I’m dying here.
I suppose that isn’t something that should be said in cancer blog, but I am, I am dying inside.
My 19 year old son is in excruciating pain and I am dying.
Listen, I am no shrinking violet and pretty damn tough on many, many levels. Not a damsel in distress kinda gal; I’m more of a bring it on rootin’ tootin’ cowgirl, I mean Grit is my middle name. But honest, I would rather have my toenails pulled out than see someone I love suffer…well anyone suffer really, a dog, a friend, a parent, children anywhere but especially in Darfur. I just don’t stand witness to pain well. Suffice it to say that the physical and emotional pain/suffering of others brings me to my knees, rendering me helpless and floppy and paralyzed and weak.
I just want their pain to GO AWAY and I WANT IT GONE NOW.
It gets exponentially worse the more I love the sufferer.Yes, the pain and distress of others is this little tough girl’s Kryptonite. Grit sucking Kryptonite.
My knee jerk reaction when I witness discomfort is to act QUICKLY.And thus, before I am further weakened by the presence of their pain, I become the most unpleasant dervish of a shot-put-demand thrower of all time. Gathering momentum as I spin, I hurl that Kryptonite out into the stratosphere like a live grenade headed for Krypton. You might as well get the heck out of the way of this lil’ locomotive when the spin starts, because I must STOP THE PAIN NOW.
I become the Shrieking Banshee Lady, aggressively stalking nurses in the hallways of hospitals and veterinarians after hours and dentists and therapists and pediatricians on weekends about the fact that this person/animal is in pain/distress and they need to DO SOMETHING NOW. Driving front desk staff crazy as I repeatedly call and helpfully expedite the alleviation of said pain by bypassing the nurse line option, and faster than a speeding bullet, hitting “O” to talk to a live person NOW; yep, that’s me.
Surprisingly, people don’t like to be around me when this happens. In fact I’ve been told I embarrass them. Certain family members and professional staff have even gone so far as to point out that I was being rude but me, well I just see myself as a little ole’ squeaky wheel. Ain’t nothing but a thing. And you know what? Let them hate on me, I’ll likely never see these people again. Anyhow, what is really important here is for them to STOP WHAT THEY ARE DOING and STOP THE PAIN NOW.
And you want to up the ante by a gazillionth degree? Make it my kid’s pain. Or Scout the Wonderdog’s pain. Because I am responsible for them being okay and comfy, it relies SOLELY ON ME to do what has to be done to make it better NOW.
So that’s why I am dying inside. I am writing this blog while sitting in the waiting room of the oral surgeon while my son is getting his wisdom teeth out.
To clarify, my son is 19 years old, almost 20. Even though he has been away at college for a year now and the deep wounds left by the cut of the apron string have more than scabbed over on me, he is still my kid and I am still the Mama Bear. Let me tell you what I found out this morning as I settled into the waiting room chair with what I thought was my apron stringless, brand new all grown up false sense of calm and my new David Sedaris book perched on my lap; it doesn’t matter how old they are, your gut drops with the same plummeting force as when they were two years old and you heard their name called to go back for A PROCEDURE. Especially one that requires ANESTHESIA, especially one where they will root around in his mouth near his tongue and he is a child who will likely talk for a living as an adult, especially as you see some dirt on the floor in the bathroom and wonder well just how clean the procedure room could be if they can’t get dust bunnies up from the bathroom, especially since the oral surgeon did two kids before him already today and well gosh darnit, isn’t fatigue a factor? Especially when you know PAIN IS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PROCEDURE.
I didn’t even crack the spine of the book. Sacrilege for a Sedaris fan.
UPDATE: We have now been home for a little under two hours. I have followed the instructions for ice, meds, strawlessness, gauze changing and eating to the letter. I begged the “surgical assistant” to let me slip him a pain pill before we left, helpfully offering my opinion that it would “help us stay ahead of the pain” and she said no, that it wasn’t necessary. Bad mistake. Because now he is IN PAIN.
