Saturday, 9 July 2011

hArgAi iBu ANDA... smEntRa mAsiH adA..

One evening, about four years ago, I got a phone call and heard the news. The doctors wanted my mother to go to the hospital to run some tests and have a bone marrow biopsy. She had been experiencing back pain for some time but wasn't sure of the cause. Although they didn't give her any definite news, in my heart I knew that something serious was happening to my mother. Later, still brooding about the call, I added the finishing touches to the lesson plan I would teach the next day and packed up. As I drove home that night, my mind was wandering. Without realizing it I ran right through a red light and was brought sharply back to reality when an oncoming car slammed on their brakes and honked angrily. I felt lucky that I didn't get hit, but I couldn't stop thinking about my mom and what these tests would reveal.

My mother's name was Jane and she wasn't just my mother. She was my best friend. She loved making popcorn for the family. The smell of popcorn always reminds me of her. She always seemed to create a warm, loving atmosphere wherever she went. She loved gardening and each year kept reducing the size of her lawn as she expanded her garden to make room for more flowers. One year, following in her footsteps, I planted some purple cornflowers from seed. After tending them carefully, I was so disappointed when they only grew a few inches. She told me, as her father had told her, "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap!" And so she taught me to be patient. She loved birds too and had many birdfeeders throughout her garden. It always gave our family a special feeling to see her birds return year after year.

A few weeks after the night of the red-light incident, my fears, that had begun that night, were confirmed. The day after my mother's 60th birthday, our family was all together in her hospital room. The doctor came in and told us that my mother had Multiple Myeloma, which is a blood cancer. She also happened to have an aggressive form called Plasma Cell Leukemia, which has no known cure. I was in disbelief. It was too much for me to comprehend. After the disbelief and shock wore off, we started to grasp for hope. We all hoped that she could manage to reduce the cancer and hold it off until a cure could be found.

My mother took the news very hard. Although she had been through some difficult times, she really enjoyed life so much. She did not want to even think about leaving her family and friends and had a hard time facing the reality of her illness. For awhile, she was so sad and depressed that she would not answer the phone or talk to anyone. It took her a very long time to admit her illness and still, I don't believe she ever fully accepted what was happening to her.

After the sad news, my stepfather and I jumped into action, researching her cancer and its treatments. My focus became my mother. I got educated about her disease, went to support groups and conferences. I knew every detail, the names of all her drugs and their side effects, and, the schedule of her many medications. I learned the medical terminology associated with her illness and what her blood counts revealed. I went to as many doctor visits as possible. Together my stepfather and I took notes when the doctors spoke, logged every medication with the date and time she took it, begged and prodded her to exercise, saved pharmacy receipts, and so much more. I wanted to protect her and do everything I could to help her get well.

I visited her often. I couldn't get enough time with my mother. Even if she wasn't feeling well, I knew we would have a good time together. Being in her presence always made me feel very relaxed and soothed... the way a mother's love should make us all feel. Even when she was down, we'd always manage to laugh or chat about old times.

We remembered the craft projects she used to help me with when I was little. Like the fall of first grade when I won a prize for having the best decorated pumpkin in my class. I knew I couldn't have done it with out her help and encouragement and I was so proud when my pumpkin was featured in the town newspaper.

We remembered the times she tried to teach me to crochet, a skill I somehow never picked up. While she could create beautiful afghans that would become gifts for friends and family, I would get so frustrated in my attempts that I would end up ripping out my stitches and starting over again and again. We always chuckled when we remembered the many times I tried to learn. In fact, we loved to laugh together. We would laugh over the silliest of things, stop, think about it, and begin laughing all over again. When I close my eyes I can still hear her laughter.

My mother ended up having two stem cell transplants as her treatment went on. In both cases a very high dose of chemo and drug protocol was used to wipe out all of the cancerous cells in her body. Unfortunately it also made her good blood counts very low and she would require special food and hygiene precautions. Then she would get healthy blood stem cells infused into her body to help her fight off the cancer. I will always remember the strength and courage she had through all of the discomforts. Despite it all we had many moments of joy and laughter during her treatments. Since I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible, I often stayed overnight with her in her hospital room and tried to be there for her any time she needed me.

Some of the best times during her illness were our trips to the mall. Shopping together had always been one of our favorite pastimes. My mother knew much more about fashion than I did so I always relied on her for help with my wardrobe. When she wasn't feeling too tired, we would pack up the car and head to the mall. After parking in a special handicap spot, we'd get her settled into her wheelchair and then zoom off to find the best deals. We laughed as we piled up the clothes on top of her - in her wheelchair she made a convenient shopping cart. People stared at us, but we just laughed. It felt so good to get out of the house and just to be together.

The last time I saw my mother was two weeks before she died. I tried to remain positive and not treat the visit as if it might be the last. I loved our relationship and I wanted to try to preserve it just the way it was. I always felt that we spent quality time together during my whole life, so I wasn't looking for that "last" moment. But I will never forget that day.

When I arrived in her hospital room, I was overwhelmed by the sight. She was hooked up to a breathing machine and every breath was a struggle. When I saw her I knew that she didn't have much time left. She couldn't speak over the noise of the breathing machine and she was very very weak. I told her to rest, but she did manage to say two things to me: "I'm sorry" and "Don't cry." Through my tears I told her that of course she had nothing to be sorry about. Though I haven't gotten the crying part under control, I know it was her way of telling me to go on with my life and be happy. She died later that evening.

I was glad then that I had had a chance to speak to her over the phone not long before. In that conversation we told each other how much we loved each other. I told her that I wanted her to know that I was so grateful for the kind of mother she had been to be. I thanked her for being my best friend and mentioned that I didn't know how I would be able to continue on without her in my life.

Altogether, my mother fought off the cancer three times before she was called home. Her doctor told us that she was the longest surviving patient he has ever treated with her type of cancer. Although the average survival was 1.5 years, my mom lived for 3.5.

My mother was so caring. She always created a very warm, loving atmosphere. All holidays were filled with many decorations in the house and the table set to perfection. My mother raised two children as a single mother and we never felt like we had to make sacrifices. My mother was very direct in her approach with people. You always knew where you stood. She was great at decorating and especially taking something old, painting it or changing it to create something new. She was honest, compassionate, loving, and gentle, and never raised her voice or used any bad language. My mother was always someone you could count on. If she gave you her word, it would happen. She wouldn't procrastinate either. She was happy and content. She didn't expect much from others, but gave a lot of herself. This is what I am striving for in my life.

Now it has been only a few months since her death and I have tried to look to the future and work through the sadness in my heart. I believe that even now she wants me to heal and wants to help me through that process. I look back on some occasions and think... hmmmm, I bet mom had something to do with that. Often I remind myself that my mother will always be with me here in my heart and in my memories. Some days, it is not that easy though. There are so many things that remind me of her, so many things I wish I could share with her. Now, the three and a half years I had with my mother while she had cancer seem like they were just six months. The time went by so quickly. It's not that I have any regrets; it's just that I always wanted more time with her. Even now, that's what I want. I want to spend time with her, to just talk with her.

I miss you Mom. Thank you for being such a wonderful mother. I love you.

Sudah habes baca kalau suka? Like jew ;)

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