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“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” ― Kahlil Gibran


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Waiting on a Life Sentence

These last four days haven’t been easy on her.  She was putting on a brave face, smiling through terse lips.   Her hazel eyes were glassy and tired – strained from holding back a flood of tears.  I looked to her, trying to find a way to ease her anguish, but when she caught me searching, she’d turn a way from my gaze and bury her pain down deeper.  

This was how my mother had been my whole life.  She had always tried to protect us from the darker truths of life, but we were older now and this was a truth we could not escape.  No amount of denial could change the fact that she was facing a possible death sentence… 

Cancer.

Kidney Cancer to be specific.  She had apparently first felt something was wrong about a year ago.  She had told our family doctor, who had proceeded to run the regular tests, determined it to be inflamation, and prescribed her an antibiotic – or at least that’s what she told me tester ray when I asked her how long this had been going on for.  Then, about two months ago, she had found blood in her urine, and one more time a month ago. They sent her to a specialist, who gave her a preliminary verdict, “It’s cancer.”
He wouldn’t give her details though until he knew for sure, because apparently the best thing for a doctor to do for a person facing a possible cancer diagnosis is to let their imagination play out possible scenarios of whats to come.  

It had been four days ago now.  It felt longer than that though – more like weeks ago.  I had tried to be strong and helpful, reassuring and comforting, but inside I felt very selfish.

How would I go on without her? How could I hold it together if something happened to her?  What would I do without my mother?  I wanted to give into my anxiety and panic attacks; crawl into bed and let my depression take hold, but then who would pull me out of it?  Not my mother, who was the one who usually shouldered the responsibility.  

So I just kept swallowing my selfishness and fear.  So many times I caught myself holding my breath, and had to remind myself to breath.  At times, my thoughts would wander down darker paths and would play out scenarios of possible futures without my mother – like, what I would need to do to arrange her funeral, or how I would handle my father dating a new woman.  I thought about possible treatments – would I need to give her my kidney?  She could have it in a second, but would that mean I would need to cancel my bariatric surgery that I had been waiting over a year for?  Can you have bariatric surgery with just one kidney? 

I would try to shake those thoughts out of my head and focus on the here and now.  It was really illogical to jump to so many conclusions, but my anxiety tried to make me face all scenarios.  

Then my heart would ache, as I wondered what must be racing through her head.  There was nothing I could do to take those thoughts away.  I couldn’t promise her everything would be okay, because I couldn’t guarantee that. 

Then there was my aunt.  Her memory which once invoked a bitter-sweet longing, had transformed into a threatening foreboding.  She had passed on eleven years ago, from a rare cancer that had taken her eye before spreading to her kidneys and taking her life.

My grandmother was not to know what was going on, my mother declared.  She hadn’t been well and my mother was worried her 88 year old heart could not handle the idea of losing another daughter.

So everyday, for four days, we carried on with our regular lives, acting as if we weren’t concerned, while feeling as though we were balancing on the edge of a cliff.  

Tuesday rolled around – the day of her test.  I had set my alarm so I could pretend I casually woke up in time to see her off.  The whole test took about an hour and a half, and when she came home and walked through the door, she had a half smile on her face.

I felt a rush of happiness go through me, but it was only for a second, then I saw her eyes start to water and she swallowed down a lump in her throat.

“Are you okay then?” I asked cautiously.  

She smiled again and shrugged.  “He doesn’t know.  He wants to do more tests.”