Mom’s Got Cancer – Entry 7 – Love is Everywhere
We’ve been on a roller coaster ride over the last seven months, since my last entry. My mom was slowly healing and getting her strength back after the ordeal in the hospital. She was continuing her treatment of afatinib and erbitux. The side effects were rough although she did not lose her hair. By this point in her journey, she didn’t give a fuck about her hair anymore. Her quality of life was progressively deteriorating. She was initially motivated to be involved in activities at her retirement home but gradually started to digress and keep to herself. She had completely lost her taste buds. Nothing tasted good to her and she was only able to notice texture. She used to be such a foodie, loving Japanese food, e.g. ramen, fish, spicy curries but she couldn’t taste anything anymore. She was moving towards depression again. I’m normally not an advocate of happy pills but I’ve expanded my perspective and let go of previous judgements I had. If I were on the last limb of my life, going through chemo again while fighting metastasized cancer, living alone and lost my taste buds, I would be fucking depressed too! Hell yes to happy pills.
While she was on this treatment, she did gain her energy back. We went on a trip to Bellevue, WA with the family. Even though she had lost her taste buds, I was not giving up. I was on a hunt to get her taste back. We took her to one of our favourite Chinese restaurants in Bellevue, Din Tai Fung. We walked there from our hotel, which was just across the street. I have always been used to my mom being faster than me. As a two-time Boston and NY marathon winner, she saw everything as a race and I was used to this energy. I was constantly dragging my feet trying to keep up with her. As we were heading to the Chinese restaurant, we started running across the street to make the signal. I turned back at my mom who was with my older daughter and signalled for them to “hurry up”. I kept running and heard my daughter yell for me. When I looked back, baba was on the floor on her back and Blanca was crying. I felt like such an asshole! How could I have called for my mom to hurry up when she was almost 80, battling cancer and just recently got out of the ER. I did not want to accept that my mom was aging or even dying. She was always going to be stronger and faster than me. She was my mom. I ran back to her. Another man, a passerby, went to help her. He was tall and strong and helped me get her back on her feet. He wanted to make sure she was ok and didn’t have a concussion. He stayed with us for a few minutes until I told him we were fine and thanked him for his help. He walked away and only when he was crossing the wide street did I realize he didn’t have a leg and was having a hard time getting across the street himself.
My mom was ok, even though her daughter was an asshole. The next morning, I saw the man with one leg on the same street, holding up a cardboard sign asking for money. My husband and I walked over to him to thank him for his kindness and to give him a $20. He wouldn’t accept it. He said he didn’t help her for money. He had a Jersey accent and pride but I insisted so many times that he probably accepted the money to get me out of his face. I wrapped my arms around him and he stood there awkwardly. I was so touched by this stranger’s impulse to help.
The side effects of the treatment were getting too toxic to handle. Also the cost of treatment was not worth paying for anymore. It sounds insensitive to even think about money as a factor in prolonging life but realistically, it is. If my mom could handle the side effects, we were on board with treatment but she was miserable. She went back on chemo briefly just to give it another shot but decided shortly after to go into hospice care.
We had our biggest scare the other night, the day after her 80th birthday, Aug 9. I can’t seem to get it through my thick head that my mom is fragile and I should be seeing her as my newborn child rather than my warrior mom (as my dear friend Karin from NZ has nicknamed her). She doesn’t have a bathtub in her suite at her retirement home and growing up, my mom always enjoyed her evening baths. I drew a hot bath for her and helped her step in. She looked comfortable so I left leaving the door cracked and telling her to call for me when she wanted to get out. Meanwhile I started going through the huge stack of her medical bills that I had neglected. I was immersed and whining about having to go through these bills when I remembered my mom in the tub. She hadn’t called for me and it had been a while. I walked into the bathroom and saw her lifeless body, leaned up against one side of the tub with her head slumped to one side. She wasn’t moving. My heart started to race. I went in to pick her up while calling for my husband for help. He ran in and helped me pull her out of the tub. We have a tiny bathroom where the toilet is right next to the tub. I held my mom from behind and sat down on the covered toilet seat with my mom’s naked, over heated body on my lap. I was in fight or flight and was choosing to fight like hell. I told the girls to bring cold rags and ice cubes while telling Scott to call her doctor. So many thoughts were racing through my head, “I can’t believe I left her alone! Why didn’t I come earlier?! Should I be calling an ambulance? She’d go into the hospital again where she’d get poked, scanned, possibly operated on, when we’ve already decided hospice is our choice. Her insurance doesn’t cover her in Canada. She’s going to die in my arms right now! What am I going to do if she dies in Canada? What am I going to do if she dies?!”
She was still unconscious. Her eyes were rolled back into her head. She was quite the sight. No hair, hardly any teeth and her skinny, drenched, unconscious, naked body on my lap. She threw up a couple of times but was still not coherent. I kept repeating through tears “gomenasai” and “kikoeru” which is “I’m sorry and can you hear me” in Japanese while rubbing ice cubes all over her bald head and face. Our girls were hurriedly patting her down with cold rags and I remember some crying coming from them but it was in the far distance. My entire focus was on my mom and keeping her breathing. I had one arm wrapped around her waist while my other hand held the bucket of vomit. All I wanted in that moment was for her to keep breathing. There was so much love in that little bathroom with all five of us fighting for life plus the doctor on speaker. It seemed like an hour had passed but it was probably just several long ass minutes when my mom was able to answer with a nod that she could hear me. I saw her pupils again. Her first words were “tsumetai” (cold). Blanca looked up at me while she was putting cold rags on baba’s legs and said “She said tsumetai” with a half smile. Baba was ok.
Scott carried her into our bed and the girls and I kept cooling her off with cold rags and ice. She was speaking again and didn’t remember much of what happened. She remembered getting in the bath and then hearing the panic in my voice. Once everyone calmed down and we had a chance to exhale, I spoke to her doctor. I told him I thought it was the end of the road for her and he said in his monotone voice, “I’ve never heard of anyone dying from taking a bath”. I really appreciate how people in the medical profession don’t get their panties up in a wad unless they’re in the ER and the shit is going down fast.
That night I slept in the bed with my mom and kept creeping up to her face to see if she was still breathing. It was like having a newborn baby all over again and worrying about SIDS. She said in Japanese “Stop checking up on me. I’m fine. I’m not dying tonight! I’m strong. Don’t you know that already?”
The next day she was feeling relatively good except for a couple hours of slurred speech. I was concerned about it and called her doctor and her hospice nurse. They said it sounded like she had a seizure (most likely in the bath) and that her tumours might have spread to her brain. By this point in our journey, my mom and I were both numb to the news.
I don’t know how I’m going to deal with the future but I’m done taking her for granted. She is somewhat self-sufficient right now but not sure how long that will last. Her hospice nurse gave me some beautiful advice, “Enjoy her today and see what tomorrow brings.”