f*ck cancer

I was trying to deconstruct a dream I had about my mother a couple of weeks ago — I’m nerdy like that — and it turned into this teary thing that I can’t shake.

Don’t be alarmed. She is still here. Still fighting. But the fact is, I am losing my mother. And that is no dream I will ever wake up from. 

It’s happening slowly. And also all at once. One day at a time, her strength is slipping away. Cancer, or more likely at this point, the toxic cocktail of medications she has swallowed twice daily for so long to keep it at bay, are robbing me of her. 

After 30 rounds of chemo and two years of pills delivered in a little white van, her body is sputtering like an engine on its last drops of oil. It’s quieting down, reluctantly losing strength at a pace that, for the first time, even her feisty spirit cannot always rally or deny.

“I could sleep 24 hours a day,” she sighs over the phone one afternoon. “But there’s no damn way I’ll let myself do that. I fight it.”

Other days, she reports that she’s “fine.” But her smile is bleak and without light. She is keeping the truth from me. And for the first time, I think about what it must be like to know that you’re going to die. That the trees will bud, the beloved flowerbeds you once spent hours in each week will bloom and flower and wither and winter over …and you will not be there to see any of it.

On some level I know this was a dream layered in my own grief over the fact that there are signs lately pointing to the inevitable. I’m beginning to understand that it is both entirely possible to miss someone who is still alive and in the same room with you — and to feel like you’re not using the precious remaining time well enough if you’re not in that room every minute of every day.

I’m coming to the realization that I am already homesick for her. 

It’s not unlike the homesickness that always filled me the first few days I stayed with my grandparents at the lake each summer. And it’s not unlike the homesickness that crept in as our car rolled away from the Rudy Ave house I grew up in, after we’d spent the whole day cleaning it out when it sold. 

When someone asks where you come from, the answer is always… your mother. 

I don’t know what I’ll do without mine when the day comes. And I see it coming.

I want to punch the fucking wall for all of the suffering she has not deserved — for a disease that shattered her. For a mother who will leave me sooner than I can handle. For all the time we will not have.

And I want to get on my knees in gratitude — for a disease that simultaneously taught me to heal and forgive and accept that there is no way to know what makes one thing happen in your life and not another. For all the unexpected time we have had. And for a mother who will one day leave me grown and strong and able to dig so fucking deep into this well of courage and strength that she has feared and loved — and gifted to me. 

There are days I think I will go on with the same impenetrable strength that has permeated her decade-long tangle with this sore loser of a disease. And there are days I think it might break me. That I will be sick in my soul forever for that greater meaning of home that mothers give us— the one we understand most purely when we’re kids, when it’s a metaphor for every possible feeling of security, of safety, of what is predictable, gentle, and good in life.

She is still here. Still fighting. I feel like I should bow in humility to the fact that there is something running through her that is so much bigger than she is — than any of us are. And I pray that it’ll be there one day, in me, when I need to wring the use out of it, too.

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