I write post after post saying many things, but avoiding one thing. A big thing. A big, ignore-it-but-it-won’t-go-away kind of thing. I haven’t written a word about my mother having cancer. She was diagnosed this fall with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes), and has been getting chemo treatments every other week. I haven’t written about it and I don’t talk about it much either. I’ve taken a head-in-the-sand approach as much as I can, because it simply feels too big to handle.
But after several months of treatment, my mom in her fight against this cancer has taught me some new lessons, and ones that I think are timely for the season. I’m sharing them with all of you in hopes that they can be gifts to you as well. My mother (Norma) reads this blog faithfully, and is always happy for the laugh – so my mission has been to give her a smile with each read. I figure it’s the least I can do. So this is also my love letter to her – a thank you for continuing to teach this old dog new tricks, and making me a better person for it. A mother’s work is never done it seems.
#1 “Stay Positive”
Right from the moment the doctor gave her the word, my mother has been a trooper through it all. She pushes herself every day to stay positive and look at the bright side of things. Every day, even when faced with people giving odd advice or asinine words of encouragement like “Out of all the cancers, that’s the one you want to have.”
And to that I say, REALLY? I’m pretty sure nobody actually wants any kind of cancer, but if it makes you feel better to negate it and make it the “lesser” of cancers so the conversation isn’t too awkward for you…I guess have at it. At least you feel better.
But see – that’s me talking. My mom on the other hand somehow stays positive. She just gets that some people don’t really know what to say. She figures they say things to make it better – and are trying to help the best way they can. Even in their stupidity, she sees the best in their attempt. See? Pollyanna. It’s quite amazing to witness, and I think has a lot to do with the treatments working. The best thing she can ever hear from people is - I’m thinking of you, I’ll send you good vibes, I’ll pray for you. Positive thoughts. Positive, positive, positive.
#2 “Count Your Blessings”
My mother’s always was grateful for what life brings, but becoming ill has amplified this greatly. She’ll tell you with great conviction that she’s receiving the best care anyone could ask for at the Lakeridge Cancer Centre. That – she is very grateful for. She has a husband who loves and cares for her (even if that means her dinners are a little less Martha Stewart than that house normally sees), and a family that wants to help however they can, whenever they can. We aren’t doing enough – both my sister and I talk about it. I’m not there nearly enough, my sister feels like she should do more drop in’s, but my mother doesn’t guilt, she doesn’t expect more than what we are giving. She is just so grateful for everything we are doing. She is grateful for amazing friends who have given her insurmountable strength, and for neighbours, coworkers and even some pleasant surprises who have been a foundation in her happiness. She is grateful for things that one can’t imagine, too. When she lost her hair, she was grateful that she had the means to go out and buy nice head wraps and a human hair wig instead of the plastic hair kind that makes your head sweat and looks like a Halloween coif. I keep that in mind when I want to mope about having a bad hair day, or finding a stray gray.
#3 “Shelf The Red Cape…”
A long time superwoman, my mother is a planner and a do-er, and a little type A (sorry Mom, but I had to get it from somewhere). To have everything pulled out of her control, put on hold, and just be rendered physically unable to do what you normally do – well, that wouldn’t be fun for anyone, but for a superwoman – it’s a long fall from the justice league headquarters.
My mom does it all – it’s sort of her thing. And I know I do it in my home, and my sister does it in hers, and my grown daughter does it in hers as well. Not to be martyrs – no, we actually like to do it all – it gets done just right that way. Our kind of superwoman breed actually has a satisfaction that comes with doing it all (until we lose it and go apeshit mad because we are doing it all).
To depend on others has to be humbling. To ask for help – even more so. But my mom has handled it with the same grace that she handles everything and is asking for help, accepting offers of help, and just letting others do things for her. I know she’s secretly ironing that red cape and has it ready to wear, but for now she accepts help graciously, and reverts to lesson #2.
#4 “Go With the Flow”
Anyone who knows the women in our family will tell you – we may say we go with the flow, we may act like we go with the flow, we may even be going with the flow – but in the end – the flow don’t go. Re-read lesson #3. Do superwomen go with the flow? No, we don’t. But cancer has this amazing ability to assure you that you have no control over your body, which in turn teaches you to go with the flow. There is no managing, manipulating, or ignoring cancer. The best you can hope for is exceptional treatment with an outstanding outcome. Beyond that, life is way easier when you go with the flow. In turn, my mom is oddly less stressed, and so are we. If the person with cancer is willing to go with the flow, you have to really look at your own motivation to keep a firm grip on the reigns. Let it go.
#5 “Keep Laughing”
Throughout my entire life, I’ve never had a better audience than my mother. She finds almost everything I say witty, clever, honest, wise, or downright hilarious. Can I just say – I find that so refreshing. It’s great not to have to repeat the joke or go for the cheap laugh – my mother finds it all amusing. So my jester skills have been honing. I want to make my mom laugh. I want to infuse jolly into her veins so that she laughs and feels better, and keeps laughing and keeps feeling better. No matter what I do though, she has to be willing to laugh, and I am just in awe of how she has kept herself open to joy and laughter throughout this whole mess of a thing.
Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass… It’s about learning how to dance in the rain. – Vivian Greene
I don’t know that you ever stop learning from your mother…at least I haven’t. I hope this season, you learn a little from Norma too. xo