Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My mother was so tired last night. After dealing with Blue Cross Blue Shield yesterday, she was just exhausted.

I envision her in the ocean, trying to swim to safety. Blue Cross is on a boat with a life preserver on a rope. It is her life preserver, one that she paid for herself. But they have it on a rope and keep pulling it out of her reach every time she has almost grabbed hold of it.

She is having to waste her energy fighting for something that shouldn't be negotiable. I don't understand.

It's us vs. the insurance company. We have been holding our breath, waiting for the scheduling of my mother's pet scan. It is basically a scan that shows live tissue. So basically, it is a scan that will map the exact location and size of my mother's cancer, thereby dictating the treatment.

It is NOT a diagnostic tool. We know that she has ovarian cancer.

The insurance company has denied the request for said pet scan because the scan has not been proven to diagnose ovarian cancer.

Did you catch the part where we know that she has ovarian cancer???

The question is not WHAT she has, it is how do we treat it so that she has 4 years instead of 3? Or 3 years instead of 2?

I would like very much to thank the insurance guru who quite possibly just wasted 4% of the rest of my mother's life by denying her this scan. We will now have to wait another month while they take their fingers out of their asses and realize that we aren't diagnosing ovarian cancer.

We are staring it in the face and trying our best to get the better of it.

Did I miss the part where insurance gurus went to medical school and know what exactly will help my mother? I hope every one of them has someone they love die of cancer because an insurance company took their sweet time getting things right. I hope every one of them watches someone they love be so sick that they are too tired to fight the corporations. And I hope they then regret the work they have chosen to do in their worthless lives.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

There is one person who can make me feel less like an impending-orphaned, tortured soul; the daughter of my soon-to-be new husband. I'll call her Lovely.

I met my soon-to-be new husband a little over 2 years ago. Neither one of us had a clue that we would be where we are now. That is a story for a completely different blog. The biggest surprise though, has been Lovely.

Today she took me swimming. We donned our suits and after I got done being completely shocked at how strange I looked in a swimsuit after gaining 10 pounds since I last wore it, we hit the pool. For 2 hours, I was not a daughter, but a soon-to-be stepmother. I was a friend to a little girl who needs that more than anything these days. We splashed and played, jumped off the diving board, and then I retired to rest like a grown up while she continued on being a kid. For 2 hours, I was not the scared child of my parents, but the guardian of a child I find myself loving more and more everyday.

Lovely knows my parents are not well. She has caught me in her room with her Cavi, holding him and whispering my secrets in his little potato chip ears. My nose is red, my eyes are red, my makeup is streaked and she says nothing. She sits beside me on her bed and rubs my hair.

I think the Cavi knows her secrets too.

See, Lovely and I have something in common. Her parents divorce has been unfair to her. It has been bitter and cruel, and her mother has taken no steps to shield her from the adults' thoughts and feelings. From what I understand, their marriage was no less unfair to her. Lovely played the peace keeper and wound healer during and after her parents' fights. And neither of these roles did she sign on for in life.

My parents' illnesses have been unfair to me as well. As selfish as it may seem to talk about me when my parents are both terminal, may I remind everyone that I am not writing to show the best of me, and in fact, most of the time I feel as though I'm writing to release my demons. Point being, Lovely and I have both had to grow up much faster than we ought to, and we had both been forced to see our parents as true human beings with flaws, anger, sickness, pain, sadness, fear, and brokenness.

So in the pool with Lovely, I can forget. As the rest of the families go on around us, I find comfort in this child and hope that she finds comfort in me too. Maybe she will get to know my mother and love her like a grandchild. They both would be so lucky.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Daddy asked me to gather information on assisted living homes near me.

My ex-husband works at a nursing home. I hear Jesse Helms is now a patient there. It is expensive. I hear that it is also dirty. You hear all sorts of things. I have an older friend who keeps her mother in a town 90 miles away and drives there almost everyday because she swears that it is that much better than the homes in her town.

That, however, is talk of nursing homes. I'm supposed to think about assisted living. Neither one impress me much.

How about this for assisted living? You come and move in with me. Me and my soon-to-be new husband will build you an apartment behind the house. You become our dependents, thereby allowing his incredible insurance to cover you. You get most of your drugs for free because the pharmaceutical company that my soon-to-be new husband works for makes those drugs. I take care of you.

