This Rocky Mountain getaway of mine had two reasons behind it. First, to support my fiancé’s sister who is undergoing chemo and radiation for multiple cancers. Second, to get my fiancé away from care taking for a few days so he could relax and recharge his batteries.
I am now, officially, in my fifties. Middle age is serving as a daily reminder to ‘carpe diem’, to seize each moment of each day like it was your very last on this planet. As a cancer survivor who battled the disease in my early thirties, ocarpe diem has been my motto since being declared cancer free more than 16 years ago.
Literally, for me, every day IS Christmas. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I weep with happiness watching my teenage daughter receive school awards, take band trips to Washington, DC, and reach milestones like getting her drivers license and taking her SATs. I cry at the drop of a hat, mainly because I am so damned glad to be alive to see her enjoy (and struggle through) her adolescence. After multiple surgeries for cervical and colon cancer, I still cant believe I was lucky enough to watch Erin graduate from Kindergarten. And now her high school graduation is right around the corner. We’ve made plans to visit colleges over the summer. The world is her oyster right now.
Two weeks ago, I had my annual physical with my oncologist and scheduled my mammogram. Now, I am playing phone tag with the oncologist’s office, trying to return his voice mail message. I am wondering what the call is about. Is my cholesterol high? Are my triglycerides a tad too fatty? Or is it the Big C knocking on my door again?
I keep getting the oncologist’s answering service. They close the office on Fridays. Besides, Ive been immersed in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and joyfully NOT focused on my phone messages, Facebook, or any of the other electronic intrusions that normally suck time out of my days at home in Miami.
But before I can even catch up with my own annual exam results, I get an emergency call from mom’s neighbor, who heard her screaming for help from her garage and rushed to her side. Apparently, she fell in the garage and broke her hip. Joe, our neighbor, waited with her while the paramedics came, and called me in Colorado with updates on which hospital she was being taken to and which police officers I needed to speak with while trying to find someone to come get my mother’s dog.
I watch Joe’s children play in their front yard each day. He has an adorable baby girl who started walking not long ago. But, as is typical of life in the big city, we’ve never actually met or spoken to each other. His wife and I have waved at each other. We’ve said hi to the children’s grandfather. Now, I am indebted to him for hearing my mother’s cries for help while I am on vacation 2,000 miles away.
This morning, I reach my mother by phone from the Denver airport. She’s groggy and in a lot of pain. She tells me she is scheduled for an operation. I tell her I am on my way home and will be at her bedside by dinner time.
I am an only child and my father died in 1985. I feel the weight on my shoulders to get home immediately, to figure out where to rent a hospital bed for her recovery, to be the caretaker she deserves.
After driving down to Denver from the Rocky Mountain high country, it was back to reality last night with the neighbor’s phone call and the news of mom’s accident. This morning, it was back to reality saying goodbye to my fiancé’s sister, who has been given less than a year to live IF the chemo and radiation begin to work. I hope to see her at least one more time. I fear the weakened state I will find her in. She shaved her head bald last night rather than watch her hair fall out in tufts and handfuls. It was the only good tip I could give her: Cut it all off before it begins to itch. Have a moment of control over your cancer before it takes over every single aspect of your being.
I go to bed with the exasperated acceptance that this is the reality of midlife. Aging parents, aging siblings, dealing with assorted health crises the way we once dealt with pesky acne breakouts or boyfriends who didn’t call back. There is the daily awareness of your own limited time here on Mother Earth. There is faith, and the safety net of friends and family who keep us afloat during tough times. The best you can do is to keep plodding, and to return the kindnesses bestowed upon you during your own times of need.