I never expected to be writing this, for so many reasons.
For one, Medium is far from a community-driven place. I feel embarrassed in a way, stripping myself bare and asking for help. But this is an unusual situation. A blessing and a struggle.
For another, the thing is, I didn’t know my mother would still be alive.
When her symptoms started, she didn’t say anything to anyone. But after a few months, we realized something was terribly wrong. She’d lost so much weight, wasn’t eating, and had a strange pallor to her. This strong woman, who’d spent years working out and race-walking, whose job as a vet tech involved lifting heavy dogs onto operating tables, this woman who was stronger than me, was suddenly hunched over. She limped when she walked.
She came to visit us in Paris. Hills were agony for her. I found myself frustrated — all my life, my mother had never complained, never shown any signs of suffering from anything. I wasn’t used to this, I guess, and inwardly I reacted like a confused child, instead of an observant adult.
My mom had always seemed sort of invincible. She’d gone through rough things, but she’d always survived. She was the one saving lives, whether animals, or people. When one of my aunts needed a kidney transplant, the minute my mother found out she was a match, she didn’t hesitate.
She always had an innate understanding of medical things. Once when I was staying with her for a few weeks, I sliced my finger so badly with a knife that I probably should have gone to the emergency room for stitches. But my needle phobia made me terrified to go. So my mother nursed me — a twenty-something girl being silly, really — back to health. Every morning before work, when it was still dark outside, she’d knock on my door and change the dressings on my finger. Every evening when she came home, exhausted, she did the same. She never made me feel bad, never questioned my choices.
But I questioned hers. After seeing her struggle on those Parisian hills, I forced her to go to my doctor, even though she was far more terrified than I’d been.
My doctor doesn’t speak English, so I had to be the interpreter. I discreetly turned my back as he asked her to take off her shirt and bra. When she got dressed again, I turned around and saw him shaking his head.
“Why did she wait so long?!” he asked me in French. I knew it was really bad.
He ordered her to get an emergency mammogram, which only confirmed what we were so afraid to say: Advanced stage breast cancer, which had possibly spread.
It was a strange visit after that. Sometimes my mother couldn’t leave the house. Other times, we went sightseeing (it was her first time in Paris, after all). There were often moments of hollow fear, even in the midst of so much beauty. And there were moments of grace. We sat in the Sacré-Coeur listening to the nuns sing, and my baby son didn’t make a single noise, just looked around and smiled. Afterwards, we walked around the church, and my mother suddenly stopped at the statue of a saint: Sainte Marguerite-Marie, her namesake. She lit a candle, tears making the flame’s reflection wobble in her eyes. It was something holy. She felt protected.
She never returned to her home in Georgia. Instead, we changed her ticket so that she’d go straight to New Jersey, where most of my family lives. More tests revealed the cancer had started to spread, and that one of her lungs was basically not functioning because it was filled with fluid. My mom was sort of proud of that: “Can you imagine,” she told me, “I had a hard time with those hills because I only had one working lung!”
My mom’s resilience and resistance to pain paid off. She went through treatment, had good and bad days, and we all hoped she’d be around for at least a little while.
A year later, her doctor was stunned: Despite the advanced stage of her cancer, despite the fact that it had spread, the tumors had shrunk or even disappeared. She was in remission and, even, according to test results, in excellent health.
We don’t know if or when the cancer will come back. Like all people in remission, it’s there, like a bomb inside you. But there does seem to be hope that my mom still has many healthy years ahead of her.
She race-walks every day, but her physical strength is severely diminished. She still has a slight limp, and she’ll never be able to lift a heavy dog onto an operating table. But she’s still here, happy, able to enjoy life and see her grandchildren grow.
The only problem is, starting a new life isn’t easy. My mom left everything she had behind. She also never had any savings; for all her good qualities, she’s always been strange about money. All the logic and precision that goes into medicine completely leaves her when it comes to finances. So she finds herself full of hope, with an unexpected future, but with some major expenses in order to make it happen.
My mom needs a car (hers was in such bad shape that we couldn’t even get it up to New Jersey, and it didn’t sell for much), and help with things like gas money, car insurance, and housing expenses while she gets on her feet.
My family has helped and we continue to help. But many of us are also struggling. My husband and I are currently living on a tight budget. Just before the diagnosis, my sister left her job to start her own business. My brother and his wife have just found out they’re going to have a baby — great, but somewhat unexpected news that also means they have to tighten their budget. My aunt and uncle, who housed and cared for my mom, are facing problems of their own, including my aunt’s failing health (a transplanted kidney can apparently only last so long…) and some financial issues.
And so, here comes the part about community and this not being something I would have expected to do on Medium — we’ve set up a GoFundMe page, and I’m spreading the word. If you’ve read this far, maybe it means you’re moved by my mom’s story and want to help. That would be amazing — well, words fail me — it would be more than that.
If you can’t donate, please spread the word. They say at GoFundMe that one of the key things to do is simply get the news out. Please feel free to share this link: https://www.gofundme.com/nq69dnp4 on your social media accounts, or pass it along to someone you think might be able to help.
I’m sorry if this isn’t something that’s normally done here, but we are so full of hope and desperation. And anyway, I have so little to give that I wanted to give what I could, by sharing the page and asking for help. Thanks for reading, and for anything more you can do.