I have called the surgeons office twice now. It’s apparent that while I see the “surgical assistant” as my new BFF and teammate in pain eradication, the feeling is not mutual. But you know what? I don’t care, because HE IS IN PAIN.
I was thinking about calling a third time just now, but my boy finally fell asleep. So I think I will wait till he wakes up to call again, as perhaps then I will have new symptoms to report. The way I see it is 2700 dollars for this procedure and I can call all I want; you make the big bucks, you sometimes have to put up with the Big Pain in the Ass. Your pain doesn’t matter, not compared to my kid’s PAIN.
I digress. I will blog a little more while he sleeps.
Perhaps this whole pain intolerance thing is why I chose my profession, for the soothing found with the repeated act of feeling another’s pain and anguish and the perpetual reinforcement as the Kryptonite gets tossed out the window, strengthening both of us. Perhaps this is why I lean toward solution focused therapy, for the quick catapultic results. Perhaps this is why I am a good person for little souls to spill their pain to, ’cause boy I make quick work of making it better. A professional Kryptonite thrower I am.
UPDATE: He’s up.
And there is no pain.
And I, feel infinitely better. And in turn, the professional world breathes a sigh of collective relief.
We want our kids to be alright. There is an old saying we are only as happy as our most unhappy child and truer words were never spoken. We want them fed and healthy and happy and comfy. We spend lots of time scanning the horizon for our kids, Mama Bears that we are, ensuring their continued comfort as best we can. But when pain inevitably finds them (as it realistically should growing up) it’s our job to fix things or at least lessen the pain or help them navigate it more easily. Moms (good moms at least IMHO) are just programmed to be destroyed by their child’s anguish be it from a bee sting or a breakup, or because they didn’t get the part they hoped for in the play or didn’t get asked to the dance. Our kid’s tears absolutely melt us, triggering an unrivaled ferocity in protecting them and remedying the situation, be it getting the shovel back from the kid in the sandbox or taking them to the beach over the stupid dance weekend.
Or calling the oral surgeon’s office for the fourth time in three hours.
I spent this recent Mother’s Day reading a lot of other wonderful blogs; gut wrenching blogs about what its like to be a mother with breast cancer or with metastatic cancer. I also re-ran (lazy I know but it was Mother’s Day) the pieces I had written about my kids during my breast cancer. As a result of my weekend activities a lot of those deep, maternal protective feelings have been stirred up releasing again, the aroma of Kryptonite.
Breast cancer is a different experience for every woman depending on where you are and who you are when the diagnosis finds you. Are you in a great or crappy marriage? Are you newly single? Are you 20 or 50? Are you out of work? Are you still hoping to have kids? Do you have a solid circle of friends or have you just moved to a new city alone? Have you just suffered another loss like the death of a parent or the abandonment of a rotten spouse when CANCER came knocking to take you to Cancer Hell?
Not that one circumstance makes cancer worse or easier to bear than another, but I do believe there is a special corner in Cancer Hell for the mothers who have young (read under 21 years) children when they are diagnosed. The reason for this special corner is because being a mom with breast cancer is a special kind of hell all its own, deserving of its own little space.
In the Mom’s Cancer Corner we sit on hard bleachers, not wanting to inconvenience anyone. There are no caramel machiatto lattes being served, only Neupogen shots; however we will nibble on the crusts of leftover grilled cheese sandwiches when the chemo vomiting has stopped. We cook dinners through nausea and we take our kids to the beach even though our chest is fried from radiation. In the Mom’s Cancer Corner we tend to spoil our kids a bit more and have extra worry lines between where our eyebrows used to be. We have deep, dark bags under our eyes, eternally exhausted beyond what chemo has served up because we are doing 3 loads of laundry when we get home from said chemo and radiation and work.
