Survivor

A day late and a dollar short, but some thoughts on the word survivor nonetheless. As the 12th anniversary of my mother’s death approaches, I find myself thinking more and more about that summer- about that entire year.

Due to my experiences with cancer, survivor is a word that instantly makes me think of someone beating cancer. My mother, in that sense, wasn’t a survivor. I do, however, consider her a fighter because let me tell you, she did not lay down easy.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. I was twelve, on the verge of entering my teenage years. My sister had just turned ten. My mom didn’t even cry when she told her little girls that she was sick. She was so strong and so, so brave. I wish I could say that I had been that strong, but I know my first thoughts were of death and living a motherless life.

Throughout the next year my mother went through hell. She started with chemotherapy and after multiple sessions she was declared cancer free. She may have been cancer free, but by this point she was also free of hair. I can remember going shopping for wigs and then her cutting her hair to make it look more like the wig would. The wig still never looked quite natural.

If cancer had stayed in remission, i might interpret the word survivor differently than I do now, but cancer had other plans. By January of 1995 it had returned. By April it was obvious that the standard means for fighting this weren’t working and she was put into the hospital for 24 hour high-dose chemo sessions.

In June the doctor told my mom she had six months left to live. She was given the option of trying another experimental drug, but she was told that it would not save her life. It may prolong it, but she would likely be miserable and sick. She chose to live her remaining time in as much comfort as possible. That night was the first time throughout the entire cancer debacle that I saw or heard my mother cry.

The month of June was tumultuous. Mom was in and out of the hospital depending the degrees of pain that she was in. She would sometimes be there for days at a time. My grandparents drove up from Oregon- another sign of how very very serious this was.

July put Mom in the hospice, not to return home again. At the time I was attending a support group for children with a family member fighting cancer and my good friend in the group lost her father that month. I think I still held some naive hope that a miracle would occur. I couldn’t lose my mom, I was too little! Sometimes the things that I wrote in my journal then frighten me with their intensity.

July 11, 1995:

Mommy’s doing pretty good. I think. I hope. She’s probably not going to be home any more. I don’t know what to think anymore. I wish there were something I could do but there’s not. She’s slowly dying. And I’m watching it. It’s pretty hard. I never know if one day she’s just going to be really bad like she was Thursday. I’m not sure whether I like the idea of Mom being cremated. It’s kind of weird thinking about her burning up but it’s what she wants.

God. What little girl writes about how weird the idea of her mother burning up is? The entry five days later says, “I hope Mom is alive when I get back on Sunday.”

On August 5th I celebrated my 14th birthday and while many of my birthdays will blur together, this one- for better or for worse- is tattooed on my memory. I was away at a summer camp and I called my mom from the payphone there. She was in really bad shape. There were so many drugs pumping through her blood that I’m surprised she was even capable of words. The words that she could speak were far from coherent. Twelve years later, I suspect that my dad was coaching her on what to say. She kept repeating, “Happy Birthday, I love you. Happy Birthday, I love you.” It didn’t matter what I said- that’s all she could get out.

Ten days later my mom let death take her. It was time. She had given all of herself to the fight.

Do I think she’s a survivor? In the literal sense of the word, no. But she gave it her all. I think, without a doubt, that she stayed alive long enough to leave my birthday unmarred.

My family is the survivor of this battle. My dad, my sister and I are all here and while we didn’t come out unscathed- how could we- we have taken this experience, this loss, and grown from it.

I have learned strength. I have learned grief. I have learned passion for a cause and that is why I walk in The 3 Day. My life will never be the same, no thanks to breast cancer, and if I can do anything to prevent another little girl from having to write, “My mother died today,” in her journal, than goddamnit, I’m going to do it.

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13 thoughts on “Survivor

  1. Such a heart felt post! I’m desperately sorry that you lost your mum to Cancer. But I do agree with you…your family are the survivors and your mother was the fighter. It sounds like she’s passed her fighting spirit on to you girl!

  2. Wow…what a powerful post. It particularly hit home as my daughter is the same age you were and this was like seeing something like that through her eyes. I won’t fuss nearly as much at this year’s mammogram.

  3. I know how hard it is for you to talk about how you feel about your mom and all you guys went through… I am so, so, so proud of you for posting this my dear. And yes, you have learned a lot, but you’ve also taught people what it means to be a survivor… losing someone you love. You’re truly an inspiration to people Court, and I love you for that.

    I’ll see you later today. 🙂

  4. What a poignant journal you kept when you were losing your mum. It really puts it into perspective – through the eyes of a young girl.

    I think it was one of my worst fears that I would lose my mum at that age, and be stuck with my irresponsible stepfather (in my juvenile eyes), caring for my younger brother and sister. My mum died when I was 30, and I realised I was an orphan then as I’d lost my biological father when I was 2. I knew that my brother and sister both deeply felt the loss at the time, but I think the loss gets deeper with each milestone – when they’ve married, when they’ve had kids. Maybe that’s why I’ve avoided the milestones because the absence of my mother would be too painful.

  5. BTW, the picture of your mum and all the cats! Classic! I think my mother and your mother would have got on really well.

  6. What a heart wrenching post. I cried when I read your post. It is so terribly hard to lose a parent at a young age. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a parent, even now, but more so at a young age. What you have experienced in life no doubt makes you a stronger person. I have a friend who lost his father last July to cancer and it has forever changed his life.

  8. I cannot compare with this experience; it must be heart-wrenching each and every time you let your mind rest on it.

    That being said, it’s a beautiful story of a mom who obviously loved the dickens out of you and appears (from the story and the great pictures) to be a fun-loving, happy person.

    I hope she will always be remembered.

  9. Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your childhood… I, too, hope for a time when no little girl or boy will lose a mother when they barely understand what death is. Doing the Walk and hosting this BlogOff is a wonderful way to honour her, and continue the fight.

  10. Wow Courtney. Just wow.

    Powerful words indeed. I sat and read your post with tears streaming down my face.

    I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose your mother at such a young age, but it must have been so terribly difficult.

    The three day walk and the BlogOff is a wonderful wonderful way to honor and cherish the memories of your mom. I’m positive she’d be SO proud of you!

  11. I normally respond to reach comment individually, but it would be pretty much the same across the board here, so…

    Thank you, all of you, for being so wonderfully supportive and for sharing your reaction to my post. I hesitate to write about my mother because one, it sucks, and two, sometimes I feel like people will think I’m searching for pity- totally not what I’m doing- but a fear nonetheless. So thank you for not seeing that and for instead being affected by it. Thank you!

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