The 3 weeks of antibiotics were up. Mom's pain continued to worsen. Almost a month to the day after she first went in for "that weird tongue thing," she went back to the hospital to try to find a way to better manage her pain. That's when the family started to unravel.
Communication is emphatically NOT my family's strength, and living 500 miles away from them was not helpful in the least. Somehow key details were left out in conversations until they were old news. For example, I found out in the middle of a late night phone call with my sister that Mom's cancer was upgraded from stage II to stage IIIC or possibly stage IV weeks earlier. So many of the events of this time are hazy in my mind, disjointed and illogical in the order presented; only because the whole damn thing was illogical in my brain.
I was 29. My mom was not supposed to be this sick. She wasn't this sick and it was all some annoying headache that just needed to get resolved NOW.
So when she went into the hospital again on the 10th of November I expected a barrage of text messages, e-mails, telephone calls, a repeat of October. I wasn't expecting to hear that the lesion in her brain was still there along with another lesion on her liver. Or that the liver biopsy would come back positive for cancer. Or that I would need to change my planned Christmas visit to a Thanksgiving visit because Dad didn't think Mom had another two months left in her.
I faltered in asking for the time off. I didn't want to take the time. I think in my mind I felt as though if I made her wait until Christmas that damn it she would just have to hang on and wait. But I went ahead and booked a sub for the three extra days and waited.
November 11th she had the liver biopsy. The results came back the next Monday. Positive. Next on the to-do list was a bone scan to see if the cancer was present in her bones and spinal fluid. Results would come back by Saturday or Sunday.
Sunday I attended church for the first time in nearly a decade. The homily was about how we all have life-shattering experiences. Those times that truly test faith and make us question the goodness of God. The priest was very forceful in explaining that we must trust in God and stay with him during these times and he will stay with us. He threw in a little fire and brimstone along with a steaming heapful of Catholic guilt regarding church attendance during trying times. I was thoroughly turned off. But in the middle of the recessional, at the end of mass, my phone buzzed. A text message from my younger sister: "Bone scan NEGATIVE."
I walked out to the car after church, sat behind the wheel of my car and melted. I hadn't cried during any of this before, but I did then. Bone scan NEGATIVE. It was hope. It was the only good news we had gotten since she'd had the mastectomy. Somehow, despite all of the other facts - her constant pain, the cancer in her liver, her shaky voice over the phone - somehow this one fact convinced me that she would pull through and conquer this thing because the bone scan was NEGATIVE. After a while, I peeled my forehead from the steering wheel, wiped my eyes, and drove home. I still needed to lesson plan and pack.
It was going to be a grueling week anyway. That Thursday I had two parent meetings and a formal observation by my supporting teacher (I'm still a newbie). My supporting teacher was in the loop as to what was going on with Mom, and we had both agreed to get this observation over with early so that we could stay ahead of the game. Last year we had to deal with my unexpected pregnancy, so we already knew that staying as far ahead as possible with the paperwork would help us out big time in the end.
Thursday rolled around and I got my first meeting finished early. I went back to my classroom to prep for my observation. That's when the text messages started rolling in. My older sister was driving in from out of state with her family. The text message was from her: Dad called her crying, asking when she would be getting in. Shit. Something's going on.
The bell rang and students started filing in. No time to think about that now, I have a lesson to teach under observation.
We got started, and the lesson was going really well. And then, toward the end, the phone just started exploding with messages (on vibrate, don't worry). For a brief moment I made eye contact with my supporting teacher. She made a motion to indicate the question, "Do you want to suspend the lesson?" No. I definitely did NOT want to suspend the lesson. We soldiered on, my kids did great despite the buzzing coming from my purse every few minutes. The bell rang, my students and observer left, and I went straight for my phone. I had about 10 minutes before my next parent meeting.
Mom was dying. Soon.
She had 2-3 months at best, and probably much less than that. How soon can I come down? Dad's a wreck.
My meeting was pleasant enough. I didn't mind that we were meeting during lunch. I wasn't in the least bit hungry anyway. We worked through a plan for the student, wrapped up neatly just in time for my afternoon classes. I don't even remember what happened the rest of the day or at all the next day.
Two to three months. Dad doesn't think she'll make it to Christmas. How soon can I get down there?
I made plans to drive down with the family on Saturday, arrive Sunday after going to church with my mother-in-law. We packed quickly and left early, 8 inches of early snow on the ground; it had all fallen the night before.
Then Saturday's phone call came through as I was sipping a beer, unwinding from the drive and anticipating the next day.
Mom was asking for me. The doctors say it will be soon, probably within the week. People who are dying often hang on so they can wrap up unfinished business with people, or give them final messages. Mom was asking if I was there yet. But don't change plans, she'll hang on for you.
I changed my plans and arranged to leave as early as possible the next morning. Church with my mother-in-law could wait. Mom couldn't.