So the hardest thing so far has not been having cancer, or that chemo sucks and makes me nauseous, or that I’m going to lose my hair, or that I can’t work the same way I had been (that actually might be one of those silver linings I keep talking about.) The hardest thing for me is how much I very desperately miss my mother.
Today is my mom’s 56th birthday. I guess I should have said “would have been,” but there are so many ways she still feels so “here” to me, that I find myself using the present when I talk about her. Yet for all of the ways she feels “here”, there is an equal and identical set of ways that she feels very, very gone.
Like the time, after my PET scan, when I woke up from a nap in a panic, because I realized that I had been home for 6 hours and hadn’t called mom yet to tell her how it went. I literally picked up the phone. And then I realized.
Or when the doctors told me I might want to undergo IVF and freeze my eggs because the chemo might fry my ovaries, but I needed to decide RIGHT NOW. I did what I could to gather info, knowing the whole time that my mom was really the only person I wanted to talk to about this. That she would know just what to say, just what to do.
And every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and don’t immediately recognize the woman with the sassy, short hair, I can’t help but hear my mom’s voice in my head: “you look darling, like a little French girl,” which is what she used to say to me when I would cry over this very same cut when I was 5 and thought I looked like a boy.
When I first moved 3,000 across country to San Francisco, left my family, gave up my apartment, and was having trouble reconciling this new life with my old identity, my mom - the fierce rabble rousing, picket line walking, adventure traveling video journalist who was now confined to a wheelchair - told me this: “It’s these moments, when you take all of the things that define you – all the labels and descriptions and ideas about yourself – and you throw them to the wind - whatever you’re left with, whatever sticks and stays true in the toughest, loneliest moments, that is the essence of you. The rest is just decoration.”
Thanks mom. I couldn’t do this cancer thing without you.