My best friend is a fighter. And by best friend, I am not talking about my college roommate (who, by the way, is pretty awesome), not my boyfriend (although he comes a very close second). The friend I am talking about is my mom, the woman who not only gave me life, but also helped me create mine; the person who stood by me through everything and has always been my personal cheerleader, my angel, my rock and, let’s face it, at times, my savior.
But on November 13th, our entire lives changed forever. I will never forget that cold day in that second-floor hospital waiting room, the two-hour surgery during which I was a ball of anxious energy unable to focus on anything. I will never forget the surgeon coming out and leading me into that cold small room, and there, like all of those who had sat in those chairs before me, I listened to him say the words that will forever be etched in my mind: “Massive disease, cancer had spread. We needed to remove much more then we thought. We will need to begin chemotherapy.” His words swirled around me like a tornado building momentum, terror shooting through me at even the mere thought of my mother’s mortality. The tremendous weight of what was happening, of what was about to happen, fell down on me as if a serpent had slithered around my neck and was choking me, each of my breaths more laborious than the one before. I vividly remember breaking down in the hospital bathroom, crouching low as I wept, pleading with God to help my mother.
The days and weeks ahead were the longest of my life. My mom’s hospital stay turned into weeks instead of the previously thought seven days. The complications that followed, the ensuing battles over insurance coverage, medication, rehab, the trips in an ambulance to another hospital in the middle of a snowstorm, the follow-up care and on and on.
Nothing will ever make you feel more like a grown up than when you take care of a sick parent—not college graduation, your first real job, renting your first apartment, not even having your first child. The moment you care for a seriously sick parent, even an unbelievably strong one, it will sober you to life in an unimaginable way. Some days I collapsed on my bed sobbing harder than I thought possible as I prayed and begged God for her to be OK.
Prior to my mother’s diagnosis, my boyfriend and I were excitedly planning on moving in together, and my mom and I were busy talking each day about how we would decorate, about how my son had just begun kindergarten, about his teachers, about his upcoming Superman-themed birthday party and all the other things going on in our everyday lives. Before November 13th, we chatted away about all of our plans as we had always done for so many years, but daily camaraderie on such simple things was now abruptly halted by cancer, by a prolonged hospital stay and her ongoing recovery.
During those initial weeks after the diagnosis, we were with her through each step, and I spoke to her nurses and doctors so much they had my cell phone number memorized. But I so deeply missed our old life—our conversations, our nightly phone calls, our talks, our daily check-ins.
Each November night as I retreated to bed, the tremendous loneliness would wash over me like a tidal wave. Of course, this was not really about my unfulfilled desire to talk with her about our day; it was the deeper yearning for all the days before November 13th, the days before cancer invaded our lives, the days when she did not have to experience all of this pain. It was a desire to go back to November 12th, the day when life was still OK, the day before it all exploded.
Even though my mom has shown an extraordinary amount of courage, strength and steady improvement from her treatment, we all know the terror of cancer and we know that each day we must keep fighting this. I will always be her rock, her advocate, her whatever she needs, and I’ll be there wherever this journey takes us. My mom has always believed in the power of the human spirit; she always sees beauty, even in all of life’s challenges, and now this is a message I need to hold onto and carry with me every day.
Sometimes when the pain and worry is too great, I close my eyes and picture the sunny summer days that one day will come again. The days when we will sit outside at her house, eat brunch at her restaurant, watch my son run around and play in her backyard and talk about things like planning a wedding and having another child. When we will once again, despite this very painful year, marvel at all the beautiful possibilities that life can bring.
Until that glorious day, I miss November 12th.