Like many others, my life is divided into before and after cancer. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1993. I had surgery and six rounds of chemotherapy. My mother was my caregiver. While I could have considered it the worst summer of my life, instead, I loved the time we got to spend together. In 2015, my life divided again when my mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer. My mother ran out of time on December 14, 2016. A week before she died, she qualified for a promising clinical trial but was not well enough to participate. I continue to search for ways to make a difference for patients and caregivers.
As far back as I can remember, whenever I needed to write something — a paper for school, a report for work, etc., I would wait for some inspiration for the first sentence, and I was off. Here I am, waiting for that inspiration, but it doesn’t seem to be coming. Instead, I sit here thinking of what I might have done differently and what happened to the people I thought were my friends. Those two things together fill my days with self-doubt.
My mother passed away a little over six months ago. She had a rare form of uterine cancer. Initially, the chemotherapy and radiation worked, but she recurred within six months of finishing her initial treatment. I myself was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 24 years ago. When my mother was diagnosed, I did for her exactly what she did for me … dropped everything to take care of her. Where she succeeded, I failed.
To this day I wonder if I did enough, and if I’m doing enough now that she’s gone. Did I explore every possible clinical trial? Was I a strong enough advocate? Could I have been better at keeping her comfortable at home? Did we really have the best doctor? With all of my years of fundraising and advocacy, why couldn’t I, or someone else, fix this? Am I doing okay helping my Dad? Is her house clean enough? Can she look down on her flower garden and be proud of how it looks? What should I be doing to help people who have been diagnosed and to help end this disease? And, most importantly, are we all taking good care of her cat?
I don’t have the answers, and maybe I write this as a way of searching for them. Sometimes writing, in and of itself, provides answers. Maybe someone reading this has some insight that will help me and others like me? Certainly I am not the only one who has these doubts …
When my mother needed me, I dropped everything and moved “home” to New Hampshire. It was always in the big plan to move permanently to the old farmhouse that we bought a few years ago. What wasn’t in the plan was to leave my husband in Texas for his final year of work. I have definitely learned so much this past year … how to care of an old house, to use all of those tools in the garage, to deal with the ice on the roof, the list goes on. I have also learned so much about people, those who I considered friends and those who I considered acquaintances.
I took care of my mother for almost a year. My friends in Texas who I expected to be there for me disappeared. They kept going to dinner with and calling my husband, but I got nothing. When she died … silence. No phone calls, cards, flowers … nothing. Don’t get me wrong — my boot camp friends stepped up. Friends that I hadn’t heard from in a long time called. I was able to rekindle several old friendships. My mother’s neighbors and friends were absolutely incredible. My family was there for me. For all of that, I am grateful. But the people I thought I was closest to did nothing. Here comes that self-doubt again. Did I have it wrong all along? Maybe they were never really my friends. Had I wasted a lot of valuable time on these people? Or should I just consider it a lesson learned and move on?
Every day I have to beat down that self-doubt. It’s a challenge, and many days I’m not sure I’m up to it. I need to focus on who was there for me and accept the hurt and abandonment that I feel, knowing that some people let me down. These are tough feelings to deal with but they pale in comparison to how much I miss my mother.