Cancer…what’s up with that?
I don’t even know where to start. Anything I have to say about the matter is pretty commonplace. I don’t get into the “Cancer sucks” memes that go around, because I don’t know anyone who says cancer rocks.
Seriously, though, I’ve tried writing this post several times and each time I’ve failed. It’s been fourteen years and I’m still mad, I guess.
In 1997, I got married. My parents came to the wedding, and everyone kept commenting on how much weight my mom had lost. Everyone was smiles about it. Except me. Something in my head said, “This isn’t right.”
So, I begged her to go see a doctor as soon as she got home. She promised me she would…when her new insurance kicked in. A few short months later, she was diagnosed with Colo-rectal cancer.
Eleven months after that, she was gone.
I’ve tried to write about the ordeal. The trials. The pain. The torture of watching your mother being eating alive from the inside. The agony of sitting at her bedside when she finally realized there was nothing left they could do. The hopelessness I felt because all I could do was hold her hand and tell her I loved her…and that I couldn’t answer any of her questions; that no one could. I’ve tried. And every time I’ve failed. I just can’t do it justice. It’s too close, too visceral. And because to this day, there’s a single question that still haunts my memories:
“Why do I have to die?”
Her cancer had spread from her colon to her liver. She had over a hundred small tumors spotting her liver, and the cancer was spreading to her pelvis bones. We had transferred her from the hospital to a hospice when the doctor made the call that all treatment options had been exhausted.We told mom she was being transferred to a private hospital. The word hospice was never mentioned to her. In retrospect, I don’t know why. She worked in the medical field in some form or other her entire life. She knew. But I digress.
The hospice room was darkened. The only light was what filtered through the open door from the hallway. I peeked in to see how she was doing. She put a finger up and waved for me to come in.
I walked over and sat at her bedside. He hands were pale and ice cold. The fingernails were growing darker around the base. A sign that the end was near.
“Did you see him?”
“That man in the hallway. He just died. Now, he’s down there waiting for them to come get him.”
I was enraged. The hospice policy was to close all doors before wheeling a body out for pick-up. I told my mom I’d be right back. I walked with all the righteous anger I could muster at 2 AM. I went to the nursing station and demanded to know why they didn’t close the door before taking the man down the hall out.
A nurse who was on the phone, dropped the headset. She looked at me wide-eyed. She hung the phone up. “We haven’t taken him from his room. In fact, I haven’t even had a chance to call his family yet. How did you know?”
After an awkward pause, I told them what my mom said. One nurse walked over to me and grabbed me by the elbow and took me outside. She told me what my mom saw was common. The day after someone dies, almost every person in the ward says the person came to say ‘bye’ before going away. (Mind=Blown)²
So, shaken, I walked back to my mom’s room. She wanted me to sit down. So, I did. Then she teared up. “Scotty Ray, I’m so damn scared.”
I held her hand. “It’s okay mom. I’m here.”
“Why? Why won’t they give me a new liver?”
Tears filled my eyes, “Because they can’t get rid of all of the cancer.”
“So, this is it. Why? Why do I have to die?”
“I guess God needs another angel.”
We held hands and cried in the dark as the clock ticked in the background. Each second marked was one less second we would have together.
I know what your saying. “So, why this story? Why now?”
Because today is World Cancer Day.
Back in the ’70s it was a rare thing to know someone with cancer. Now, EVERY family is touched by it in some way shape or form. Get educated. And let’s see if we can start kicking cancer’s ass back.
As a parent, you owe your children at least that.
Addendum: I’m angry, not because cancer is a guaranteed cold-hearted killer. No, I’m angry because the advancements in treatment over the last decade could have prevented her death. There are better treatments, better screenings nowadays. I’m just mad that it couldn’t have waited a few years longer before striking. The outcome might have been drastically different. And I would give so much for my sons to be able to see her in person just one time.