I assist you in living.

In return, you share the rest of your life with me. And I share my new life with you. You allow me to give back a small fraction of what you have given me.

He will say no. He will tell me that he doesn't want to be a burden. What he doesn't understand is that the pain is the burden. Missing him and Momma, knowing that I don't have them for much longer and they are so very far away - that is the burden.

My joy would be to assist in their living and have them here with me. Not a burden.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

My mother is a preacher. A Presbyterian minister to be precise. She has a way with words that Billy Graham would envy, that is if it weren't one of those 10 commandments not to. Her delivery is honest and inviting, and she weaves in her own stories in spite of being "called to teach the scripture."

It is her own stories that draw us in though. The fact that she only recognizes her own strength in hindsight and plays it down as "doing what she had to do" is one of her most endearing qualities.

In 1980, the day after Christmas, she went into the hospital for a radical mastectomy. My brother and I were deposited at different homes each day to play with other children and be looked after by all the moms who were so glad it wasn't them in that hospital.

I remember sugar cereal. The first mom we stayed with was Momma's best friend. I got to have Cookie Crisp for breakfast. This friend was a doctor (which I later pointed out to Momma since we couldn't have sugar cereal for breakfast), and she wanted to know if we had questions. I was 7 and the only question I had was,

"Can I have seconds?"

Later, I would learn the gravity of the situation. The odds were laid out to my parents at 70/30 and not in her favor.

"Get your family in order."
"Do you have a will?"
"Make plans for your children."

She made it through without batting an eye. Looking back, she finally blinked and realized how close she came to tragedy. She shrugged, said a prayer of thanks, turned back around, and kept right on living.

My grandfather was my best friend. He would be the one I could call and spill all of my bad days. He would listen, softly chuckling when I got too melodramatic. Those calls were so cleansing for me. The crisis would immediately begin to fade when he would say,

"Good thing you get to start (again)." paraphrased.

It's hard to imagine myself without parents. They have been everything to appreciate. I thought my daughter would have the same kind of relationship with my father that I had with his. My father could be the same kind of grandfather that his father was. He has the wisdom and the kindness. He would so love to have a granddaughter who called him her best friend.

There are so many things that I want to give to my parents that only time would allow. Starting all over tomorrow won't give me that time though. It will only mean that another day has past, and we are another day closer to the cruel illnesses that will take my parents.

Right now I'm not looking forward to tomorrow anymore.me. Now that I'm finally somewhat of an adult and can actually spend time with them as friends, they have become suddenly old. It doesn't make any sense.

My grandfather's wisdom needed that generation gap to be true.

For some reason, I cannot figure out how I am supposed to answer the question, "How are your parents?" It is a polite question, and one that I am frequently asked due to my propensity to take off across the county at any given moment. Everyone knows that I go to see my parents as often as I can.

Now though, I cannot honestly say, "Fine, thank you."

I have tried a couple of different answers which have had varying degrees of success. Today, I simply tried, "They can't treat my mother's cancer and have given her three to four years to live if the chemo works."

That is one that I discovered I can't get through gracefully yet. I experimented today with a trusted friend who asked the question and found me in a sobbing mess less than five words into the answer. Lucky for me, she has been the first person who hasn't said,

"I don't know what to say."

Those are hard words to hear. Even from best friends, they are hard, because they remind me that I don't know what to say either.

What I haven't said here yet is how much everyone loves my momma. It isn't just that it is hard for me to tell people that I'm going to lose her entirely too soon, it is that I'm also telling them they are going to lose her.

I guess that means that I won't be alone in my grief though.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Three to four years. Today, the rest of my mother's life was capsulated into three to four years. If I start now, my child might be able to say her name before she dies.

My brother is still there with them now. He called me with the news. We seem to take turns delivering the bad news to each other. Each broadcast is carefully scripted and the reporter stiffens to give a steady delivery and let the audience take the blow.

Surgery is unlikely. The cancer is throughout her abdomen and taking it out surgically would be difficult, dangerous, and a demanding recovering would follow. This would all take place while she is still my father's primary care giver.

Chemotherapy only offers temporary containment. This is where she will eek out her three to four years. Round three of chemo for Momma would be less vicious. They aren't trying to kill anything anymore, just stave it off. She could take one drug at a time and still continue to take care of Daddy. Which, by the way, is why she is considering this at all. She wants to take care of him as long as she possibly can.

