invincible me

Mom raised each of us to believe we could master anything we put our mind to, nothing stood in our way. I took this to heart as I grew up and became a young adult. Add a little strong will and stubbornness to that confidence, and there I was. While my career followed a different path than I had planned, I ventured into the corporate world from college and achieved quick success, gained expanded responsibility and was praised for my efforts. Even after I changed careers five years later, I focused intently and succeeded in my new role, just as mom had modeled for me. As such, I grew to believe this success was easily achieved in other parts of my life.

How soon I would learn otherwise. On New Year’s Eve in 1994, I was snow skiing with my friend Stephanie. Having grown up in Texas, I had only been snow skiing a handful of times and had taken minimal lessons. I could get down the mountain but not in the prettiest of form or with much grace, Here I was, skiing with my friend, an expert skier, following her closely as we made our way across the top runs of Breckenridge. I was confident of my ability to conquer and pretended I knew what I was doing. ‘I am in good shape and can keep up with her’ -or so I thought. It was snowing so I couldn’t see very far in front of me. All of the sudden I was flying through the air, skiing off a jump and wow, I landed straight up! Shocking for sure. Quickly the confidence took over- Easy stuff I thought. I can do this! Keep going. Next thing I know I am knee deep in a mogul field, crisscrossing the bumps. I am just getting going and then on one turn, my left ski keeps turning after cresting the mogul. Then I heard it- POP. Ouch. I plopped to the ground and thought, I just needed to rest a little while. I am ok. I will be able to ski down. Boy was I wrong. Next thing I know I am riding down the bumpiest run in Breckenridge behind ski patrol. Yes, I was invincible, or so I thought. Riding down the mountain staring at the sky above, I realized- not so much. It started to sink in that maybe I had limits.

With a torn ACL and meniscus, I returned to Austin for surgery. Characterized as outpatient surgery, I would be released in 23 hours, so the doctor said. I ended up in the hospital for four days. While I am not a believer that God is responsible for bad things happening, I am grateful for the outcome as this accident altered the direction of my life- in a positive way. Mom raised me to believe that good can come from our life experiences, if we chose to see the glass as half full. This perspective has served me well so far and taught me that I could choose my response when ‘bad’ things happened. During the four days in the hospital, the care I received from the nurses was minimal at best. Here I was a young adult and guess who was at my side, mom, caring for me lovingly as if I was still a child. She stayed with me day in and day out, all four nights. Cared for me, made sure I had pain medicine, and helped me relax. It was in this moment, this turning point for me where I first felt my mom’s deep love, in my heart. She selflessly gave me her time, support and mostly unconditional love. A turning point on my journey for sure- the birth of a deep and growing relationship between us.

So in 2003, it was my time to give to mom. And how blessed I was that she wanted me to. That I had started to learn how to, by listening from my heart. Mom was in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals over the month of October. Being the obedient patient, she bravely faced the radiation and chemotherapy day in and day out, starting on November 3. Mom had 27 radiation treatments and chemo six days a week for four weeks- through a fanny-pack like bag that released the chemo slowly over the week. The doctors said her chance of survival would increase dramatically with this approach before surgery, so she agreed. Mom was ever so strong as these chemicals poisoned her body. After her treatments were finished, she had a regular dermatology appointment. Just a routine visit. Unfortunately, it was not so routine. Her doctor discovered a mole on her back that looked questionable and removed it. The results came in- melanoma. Shock once again. I started to feel a lump in my throat as I processed this news. Deep sadness of accepting reality. Her body is speaking loudly- feels like it is tired. Probably worn out from caring for everyone else. I felt paralyzed in my steps. As tears streamed down my face, I prayed- ‘Lord, fill me with peace and wrap me with love as I face this unknown, the transition I am not ready for, the biggest of limbo’s in my life’. Here it was- more news, just a few weeks after I signed my divorce papers.

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a warrior from the start

Mom came into this world a warrior. Weighing in at 4 pounds at birth on March 9, 1929, it was a miracle she lived. She was the only one of her three siblings to survive and grew up an only child. Mom was born under the sign of Pieces. In her journal, she captured some key descriptors of the sign: generous, compassionate, receptive, imaginative, and efficient. All representative of the mom I came to know growing up as the youngest of five girls.

It’s now August 28, 2003, and I feel the wall of grief hitting the hardest. A time when everything about my identity with my home, my job and my marriage continues the journey to an end. I remain amazed with the support and love that mom and dad continue to give to me. Pure unconditional love. I finally convince mom that I am stable and to go home and see her doctor. She went soon and her doctor ran several tests. Wow, what a difference a day can make. In early October, we were all stunned when the test results came back. An ulcer-like tumor the size of a grapefruit, cancer. A fast growing, atypical type of cancer. Shock and fear paralyzed me. How could this be?

My warrior mom was not a novice to cancer. She had faced the challenge of cancer once already when I was in college. Out of the blue, a call came with news. Mom had late stage breast cancer. Surgery was scheduled for the next day. 2% chance of survival – statistics her oncologist only shared with her family, not her. At that time in the mid 1980’s, mom became a quick study of the beliefs that your mind can heal your body, in part from the book Love, Medicine, and Miracles. I remember sitting in her hospital room after her radical mastectomy and her teaching me about visualizing her body being healed. She would say- ‘Imagine the cancer cells evaporating like water on a hot sunny day.’ Mom survived her breast cancer with persistence and determination as I graduated college. She survived with grace and reverence, all while she endured painful bone marrow and liver tests every six months for 15 years.

As I sat in my soon to be former home back in Boulder, I was paralyzed once again, that evil ‘c’ disease was coming back for another round, a different type of journey this time. Something felt different. As the fog started to clear and my depression of the transition I was living through started to subside, I had a feeling. Call it a dream, a gut level thought that popped in my head. Mom is not going to survive this time. I quickly dismissed it. No, God, I am REALLY not ready for this. I am not strong enough. Her clinical prognosis was not good. Through clinical research, I learned what the likely outcomes would be for someone with her pathology. In five years, less than 12% chance of survival, for patients who could withstand the entire treatment pre and post-surgery. The cancer had spread to her lymph node that was connected to all her major organs, something I learned from reading her pet scan. Mom’s body had a strong voice this time around, something I would come to learn.

With less than two weeks from moving to my new house and not fully packed yet, I called mom and offered to come to Austin to be with her. My own drama seemed so insignificant compared to this news. Mom was ‘fine’ and I did not need to come. I could come later, she said. The next morning, the phone rang. She wanted me to come now, wanted my support. I made plans and went for the weekend. Mom was not afraid, or so she said, and was not sad or didn’t need to cry. We went for a walk in the rain. A bolt of lightning struck very close to us and we heard the loud thunder reverberate through the trees. Mom said that was good- lightening brought oxygen and her body needed oxygen to fight the cancer cells. Being present for her in this moment helped me put my grief in a box; hide it away for a while. We took her to get a makeover also. Wow, how mom’s faced glowed with pure light as the joy exuded from her heart.

Our deep and growing relationship continued to expand. One experience at a time. I was grateful to be able to start to give to mom from my heart, something that was hard for me to do. Somehow through my experiences growing up I built an armor of protection around my heart. My logical mind believed my heart was safe and no one could stomp on it with this armor. Funny thing- opening up and supporting mom now from my heart felt safe. So I continued to give.