‘It’s not good news.’
‘They’ve given me six to twelve months.’ Silence. ‘Are you alright?’
Not really, you just told me you’re going to die.
Not really, you just told me you’re not going to live much longer.
Yeah, I’m ok.
Lie. Scratch, scratch, SCRATCH.
‘Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m in a bath right now.’
My mother had been at the hospital today. It may have been wrong to presume but I thought it was just for a pleasant discussion with the doctor about her upcoming biopsy. I had called upon entry into the bath, lovingly run for me after a hard day of the first day of That Part of the Month. To ease my pain he had also made a cottage pie. I must have sounded off because she asked me immediately if I was ok.
‘Are things ok between you and Travis?’ she demanded. That’s typical of my mother, who immediately thinks the worst. Then again, after going through lymphoma followed by a diagnosis of stage three ovarian cancer, attending the funeral of her sister-in-law who had just eight months previously been diagnosed with lung cancer, these days I’m seeing that she has a good enough point to make. Especially when directing her question at her relationship-ly inept daughter.
‘No, mother,’ I sighed.
‘Have you spoken to your father?’
Oh god, did he see the dog ends under the bedside table? Or the coffee grinds I kept forgetting to hoover up? Is he mad that I’m out so often? The usual attitude of someone who, aged 35, has never been able to spread her fledgling wings and fuck right off from the nest.
‘And why, dear Mumm-Ra, would speaking to dad upset me?’
And that’s when she told me that the tumour they were about to biopsy on Friday was now five tumours, but they still want to biopsy because they’ve not seen something that’s progressed like this.
It wasn’t there in the last scan? But it’s – they are there now? Are we even sure they looked at the right results?
Briefly I voiced my thoughts, which were quickly shut down with loads of technical details and treatment, blah, blah, blah – sorry, I only got told all this about two hours ago, I’ve had a spliff, and frankly I’m a little fuzzy about some details.
I remember thinking though that every month I should perhaps get my mum a present. ‘Look at it this way,’ I told her, ‘I’m trying to annoy you into submission, if only to see how many months I can keep this up, or at the very least this is positive reinforcement, rewarding your ever-increasing lifespan with some kind of flowery or chocolatey reward.’ I sneakily thought that maybe each month I could buy her flowers and sign the card: ‘To the greatest mother(-in-law) from Kate, Travis and Our Unborn Offspring.’ Perhaps instead of Unborn Offspring we could pick a boy’s name and a girl’s name, maybe stick both names on and make her want to live longer than expected so she could meet her grandchildren.
Travis, the thoughtful one in this relationship, had already come up with the plan to make many home movies so that our children would be able to meet their grandmother. So maybe we could combine our plans like Captain Planet rings and something awesome might happen. I haven’t gotten that far in my train of thought yet.
It took about five minutes of wondering just how much of a sociopath I am if I’m not responding with much but, ‘Oh,’ before I erupted in great big, heaving, snotty tears straight into the bath water. They were somewhat silent tears. I didn’t want Travis to know I was upset. I mean, what right do I have to be upset? My mum’s the one who’s dying. And I suppose there’s my right to be upset. She might not consider that she’s had any achievements when she has at least one, and that one is the most amazing of all: she’s mother to me, Mark and Jamie.
Well, some people might scoff and think that’s not much of an achievement when compared to their mums or their daughters – because those people are always the ones who miss the point, and the other people, the rest of us, we see that achievement and raise a smile because they know exactly what I mean.
Mark: He’s ok, my older brother. He never calls, never writes, and I’m finding myself wondering if right now he knows any of this. Mum didn’t call me, after all. I know only because I called her. She was going to let me have the evening parent-free. Now more than ever I want him to call her and hear for himself. I feel like I can’t speak to him right now because he doesn’t know and he shouldn’t be hearing it from his sister. I don’t know who should be the person to tell him, but I know it shouldn’t be his tactless, sloppy, stammering sister. Imagine if someone like me broke the news! It’d be some tome with a beginning, middle and an end and before the ending – because I’ve lost some writing steam over the past few years and I really think I’m quite dull – the listener would just fall asleep.
What makes it even worse? I’m holding a goddamn cancer treatment in my goddamn hand right now! And she won’t even touch it.
Jamie: He’s the youngest. He can dance and drink me under the table. He’s got a lot of heart, that boy. Not saying Mark and I don’t, but it’s different with him. He’ll have his stoic head on for mum right now, but I wonder if he’s come off the phone to her and cried as hard as I have. He doesn’t really like to show his feelings, favouring the knightly approach of remaining strong for our mum and dad. But through all this, he’s been really fantastic – much better than I could be.
Then there’s me. The relationship-ly inept one. The girl whose heart’s so full of love for non-humans that humans get somewhat left behind. And I’m finally in a relationship that’s going somewhere, but mum won’t see that. Not if their prognosis is right.
What is it to be our mother?
Simply put, you need to be brave, you need to be prepared. You need to be loving but you need to give us tough love too.
When we’re high, you need to keep your cool until we’re at a certain level where we can mentally function without joyfully telling someone they look like a muppet. (Might be guilty of that one. Sorry, officers…)
Your daughter turns out to be pretty much a boy who’s socially awkward? No problem – accept her and her whims, encourage those whims, in fact, and you’ll find that she grows.
