“Watching cancer take my mom’s life was an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. My mom was 55-years-old when she got diagnosed with terminal stage 4 lung cancer. It originally started out as persistent lower back pain that was getting severe. After going to the doctor’s they thought it might be a muscle strain or pulled muscle and referred her to physical therapy. After a few sessions of physical therapy the pain was not improving and was still severe so the doctor decided to further investigate and order scans. The scans showed a suspicious lesion on her lower spine and in one of her lungs. They then did a biopsy of the tumor and gave a prognosis of 6 months to a year to live. I will never forget the day she called me and told me. I was in shock and disbelief. I remember going over the next day and it was very emotional she told us what the doctor’s were saying and she was sorry and she didn’t understand why it was happening to her.
In the same month as her cancer diagnosis she had lost her home, my childhood home of 20+ years in a fire. After the fire she was trying to stay positive but the cancer diagnosis came soon after. She then shut down for a while and really didn’t want to talk much. It was rough in the beginning after the diagnosis. We had a lot of people reach out to her and give her donations to help her get into an apartment and buy furniture. She felt so bad for asking for help because she was usually the person putting others needs first and helping others. I even told her ‘mom you don’t need to feel bad they want to help you and you deserve all the help you can get.’
Once she got settled she was put on a lot of medication, became very sick, and wanted to sleep all day. It was hard for me to go over and just watch her sleep. Before we knew she had cancer she was a photographer and had her own business. She loved capturing all the precious moments in life whether big or small. It was hard to see because I knew she loved her photography but she didn’t have the energy to continue. I remember her saying ‘I feel like I won the jackpot of the crappiest luck’, and she was always apologizing for not knowing she had cancer until it was too late. During these moments I would tell her ‘mom you didn’t know, it’s not your fault, sometimes bad things happen to the best of us.’ There were moments of her trying to be positive and telling us she feels in her heart everything will be okay. But we know she didn’t believe it.
After a few months the doctor readjusted her meds and she started to become more active again; staying awake and getting out of the house. I was so proud of her because she was trying her best. I would go over to her apartment 3 to 4 times a week just to check on her and help her do things around the house. I got precious time with her, we would scrapbook and card stamp. We would always talk about her bucket list. She wanted to crash a wedding, toilet paper a house and travel. Such good memories.
We would also talk about my pregnancy and my sister’s pregnancy as we were both having girls. This made her so excited because we both have boys and now it was time to change it up! During that precious time I saw both her good and bad days. I saw all the changes, I saw her start to lose weight, lose hair, tumors start to protrude through her stomach and back, and her voice slowly fade. She was very emotional especially after losing some of her hair but once she cut it short it helped. It was an adjustment. She started having to talk in a whisper. She would get frustrated at times because we couldn’t understand her. I saw her forget things…she wrote her thoughts in a journal and then would also write where she put different things so she wouldn’t forget. It got so bad I started to feel numb. I would cry every time I left her because I didn’t know if that was my last time to see her. I felt like I had to be one of her rocks and stay strong for her while I was visiting. I would try to remain as positive as I could because she had enough negativity. I tried hard not to focus on the cancer and tried to help her get her mind off things.
I do remember one day visiting and she was very emotional and told me she was scared and she didn’t want to die. It broke my heart inside and I felt speechless because I didn’t know what to say to make it better. I started to be in denial because I didn’t want to believe my mom was going to die. She was my best friend and the person I could always count on and she always showed me unconditional love. I feel like the good and bad came in waves over the span of 11 months. We would cook dinner together, talk about going to the beach and getting a beach house, and simply enjoying the time she had left. We would go shopping and watch movies when she could. Then we would have the bad days where we would cry and wish things were different.
It was April of 2018 and we were excited to do Easter and have egg hunts with the kids and family. A few days before Easter my mom declined very fast and at this point she was barely eating or drinking anything. She got weak and she couldn’t stand to go to the bathroom without feeling like she was going to pass out. I remember her asking me to help her shower but then feeling bad because I was 8 months pregnant and she didn’t want to fall on me. The day of Easter she was not herself, she didn’t want to interact and she felt overwhelmed and was quiet. I remember looking at her sitting there, thinking ‘she will not be here very much longer.’ I kept asking if she was okay and she would nod yes. After that day my mom was just a shell of who she once was.
The hospice doctor came Thursday, April 12th. I will never forget him telling us she literally had minutes to hours of life left. That night I felt emotional and in denial…I refused to believe my mom was dying. The next morning my sister called me and told me she was taking her last breaths so I tried to hurry and get back over there. A few minutes later I heard ‘nikki, she’s gone.’ I felt like I got punched in the gut. I cried so hard. I went and saw her but I still felt like it was surreal. I miss my mom every day, it feels like there is a part of me missing. I feel like I will never be the same. We did a balloon release and a celebration of life. I’m so proud of her and her fight, she taught me bravery and strength.
I cherish the time we had and the memories of her. I think back to my childhood and how amazing she truly was. I think about all the crafts we did together and the joy it brought her. I think about how she loved her photography and how just last Christmas her present to me was a camera to take all the pictures I could of my family to keep all our memories. My son and daughter will always know how much she meant to me. I will pass down her spirit and memories of her to them and try to do things with them that she did with me. She was the best.”
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