My father's Parkinson's will shorten his life and indirectly lengthen my mother's.

Tonight, my mother and I sit on opposite coasts of the country. We are each drinking Scotch. We are each afraid to talk to the other. We are each wishing the same things on the same stars. She is praying. I have been missing her for the past 8 years that we have lived apart. Now, I feel like I'm practicing missing her for forever.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My grandparents are dead, which is not so sad since they were incredibly old when they died. Don't get me wrong, I still miss them. Grandmomma died at 86 in 1996 following a battle with Alzheimer’s. Honey (my other grandmother) died at 97 in 2003, and Granddaddy died at 93 later that year as well. They both died of plain old age. All three were a huge part of our lives, and I assumed that my children would feel the same way about my parents.

As I see it, we had moved into the phase where my parents were now going to be the grandparents and we would have another 30 years of travel, pictures, cards, phone calls, and everything I had with my grandparents. One problem, I don't even have any kids yet.

There are only granddogs from me. The best granddogs that ever lived, mind you, but still canine. The most recent one was even named after my grandfather, father, and brother (Senior, Junior, and the Third), since I had decided that I was doomed to be barren. Lucky for me, I was just doomed to be divorced and now have hope to be a mom with the most perfect man.

So she also says, "I want to live to see my next grandchildren."

I want that more than anything. That should have been on my list. I want my mother to live not just to see her next grandchildren, but to baptize them and watch them grow up even just a few years. I want them to know her and have memories of her.

This is not too much to ask.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

She asked me what I wanted from their house yesterday. Of course I could think of things. The Jackson press. The green and white china. Those crazy pewter mugs that no one in their right mind would buy, but they are so cool. The tea cart that belonged to my grandmother. The watercolor of the pigs in the upstairs hallway. The piano. Her Bible.

I said, "Just you, Momma."

After careful consideration though, I have come up with the real list of things I want from my mom. Here it is:

1. The comfortable way she handles people in distress.
2. Her ability to not just speak in front of crowds, but to captivate them.
3. The gorgeous white her hair turned.
4. Her confidence.
5. The way she can let someone she loves know that she is angry while never letting them doubt that she still loves them.
6. Her faith.
7. Her knack at making pie crust from scratch.
8. Just a fraction of her wisdom.
9. Her amazing speed at completing tasks.

and number 10: I want the 30 years we will more than likely be gipped because of cancer.

Stage four ovarian cancer. It looks like my mom is going to die first.

Since 2003, it has felt a little like my parents have been in some sort of demented race towards the finish line of life. The only problem is that they are both still relatively young and definately not done living.

After a close call with late stage breast cancer in the early 80's, my mom continued living as though she were not a cancer survivor, but simply someone without cancer. Then, in 2003, the grapefruit sized tumor in her abdomen placed her right back in the the clique of cancer patients. Stage 3B. Stage left. Everyone take their places. I was the only one who didn't know their part since I was only 7 the last time she had cancer. All I knew to do was to be pissed. I could have won a Tony.

April, 2004, she finishes her chemo. The doctor is positive and we are all feeling victorious. My trips literally across the country to be with them had shown me a man who used to be my father, deteriorating into a frail old man, very closely resmebling my grandfather. My daddy and I had this conversation in the hospital cafeteria one day:

"Daddy, why don't you swing your arms when you walk anymore?"

Daddy stands, strides across the cafeteria with both arms swinging in the same direction at the same time.

"You know that's not what I mean."

He says, "I know. I haven't noticed that, but have you noticed that I'm stooped and shuffle like an old man?"

That was September. It wasn't until April, the very same day that my mother finished chemotherapy, that we received the diagnosis of Parkinson's for my father.

Since April, 2004, my mother has continued to get stronger and again, be not a survivor, but simply a woman without cancer, and my father has taken a nosedive. He has explored most symptoms of Parkinson's including but not limited to, tremors, inability to change facial expression, freezing, and dementia.

This past March, in 2006, I spent almost a week with my parents. My mother and I shared a bottle of Sophia, my favorite bubbly, and talked about how strange it was for my father to go first. She has never ever pictured life without him, and she couldn't imagine what it would be like.

Now, I guess she won't have to.