This isn’t how it was supposed to happen.
Today, my sister spoke to my mom from 500 miles away, and dropped the bomb: Stage 4 Cancer.
Mom hadn’t heard that yet.
I only knew because of a hastily whispered conversation in the hallway with an oncology nurse. She explained that any time the cancer spread to a new body part (her lymph nodes), it was automatically stage 4.
I shared it with my sister.
Why didn’t I tell Mom?
I didn’t want to be the one to tell her such awful news. She needs to keep her spirits up.
Why didn’t one of her doctors tell her?
Her oncologist, I think, assumed that the doctors at the hospital had told her. All they had said at the hospital, though, was that the lymph node on the right side of her chest was swollen. No one explained to us what that meant.
To make things worse, today was not my best day with her. The aide that usually comes each morning to help her shower and dress never showed, or even called. So I showed up, helped her get dressed, took out her trash, reminded her to put her teeth in and glasses on, and took her to get her hair cut.
The salon we go to has about 6 steps up the the front door. Last time I took her, it was before she had the pacemaker installed. She couldn’t make it up the stairs, and the stylist had to cut her hair on a bench outside the salon.
The good news was that she made it today. The bad news was that I had to literally lift her leg for her so she could climb each step. But she got beautified, which was a blessing in and of itself.
I became crabby and overwhelmed. I had envisioned a future where hospice would swoop in and help me, but I couldn’t even get them to call me back. The help I had arranged for never showed, and I still have responsibilities in my own house, not to mention the Halloween parties I’d been double-booked for at school. A 20-minute haircut took 4 hours of my time.
I took Mom home, walked her in, put away the leftovers, gave Mom the medicine she needed for her troubling cough, and called my sister.
During that speakerphone conversation, the terms “stage 4 lung cancer” and “hospice” came up.
Mom looked up at me. “Stage FOUR?” she asked. “How many stages are there? Five?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. I’m no oncologist, but I’m pretty sure there’s no stage 5.
As my sister emailed me this evening:
“For better or worse, she is thinking that she is dying. This may be the mental adjustment she needs to accept to hospice. She said to me tonight that she thinks she might have a year to live.”
And I believe that once Mom believes that, her body just may go along with what her mind says.
So much for breaking it to her gently.