looking around for an adultier adult.
My mom is fighting it now, which is good. But it’s not a fight I would wish on anyone, let alone my mom. She is in the hospital now and while its good, its still the hospital. She is such a private person, modest, she is uncomfortable with attention from her care team. This is such an awkward thing for her. She is always prepared to put others at ease- she asks the nurses and the doctors how they are doing, about their lives, their interests, etc. Listening to their answers is annoying. They are being polite- answering her questions. Because she has always been the best listener I know, she asks followup questions. The end result is that we learned so much about their past traumas, their lives, their histories.
But, it’s a defense mechanism. By asking people about their lives, she doesn’t have to reveal her past trauma, her life, her history.
As these people prattle on about their lives, I am tempted to scream: NO ONE CARES. NO ONE IN THIS ROOM RIGHT NOW GIVES A FLYING FUCK ABOUT YOUR FUCKING LIFE. FUCK YOUR STUPID FUCKING LIFE.
So much of my identity was built on her perception of me. She thought I was tough and strong and brave, so I became these things, eschewing other identities.
And so the night time drives between the hospital and the AirBNB is spent ugly crying and swallowing the urge to howl. The woman who made me who I am is in a dog fight for her life. Yet the world goes on around us, Her: battling cancer, Me: trying to be strong and tough and brave and trying not to lose my shit.
When I’m standing in line at Panera, it takes everything not to shout, “HEY! MY MOM HAS CANCER. MOVE THIS A-FUCKING-LONG, NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOUR FUCKING LIFE.” It’s snowbird season in Florida, which means half the people you encounter in Publix are on vacation, completely, totally, absolutely oblivious to the people around them. I am standing there, waiting to place an order for a sub which is going to be my dinner and breakfast. It will be eaten hunched over my lap in her hospital room. And some retiree lady is flirting the retiree sub guy. All I want is to grab this sandwich so that I can get back to the hospital and get in the door before visitor hours are over (when they lock the outer door). He’s giving her turn-by-turn directions to some place like a GOOGLE FUCKING MAPS DOES NOT EXIST.
When it is my turn, I swallow the rage and graciously smile at the sub guy to place my order.
My mother has cancer. That is her life now and the world moves on around me.