Being a warrior is draining. All that armor, heavy boots, fierce exterior. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting. With the chill of fall in the air and pumpkins on doorsteps and witches face-planted on neighborhood trees, I am taken back two years to when I was in full on warrior mode. It was a month after the Pocket Call, when I discovered my former spouse’s infidelity, and a few weeks before his return from a long business trip.
Surreal is the only word to describe that time in my life.
That suit of armor was mighty heavy. Perhaps that’s why I could drop five pounds overnight. I was weighed down by the crumbling foundation of my life. I was in full on ME versus HIM mode. Ready to fight the battle to end his betrayal. I was NOT going to be used, lied to, walked on. Staying sane while my whole world imploded was a real feat. In the moment I was able to pull it off, but in retrospect, I can see just how precarious my situation was and how fragile I felt. Despite my armor.
While I balanced on a tight rope of barbed wire, protecting children too young to understand, moving into the house we were to grow old in (as long as his double life remained a secret) and settling into a new community after moving across the country as an intact family, my Mom was running back and forth underneath me holding a rescue net outstretched, ready to catch me should I fall, unable to stay balanced in the midst of total upheaval.
My Mom took the news of my husband’s infidelity as hard, quite possibly harder, as I did. Emotionally, I was destroyed. Emotionally and physically, she was rattled. As a Mom myself I can see how it caused such distress for her. She felt betrayed by him personally, and she felt my pain in addition to her own. The double whammy brought about a debilitating case of Shingles, the worst her doctor had seen, along the left side of her head, neck, shoulder and back. She was in excruciating pain. I knew this because she said, I’ve felt better. Which is as close as she will get to complaining.
This isn’t a martyr move on her part. She believes completely in the power of optimism, the depleting energy of negativity and the power of prayer over the benefits of worrying. (Did I ever tell you about her reaction to discovering our house was on fire? …Honey, do you have a fire burning in the fireplace? No…? Well then, the house is on fire. I’ll call the fire department. Will you take the children outside?)
A few months after my Dad died in 1989, four weeks after being diagnosed with Melanoma, my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. One of her first thoughts was, I am not going to put our children through any more pain and worry. She remained upbeat and optimistic, while still in mourning, and made arrangements for surgery.
We knew nothing of her illness.
As the day neared, she asked my sister to drive her to the hospital. I believe she also told her of the diagnosis, but she probably sugarcoated it to the best of her ability. She was really good at coating things with sugar. It was then that we all found out about the tumor and the surgery she was about to have to remove it and the surrounding lymph nodes. I recall her saying something like, There is absolutely nothing to be concerned about.
I was numb. Following her lead, I downplayed the surgery, probably tossing around a few jokes about radiation and how her inner glow would only be stronger. Inside I was still so sad about losing my Dad. I would go to mass and cry throughout the entire service thinking of his funeral. If they played On Eagle’s Wings I would sob. Tissues would come to me from in front and behind. I’m not even sure that I absorbed my Mom’s diagnosis. I’m not sure I was capable.
She remained cancer free until 2009, two years before we moved to California. Another small encapsulated tumor slowly grew in her left breast. As if going to get her hair done, she had surgery and radiation. We followed her lead. She was completely confident that they would cut out the tumor, she would get radiation, and ultimately she would be cancer free. Yet again. Instead of talking about the surgery or the side effects of radiation, she would talk about the kindness of the hospital staff, how lovely everyone was and oh, their sense of humor!
She can spin surgery and radiation into a spa visit. Amazing.
After her follow up exams over the next year, with her doctor confirming that it was sloth-like tumor, now gone, and all was well, she decided to stop getting mammograms. At the age of 85, a slow growing cancer wasn’t going to shut down her physical body. She had a pacemaker to deal with, copious amounts of solitaire to play on her iPad, and a life to live.
Little did she know she would also have a heart to save.
I didn’t tell my Mom about the Pocket Call right away, taking a page from her own operating manual. I didn’t want to cause her any stress or pain. But when I did I immediately felt the power of her love, prayers and support. It was her strength that I relied upon when I had none of my own. While we spoke on the phone nearly daily after I moved in to my own apartment, a few years after my Dad died, we spoke daily and more, for an hour at least, post Pocket Call. I would drop the dudes off at school and go home to call her. Starting my day with her comforting words of support and practical guidance insured that I could get to the end of the day intact.
She did her best to take away my pain all the while suffering her own. And then came the Shingles. I wrote about it here and it begs a rereading at this point, before continuing with this post.
Hearing about how she suffered for over a month with Shingles, not from her of course, but from my siblings and family friends, made me angry. I wanted to transfer all that pain to my former spouse. A normal, but not necessarily beneficial, reaction. In my mind he caused her to get Shingles. Or at the least, he was responsible for the severity of her case.
At a time in her life when she deserved to kick back and eat ice cream while watching baseball, she was suffering for her daughter. That was a major incentive for me to work hard to be brave and to make good choices – I wanted to heal up fast so she could get back to having fun. So that she would know I was going to be okay. I didn’t want her to stress. Because stress causes dis-ease. And dis-ease can lead to cancer.
Which is where we have arrived.
Last week my Mom was diagnosed with cancer, again. She fired up the spin machine, and her news came out something like this:
Some lymph nodes are swollen and the tissue around the lungs is enflamed, on her left side. That’s why she is having difficulty breathing. But it can be treated with a pill, that’s basically a cure. So, as long as she is hormonally receptive (which she will be because she was in the past), she will be managing a chronic condition and cancer won’t be what kills her. But I don’t think she ever used the word cancer.
My sister the nurse translated that to this: She is somewhere between imminently terminal and chronic with cancer in her lymph nodes and in the tissue surrounding her lungs. We’ll know more next week.
When I repeated this reiteration of her diagnosis – somewhere between imminently terminal and chronic – to my Mom, I said, Aren’t we all.
We laughed. And then after I hung up the phone I cried.
Actually my Ego cried, because selfishly I fear the day when I can’t call my Mom. When I have to deal with the challenges of divorce without the centering and wisdom-filled words that she shares with me. When I have to go forth without her to hold my hand. When I don’t have a spouse’s shoulder to cry on while I mourn her passing.
My soul celebrates her and will cheer her transition out of this world and into the next when she is ready to go. She deserves a grand parade – an extraordinary woman who gives and gives and never asks for anything but love and honesty in return.
My Ego wants to smack my former spouse, yelling at him for causing her such pain in her final years. But that will only serve to weaken my own systems.
Dis-ease causes disease.
It is not for me to place blame. To blame is to judge. To judge is to come from the Ego. Coming from the Ego lowers my vibration. Lowering my vibration hides the magic. (This is how I talk myself off the Ego ledge and back to Earth.)
I am vulnerable. And being vulnerable is beautiful.
It’s no secret that we move one day closer to death each day we are here. With this fair warning that my Mom is human, which is counter to my angelic vision of her, I must continue to be supple and open-hearted, even though I want to pull on the armor and be all tough warrior.
We’ve become closer than I ever imagined possible over these last two years. She stood by my side throughout this entire experience. I turned to her. Every time. And she never failed to be there for me. Instead of worrying about what I will do when she is not here, I am going to be grateful daily that she was here for me when I needed her most.
And I’ll be here for her to insure that she eats ice cream, watches baseball, plays solitaire, laughs heartily and often, and eats more ice cream, surrounded by her family who realize just how fortunate we are to have her in our lives.
Mom, I love you. Cancer, you suck.