November 17, 2014 marked one of the strangest and toughest days for me and my family.
It all started around 4am, when my mom, sister, cousin, and I trekked to the Loma Linda Hospital to face the inevitable. Mom’s endometrial tumor had returned in a monstrous form, and her surgeon was going to do his best to save her.
We pulled up to the curb in front of the hospital. I couldn’t help but giggle as Mom climbed out of the car in her massive fur lined trench coat. She wore nothing but a semi-skimpy nightgown underneath, and her feet were protected by her flimsy house slippers.
While this was an unconventional way to show up at the hospital, she was still as regal and beautiful as ever.
We waited to be taken to the OR prep room and Mom was in pain. She’d sit for a few minutes and then slowly pull herself up to stand. The tumor pushed against her pelvis, making it nearly impossible to sit for any length of time. I could see the discomfort she felt in her brow — it furrowed, she frowned.
“Mom, I just love your outfit,” I said in an effort to make her smile. It worked for a few seconds.
“At least I’m warm. It’s freezing in here. And by the way, if I don’t make it out of here alive, I want you to bury me in this thing.”
She was always cold, that feisty mother of ours.
Eventually we were led to a prep room, where various medical personnel hustled around in an attempt to get Mom’s vital stats and info. The four of us tried our best to fit around her rickety hospital bed.
Mom was on fire with her quick wit, and I was filled with adrenaline — wondering how this last ditch surgery was going to play out.
Before we knew it, they were ready to transport her to the OR.
“Anyone want to go with her?” asked the woman tasked with transporting her.
I headed out the automatic doors with them, and we began the trek. We passed a massive bank of windows. The early morning rays enveloped the hallway.
Mom looked outside and was awed by what she saw
“Oh, what a beautiful morning,” she said.
Tears formed in my eyes as I looked outside. “It really is, Mom. It’s so beautiful.”
She always taught me to enjoy the simple joys of nature. It was so her to point out beauty, even when being wheeled into a terrifying surgery.
We were taken into another prep area. It was freezing cold and stark white. Mom asked for me to get her a pile of blankets. As she began to warm up, she voiced a thought that made my stomach drop.
“Jen, you know what scares me most? That they won’t be able to take the tumor out. What if it’s too big? What will I do then?”
I looked into her eyes and stroked her head. She was almost panicking. I tried my best to comfort and soothe her, as she did when I was a little girl.
“They’ll get it Mom, they’ll get it.”
An anesthesiologist approached us with a massive needle to numb her from the waist down.
“Hold my hand,” she sweetly asked.
The pinch was severe enough for her to shriek a bit. She squeezed my hand with everything she had in her — or at least it felt that way.
Once the torture was over, her doctor walked up to the gurney and hugged us both.
“You’re going to get it, right?” Mom asked.
He took her hand and looked at her endearingly. “We’ve got a good chance. I’m going to do my best. Gonna do my best for you.”
Prior to her final departure to the OR, I said a short prayer with her. I thanked the universe for my beautiful, unconditional mom — and asked for her to be given peace whatever the outcome.
The surgery was expected to last 12 or more hours.
“If we run into complications, we’ll call you,” her doctor had promised. In the meantime, I was getting texts from the OR as to how things were going.
Janine is now sleeping peacefully.
The area is being sanitized and surgery will begin shortly.
Janine is stable and everything is going well.
The doctor has opened the abdominal cavity and things are proceeding nicely.
A few more texts streamed in, but about an hour in they stopped.
About 20 minutes went by and there still wasn’t any word.
My phone rang…
“Hi Jennifer, this is Dr. Gomez.”
My heart began beating so fast that I thought it was going to explode.
“I’m sorry. We tried so hard, but the tumor is too large. It’s connected to too many things. We have to close her up.”
“That’s it?” I asked. “What do we do?”
“Just enjoy her while she’s here. Just love her.”
“How long does she have?”
“I’d say two or three months. I’m so sorry.”
I hung up and sobbed.
How was I supposed to deal with this? How was I going to tell Mom? How was I going to tell my siblings?
It had been about two hours since the doctor called. I was getting antsy as I waited for word that Mom was being transported from the recovery room.
The call finally came, but it wasn’t quite what I expected.
I assumed it would be a nurse.
“Jennifer… it’s… Mom.”
Her voice was faint and broken.
“Yes, it’s me. Ah… they couldn’t get it.”
I was shocked that she knew already.
“They told you!?”
I was upset that she was told when she was all alone.
“Yes, we have some things to talk about.”
“Are you okay?”
Tears were flowing down my face again.
“Yes, I’m okay. I had… a feeling this was going to happen. Just come up to see me… please.”
They say in life that things never happen the way you expect them to. I never in a million years thought my Mom would have cancer, let alone die from it. And once again, there was a massive twist to it all.
I had envisioned consoling her about her death sentence, yet she was more prepared to calm and protect me, her child.
It figures, though…
That’s how heroes roll. Especially, Janine my ultimate hero.
We’re nearing two years since her death – January 17, 2015. She lived exactly two months to the day that I received the call from Dr. Gomez.
What does it mean to me now?
It means everything, really.
I had a few horrible days recently — in which I couldn’t quite catch my bearings. I was tired, overworked, and feeling off.
Instead of giving myself a break for dealing with the pains and strangeness of spending my second Christmas and New Year without my Mom, I judged and pushed myself. I bought into the idea that I was weak and insecure, rather than admitting I was exhausted and overwhelmed.
I’m reminding myself today, that it’s okay to feel and to hurt once in a while… and make mistakes. It’s even okay if people around you don’t get it.
While the pains of life inspire the ego to harden up, I want to continue to soften. To love. And forgive. Both myself and others.
Above all, I can’t forget that my magnificent mother’s blood rages within my veins. I want to share in her sense of wonder that was even alive and well as she was being carted off to surgery. Oh, to marvel at the rays of morning sun, rather than being blinded by the fear of the unknown.
When I walked into my Mom’s room in the hospital that shitty day in November, my sister joined me. We were both nervous.
Mom saw us and held out her hand. I sat next to her and wrapped my arms around her.
We were entering a new era — a scary one.
Mom continued to throw out silly jokes. My sister made sure Mom’s breakfast was ordered for the next day.
And we were happy, just to have Mom for another moment.