When we’ve lost our way, our mother’s the one holding the lamp to guide us home. And she will guide us home if it’s the last thing she does.
A mother loves unconditionally, and it doesn’t end with her children. It extends to their animals too. Dog, cat, mouse, owl, lizard, chicken, whatever enters the house. It has a name and a backstory – clearly it’s a proxy for a grandchild, and must be loved and treated accordingly. Not always easy, let me tell you, when at least one of the kids brings home the sickest animal found because ‘Well, nobody else was going to take it and it deserves a good life.’
But here I am, in the bath, crying hard and hoping Travis doesn’t hear. Except either he does or his statement that he had an urge to come in to see me was accurate, and now he’s gone all manly. ‘The honeymoon period’s over. You’re going to see how a real man supports his woman now,’ he says. He means it. Nothing that leaves his mouth is words for the sake of words. He always has a point to make, or some kind of goal, even if the goal’s purely to make me smile. I wish I’d found this one sooner in my life.
He talks about things. Options my mum might have, the fact we need to start making videos for our kids. He’s right. We need photos and videos and all sorts. He wants our kids to know their grandmother. Selfishly, while I see his point, inside I’m a mess. We don’t have kids yet, we won’t have kids until after we’re married, and he or I could get offed by a bus next week. We might not even get as far as marriage because I’ll have a bus parked on top of me, but my mum, MY MUM, SHE could still be around. Yes, she’d be devastated because her only daughter who had taken 2 decades finding a man that wasn’t a bit of a twat has just managed to find the perfect man for her just to get smashed by public transport, but you know what? I’m fine with that. Mum’ll be ok. I’ll be gone and maybe they could give her my liver. I presume in my nearly teetotal state that I’ve got a pretty awesome liver. Of course, I’ll have to find a way of getting hit that doesn’t involve my liver becoming demolished. There’s a point – are liver transplants not a possibility? I must look into this.
And that is what went through my head when I got told six to twelve months. Six to twelve months is nothing.
It’s a lot more than what she had though.
The six-to-twelve months was an April estimate prior to placing my mum on a trial which she may or may not have managed to get on in the first place. She managed, though, did my gorgeous mother, and she did it with style and good, strong fight. Mum was going to be around a while yet!
Four months later, she got her place on that trial, pending another biopsy and another scan, but then her pain increased. The morphine levels rose. With the rising morphine levels came increasing wooziness, and she fell over last week, cracking a rib in the process.
She was overjoyed to have her first break. After all, it meant that pain was real, it wasn’t cancer-related. And my mother does so like vindication where possible.
Now the outlook is worse. She has weeks. Possibly just days. The cancer’s taken over her liver now. She weighs 40kg and that’s not an accurate weight as she’s had four bags of liquid so far drained from her ascites today, and the drainage is continuing.
Perhaps about four years ago, mum had been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. She was later told this can be a symptom of ovarian cancer. Much later. Like, October 2016, when she found out that the healthy ovary the doctors left in following her hysterectomy was stage three. During the run-up to this, one doctor had insinuated my mother may well be a hypochondriac. When an ulcer appeared in her mouth, became a large, black hole, and her dentist referred her to the doctor, she discovered she had lymphoma. Two years of watch and wait, they were finally concerned enough to talk about starting chemotherapy before mum’s stomach started bloating with ascites.
Cancer is an indiscriminate bastard, something which seems to exist solely to cause pain everywhere.
Until this week, I’ve never heard my younger brother cry.
Until this week, I’ve not felt a conclusion to an emotional rollercoaster.
Until this week, I have never, never heard my mother say, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to see Anton win for a change.”
Ever since I discovered that ‘mummy’ could be abbreviated, I’ve never called her ‘mummy’ until the last four months. Is that normal, I have to ask myself. I don’t know it is, but I hear myself talking while she’s in bed and suddenly I’ll hear, ‘I love you, mummy,’ leaving my mouth.
She’s had all she can take now, and says that she wishes she could fall asleep and not wake up. I wish she could at the very least fall asleep and save some fight for tomorrow.
My mum is a beautiful, dignified woman, and this evil mutation inside her has robbed her of that dignity. When she’s at home, she is now resigned to laying on top of her dog’s training pads just in case she can’t get up. She can’t leave the house. She’s still the most beautiful woman I know, but I find myself torn – I want her to fight, yet I know she’s fed up of fighting so perhaps maybe the gods could be kind and at least ease her pain.
Everything my parents have ever had, they’ve fought hard to keep. Their kids, their marriage, their home, everything. Life’s never once given them a break because they never took a break from wanting the best for us. It doesn’t seem that fair…
So here is my beautiful mother. Look at her, see what I see, experience just a little bit of visual love and happiness from her. I’d like everyone to right now meet the fantastic woman who I’ll be spending every day for the rest of eternity loving with all my heart. Some of you have handmade cards by her. Most of you don’t – you’d know if you did because they’d be the most beautiful cards in boxes that you’ll have ever seen.
Unfortunately I can’t be more articulate or say anything of any real meaning right now. I’m writing this purely because I feel sane doing so. My only goal is to immortalise my mum before she dies. That way she’ll never truly be gone. She just won’t be here with me anymore.
So to you, Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living, I say this short, pointless thing, because it’s the best thing I can think of to say right now:
Thanks for everything, mummy. I’ll always love you.