We neared the Christmas season and Mom couldn't seem to get an appointment with her doctor at Kaiser. She had planned to come up to Seattle, since we had missed each other for Thanksgiving. But, her discomfort was rapidly worsening. She found herself not wanting to cook. Not wanting to see anyone or go anywhere. It didn't sound like her. Work became harder and harder.
Finally, in early January, she met with her doctor. Then came the waiting. The tests and the waiting. They're going to run some more tests, she said. MRI led to CAT Scans and blood work. More waiting.
It's the pancreas. They want a biopsy. I need you to listen now. You understand what this means, baby girl, right? She's crying, but firm.
Time thudded to a halt along with my heart. I entered a new kind of time. A time that truly had mastery over me. A feeling, I imagine, like being held hostage. The moment some poor soul captured by another accepts that control of their fate is not solely their own to toy with. It is seeing without delusion. But, that does not mean we are powerless. For power and control are not the same. The former is a true and vital part of being human. The latter, a mere mirage.
A biopsy. They want to do a biopsy, I told my husband. He had barely come through the door from one of his jobs, harried and exhausted. A biopsy, he confirmed disbelieving as he dropped his heavy bag on the living room carpet, still wet from cycling through Seattle rain. I was huddled into the couch under a blanket, a common scene these days. My face, red with the day's revelations. He dispelled the cloud of fear that hung about me with a few simple words: Well, I guess we're moving to California.
Mom and I have always been close. By close, I mean kindred. Connected by some deeper force than even we understood. I told her a long time ago, back when I thought I could change the world through some summer mission trip to Turkey, that I would come back from whatever far off place I had landed, and take care of her at the end of her life. Of course, I never imagined that it would happen so soon. Ben knew that I would be utterly miserable, the longer I had to stay away. He too wanted to be with her. She always got him.
So, again, we waited. Joshua came out to Woodside from his new condo in Vegas to be with mom after her biopsy. It meant so much to her to have him close. She kept telling me that she wouldn't have known how tell him otherwise. They've always been so similar, those two. They've had such a unique relationship.
I always say, I've always been more like dad trying to be more like mom and Joshua Paul was always so like her trying to be like dad. They have the same heart: tender, lion-strong and enormous to boot. The funniest similarity is that they both think we all can't see how gooey they are inside.
On January 26th, 2012 mom had an appointment with an oncologist at Kaiser in Redwood City. That night, mom wanted to video chat with us to discuss the results of her biopsy. She wanted to tell us face to face. She wanted us to see how strong she is so we wouldn't have to be so afraid. Then, time went ahead and stood still. Through the blur of a trembling planet held in stasis, came these words like a slow-motion fall into a sea of stinging nettles:
I have cancer. There's a tumor on my pancreas and it spread to my liver. We're going to start chemo right away. We're going to fight it.
We stared at each other with our brave faces on. Ben held me close. I squeezed all my childhood fears into his hands till my knuckles burned. We all agreed to be strong, to fight and believe. I think that was the first time I ever really needed hope. I couldn't find it. Did I even know what it was?
I'm afraid, like Nietzsche, I believed: Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torment of man. Hope fell synonymous with naive, altruistic, denial, heartache. Perhaps those words are akin to hope. But if anything is possible like our darling Sagan says it is, then I suppose in some universe hope also might play a role. At the very least, I determined to think on it. To listen to hope as it came. To strive for a perspective on hope more like the Dalai Lama:
I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.