Both my parents were fighters, scrappy and resolved.
My dad had his first heart attack just shy of his 40th birthday. He would have two more eight years later. He would live 14 more years after that.
Most of those 14 years were good. My mom and dad bought a house in the mountains and an RV which they drove any place they wanted to see.
My mom took care of him as his heart continued to weaken. She sat in his intensive care room for hours and hours and days and days because he didn’t want to be alone. She drove him to appointment and after appointment in Truckee, Reno and Sacramento.
My mom took care of my dad. She did not take care of herself.
My dad died a hard, slow death. He was sad and angry, but my mom was there always. The stress of it all silently feeding her cancer.
She thought she was cancer free after two mastectomies, massive doses of radiation and tons of chemo. But it had come back.
She was diagnosed as Stage IV less than a year after my dad died.
She was given 18 months.
That wasn’t enough.
She lived 8 years.
Even toward the end when her doctor started mentioning Hospice care and the dwindling number of treatment options, my mom was still hopeful that something would work for her. She still had things she wanted to do, places she wanted to see.
It was her desire to keep on living despite the cancer spreading across her head and down her face that found us spending Christmas in Belize last year.
It was a hard trip for her. The tumors on her face had obscured most of her vision. But she could hear the ocean and feel the salt wind on her face. She loved the food, even if getting around the tiny caye was hard for her.
She was much weaker when we got home. Everything was more difficult. She got turned around her own bedroom and couldn’t get to her bathroom in the middle of the night. I found her in the hall way. It was then that I knew.
It was the end of January and snowing. All schools were closed. Bill was able to help me take my mom to the emergency room. Her doctor thought she needed immediate evaluation.
And it was there, in that emergency room that a miracle happened or at least it seemed like a miracle to me. This random doctor who had never seen my mother before looked at her and just seemed to just know.
Not only did he seem to just know that she was at the end of her journey, but the words he spoke, the things he said, were exactly what she needed to hear. See, my mom was never going to give up. As long as there was hope, she would fight.
He told her that she had fought an amazing battle. He explained that she had done everything she could have possibly done. He said she was so brave and powerful to have fought and lived for so long.
He assured her that she had not failed; she had not given up. He admitted that science and medicine had failed her. Her body had failed her. She, however, had not failed. She was a hero.
He said it was time for Hospice. She said OK.
I cried and we hugged. I can still feel that hug.
I wish I could write poetry because I would write her into an epic poem telling the fantastic and beautiful story of the bravest, most powerful, smartest woman I ever had the privilege to know.