If you perhaps, as a fellow Hellion of a different sort, were to look across General Hell to the Mom’s Cancer Corner, you would see moms (at least the ones who still had hair) with two months of grey grow-out at their roots because they spent their time and money on the kids instead. You will see bald single moms pawning jewelry to buy Christmas gifts for their kids. Over yonder in the Corner, you’ll see moms trying really hard to look normal in a crappy wig and penciled in eyebrows at a school event and bandana’d moms simultaneously vomiting from chemo and making beds.You will see super hero moms risking death by fever tending to children with the flu, even when they know they have one white blood cell to their name. And on the roadways in and out of the Corner, you’ll see schools of mom’s running the Mom Taxi despite the excruciating pain at turning the steering wheel with newly filled tissue expanders, rock hard “new breasts!” or drains that allow no sleep.
You’ll see moms in perpetual motion, never resting like they are told to. Millions of them in that little Corner of Cancer Hell darting about like frantic minnows, exhaustively treading water while trying to keep little heads above water; all as they helplessly watch the universe putting rocks on the wee heads of their little ones. Kryptonite rocks.
In that Corner you will find moms consumed not with the story of their own cancer, but with reading and scrutinizing the subtext of their cancer; the part between the lines about how cancer affects their children.
Here is the catch though, all of the women in the Mom’s Cancer Corner will be smiling BIG HAPPY SMILES as they leap these tall buildings. But they are dying inside. Not from their life with cancer, but because of cancer being in the life of their child. And BIG HAPPY SMILES (as good mom’s know) both prevent and dry big tears on tiny little faces.
The thought bubbles over the Cancer Mom’s heads don’t crisply read, “I wonder if chemo will suck?” or “What will life without breasts be like?” or “How will I do with this whole hair loss thing?” Oh no, their thought bubbles are grey and dismal, thick and storm cloudish, and lack the words “I” or “Me.” Their thought bubbles say things more like, “How will it be if my daughter has to grow up motherless?” or “Who will braid her hair in the mornings?” “What if my kids are scared of the no hair thing?”and “How will my daughter get through her wedding with no mom?” “What kind of long-term scars will my son have as a result of a year of a bald mom?” and “Who will bake my son his special hamburger and french fry birthday cake and help him furnish his dorm if cancer wins?”
Millions upon millions of thought bubbles crowd the Cancer Corner ceiling reading, “What is the answer to, ‘Will you die mom?’” And there is one big bubble shared in unison by the all the moms, “HOW WILL THEY EVER HAVE A NORMAL CHILDHOOD WITH THE THREAT OF RECURRENCE HANGING OVER US?”
Occasionally you will see a woman face-down prone on the floor of the Cancer Mom’s Corner, pinned down with the weight of her extraordinarily large and lugubrious thought bubble which reads, “Did I unknowingly pass the mutation on to my kids?”
We Cancer Moms are not consumed with our scars, but theirs. We are not consumed with our lives, but theirs. We are not worried about our wellbeing, but theirs. We are not worried about our pain, but theirs. We are not worried about our deaths as much as we are worried about the death of their childhood.
We want to protect them from the pain. We want the PAIN OF CANCER to go away. But we are too weak to hurl a pebble, much less a huge honking rock to make that happen.
Oh I know, I know, Iron must go through heat to be strong and tempered and kids are resilient and no rain no rainbows and just imagine the life skills they are learning by going through all this but you know what? Bullshit. Bullshit when it comes to kids…that’s just bullshit when it comes to BIG STUFF like cancer. They aren’t resilient, they just aren’t old enough to understand or gauge the pain that may come of this or that may be ahead of them perhaps for a lifetime. And that little pebble of knowledge, what we know will cause them PAIN, brings us Cancer Moms to our knees. The potential for GREAT PAIN AND ANGUISH to find their little hearts.
But alas! Often with the last ounce of our fortitude, before that pebble of Kryptonite steals our strength along with the chemo, we moms rally and throw and protect. “STOP THE PAIN” we say, as we do all that we can to throw the PAIN OF CANCER out of the galaxy of our kid’s lives.
It’s what we Cancer Mom’s do. We are Women of Steel. Without hesitation, we rip our shirts open again and again to stay strong for our kids. To rescue and protect them from pain. To stay alive for our kids.
After all, their lives depend on it.
“Thank you for protekting me”
~sticky note found on my mirror from my 6 year old Amelia during my treatment~