2003-05-08 - 2:43 p.m.
In 1998 my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV naso-pharyngial cancer. It's a rare disease in Caucasians; mostly cases are limited to Chinese men. Tests showed that Mom had five tumors of different sizes and development, located in her inner ear, the connection of brain to spine, and rear muscles of the throat. Her case was inoperable.
If you know much about cancer and its vocabulary, you know that Stage IV usually means you're not going to make it. I didn't know anything about cancer. I didn't have any idea how serious her case was.
Her treatment options were limited. One would have meant either a daily commute of 200 miles round trip; the other was 3 miles from my house. It was decided: she moved our of her house and in with me.
My father kept going to work. In some ways he had to; there had to be income. But it meant that much of the day-to-day tasks became mine. I left work every day from March through June to take her to radiation, then again to bring her home. I took her to chemo.
We'd been warned about the usual things: hair loss, appetite loss, upset stomach. Jesus, what an understatement. Her first treatment took all day. They admitted her, hydrated her, pumped her full of heavy metals for six hours. I sent her a copy of Breakfast at Tiffanys and a book. At 4:30 I picked her up, fed her a light dinner of chicken rice soup, and put her in bed. She said she was tired.
At 7:30 the vomiting started. Projectile vomiting in my laundry room, my bathroom. In the shower, trying to clean her up, it started again. She didn't hold down solid food again for nine months.
Chemo was every two weeks. They hospitalized her for at least four days every time. Her breath stank. She couldn't bathe herself. During one hospitalization I forged her signature on permission papers to have a gastric feeding tube installed. After that I fed her Ensure through a tube twice a day the way you would an injured animal.
The poem (see previous entry, I just don't feel like linking) is about the night her fever finally did spike up to 105. She laid in my bed, the bed I still sleep in every night, and begged me not to take her back to the hospital. I lay in bed beside her, afraid to wipe her mouth with water for fear it would make her vomit again, and considered.
If I took her to the hospital, she might pull through. But I wasn't sure she wanted to live any more. Her body had shrunk by half, she could no longer walk upright, and we had no guarantee the poisonous treatment was even affecting her cancer. The doctors wouldn't test her until all treatment was complete. She hadn't sounded like my mother for months. Mom meant funny, bold, bright. This woman mumbled and stared at the chipped paint on my ceiling.
If I didn't take her, her temperature might keep rising, causing brain damage and eventually death.There was no one to call. My father wasn't home. How do you call a friend and ask them to bear such a weight?
When she passed out, I took her to the hospital.
Butterfly needles are tiny, with baby-blue guides shaped like wings. They're meant for babies, or children, or people like Mom with collapsed veins. It took fourteen to get an IV going. I don't know what I said to the nursing staff, but I was cruel. I swore and I bullied and I punched the wall and finally I broke down.
Huddled in a corner, I watched Seinfeld and Mom at the same time, pretending I was home in February when everything was all right. I still don't understand how the television was on. There were no other patients in the room.
A tall, blond Romanian doctor I'd never met before saved her that night. I don't know how. Every day I pray for him. It's an agnostic's prayer, but it's all I can give him in thanks.
My mother is five years out from cancer as of last month. Five years is supposed to mean it won't come back. I don't know if she remembers that night. I don't want to ask her. If I do, there's a chance she'll say I made the wrong choice, that I should have let her die that night in my bed, fevered and dreaming, home with someone who loves her.
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