Shortly after this happened, a few other things happened. My paternal grandmother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Also, my mom’s best friend (a woman who I refer to as my aunt and her daughters are my cousins) was diagnosed with colon cancer. What a fucking year. I supported my cousins and also helped out with taking my grandmother to treatments. She needed chemotherapy and radiation as well as surgery. We though that she was not going to make it as she was late 70s, had congestive hear failure, was going blind in one eye, had part of her figure amputated, and a host of other health issues. Who would have guessed she dealt with the daily commute from Malibu to Santa Monica for treatment, and her surgery.
Mom continued with treatment and our routine went on for years. The doctors were always impressed with her will and the ability to take what they gave her. The doctor explained it, they would give her the maximum medical amount prescribed and then back off once she could not take it physically. It was all about how she would function. The doctors never had to back off the medication. They gave her the most amount and stayed full bore until the numbers went up or the scans showed they were not responding.
My mom worked her ass off. She hit her 50th birthday, something she celebrated. “MORE BIRTHDAYS!!” she would say. She kept teaching. She was an amazing teacher. One day a student, who has become part of our family, was walking out of the law school. He was done. He couldn’t handle it anymore and was quitting law school. His papers were in and he was done. My mom saw him in the parking lot and stopped him. She told him to work with her, to stay with it. She walked him back into the school and started working with him. He went on to graduate and pass the bar, and still says it was because of my mom. There are so many more stories like that. When I was going through law school and was frustrated, I went to the students I knew. I asked them what they did. Their answer “we had your mom.” That sunk my heart every time I heard it.
The next few years were more of the same routine. Living week to week. Test to test and new drug to new drug. I had left my job with the NEX and started my career with probation. I got married and was able to have my mom at my wedding in April 2006. In October 2006, my maternal grandfather passed away. I was in Las Vegas at the time, and my grandfather had just recently been diagnosed with cancer in his throat. We started to go through the treatment plan, but you could see his reluctance in his eyes. He was unsure about it all, but he saw the strength my mom had. He called her “fluff.” I can still hear him calling her that. He was scared. My mom had stayed strong for him for a long time. I believe she refused to give up because she knew he relied on her so much. In October 2006, he passed away. I think this was almost somewhat of a relief to my mom. Looking back, I can see how she started to slip away after that. She gave up some of her fight. She knew that we would all be okay. I was 26 at the time, brother 24, and sister 18. There were new drug regiments coming, but the doctor was telling her that her body was taking a toll after all the years.
My strength this time was not for people who called or for people outside of my family. It was for my mom. I could see the weakness in her and even though I put it out of my mind I tried to stay strong that she was going to be okay. She had bounced back each time. She never had to be admitted to the hospital, she never had to skip out of things she REALLY wanted to do. She always found a way to fight. She would always fight. The night of my 27th birthday in May, a Tuesday, I was at home with her and we celebrated. I got a picture and left for the night with friends. This picture would be the last one with her and the last one of her alive.
My mom was not feeling well that night, and had a doctors appointment that Wednesday. I had the day off an went with her to the doctor. She had blood drawn earlier that week and the doctor came in with the results. I had gone with her to the doctor before. It was nothing like they show in TV where they tell you “you’ve got 6 months to live,” or “you there is nothing else we can do for you.” However this day was different. The doctor really like my mom. He told her, the nurses told her, and others even said that he had a great connection to her. They said this was the most upset that they had ever seen the doctor. He walked into the room and told my mom that the blood was not great for chemo that day and that he would see her the next week. She took this as a positive and even tried to cheer up the doctor. But she knew. He knew. I felt it. They hugged each other and it seemed to linger. I think they both knew it was the last time they would see each other. My mom was skinny and did not look like she had been looking the past few months. So we did our usual thing after the doctor, we went to breakfast. I took her by her office to get some work, and we went home. She graded her papers and we watched movies together. We laughed and talked about life and just everything.
That night she went to bed and was not feeling well. Thursday, she was still in bed and not doing well at all. We called a friend who was a head nurse at the hospital and close friend of my moms. She came over and talked to her. Mom could not speak much, but knew you were there if you talked to her. She could feel you. I talked to her and told her how much I loved her and what she meant to me. She breathed “I love you.” I went to work early the next morning and tried to work. I was scheduled for a double shift, starting at 6 am. At about 7 am I called my dad to check in and see how things were going. He said not good and that he was going to call the doctor to find out what to do. I asked if I should come home and he said “do what you feel you need to.” I asked him again, and this time I could hear it in his voice. He was scared. But it was a strength in there. I was not good at work. I called the supervisor on duty and informed him of what was going on. I did not ask to go home. I said “I am going home.”
This was the strangest drive home I have ever had. For the past 7 years I had feared losing my mom. I had feared each test result. Even though I was scared I had to force my strength to be strong for others. Yet, on this drive home something came over me. I turned to radio down and felt that everything would be okay. It was a warmth of strength in me. Up until this point in my life I had wondered about my faith in God and had not investigated it, but this was the point that I look back on and believe now HE was telling me it was going to be okay.
Hospice was called in to help take care of my mom and my family. Again I was the one who made the phone calls to family and friends. I deflected as to who was coming over and who would talk. My paternal grandfather came over and leaned in close to my mom and spoke with her. “Hod, I love you sweetie.” He said. She responded “I love you, pop.”
Hospice brought in a medical bed and support for all of us. This was the first time we all as a family sat down in the living room and talked about what was going on. Maybe a small hope in our minds was that this was not happening. I came up with the understanding that this was not something we had been dealing with for just the last 7 years. This was 14 years, ever since she decided to go to law school. For 14 years we had all supported mom and her going to law school and going through bar testing, then setting up her practice. Then cancer came into our lives and for the last 7 years we had fought this beast together. This was the end of it. As sad as it was, there was also this type of relief. Relief for her. Relief that she was not longer in pain and that she knew we were all in a space to go on and be okay.
On May 9, 2007 my mom passed away. She did not “lose a fight with breast cancer.” That is not what she wanted to be said about her. She lived with it. She dealt with it. It was something that eventually took her life, but something she never ran from. She ran straight into it.
At the end of May we held a celebration of life. It was packed with students, families, friends, and anyone who knew of or her about her. She touched so many people throughout her life, some I had met and some I had only heard stories about. People gave us stories of how she touched their lives and made an impact on their successes.
About 8 weeks after her passing, my aunt passed away. During her funeral the pastor mentioned my mom and a quote from my aunt, “who gets to die with their best friend?” Their love and their friendship was something special. Today, 7 years later, they are for sure sitting down somewhere knitting and talking and making each other laugh, their favorite pastime.