The doctor sent her home with a prescription for nasal spray. She told the doctor she thought she had brain tumors. Her doctor scoffed and told her that if she had brain tumors she wouldn’t suspect, she would know. She wasn’t a smoker. She quit 25 years before when her doctor told her too. This doctor ignored the signs of lung cancer and sent her home with an Rx for nasal spray- her sinuses were clear.
The next day, at urgent care, a doctor she’d never met before reviewed her history then had her do a simple balance test, she stood up, looked up and tried to touch her nose. Within 30 seconds of asking her to stand he ordered her to sit and told her he was sending her to the ER for an MRI of her brain. Did she have a driver or should they call an ambulance? She was not to drive. He suspected brain tumors.
So began our lung cancer rollercoaster ride on New Years Eve, December 31, 2005. It would be at least 3 weeks before they got her out of the hospital and into a skilled care nursing facility. From there she was transported to the hospital Monday through Friday for 2 weeks for whole brain radiation. Then my sister’s home to live out the end of her days. Which she did, surrounded by family and friends when she drew her last breath a scant 144 days later.
Due to her comorbidities she could not have chemo. The doctors told us she might live 6 months. I developed a streak of nihilism, if she could get lung cancer as a nonsmoker why should I, a committed, addicted smoker quit? Four and a half years later it was my turn. I expected it. I blamed myself. I bought into the stigma and everything that implied. I didn’t deserve to live. If the doctors say 10-15 months life expectancy they had to be right. After all, they’d been right about my mom.
Could I pinpoint when that streak of nihilism ended and the optimism took root? Not really. It was a combination of things I learned that nurtured it. That 84% of smokers never get lung cancer. That never smokers can develop lung cancer. It’s not limited to smokers and former smokers. That no one deserves cancer. No one. I learned to forgive myself and move on. I learned that life expectancies are just a guess. Most important I still have control over my own destiny, I didn’t have to surrender it to cancer.
When she was diagnosed she made a commitment to finding one beautiful thing each day and to meditate on that. That is the piece I want to take away from the whole experience. Finding one beautiful thing in each day. Tonight, it is 12 years since mom passed. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, there were lilacs in bloom outside her bedroom window and a pair of birds made a nest and were singing in the trees. Today’s meditation was on the memory of the way she would gaze at a flower for hours.
To my friends: Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve published. I couldn’t stand anything I wrote and there was so much going on that I couldn’t focus to edit. I’m back.