I am writing this blog entirely for the love of my wonderful Mother, Julie Columbia, who has a very rare and aggressive form of cancer that she is currently battling.
Today my heart aches. It’s not that any day since my Mom was first diagnosed with cancer a little over a month ago now has been particularly pleasant, but today is awful. At first, when I woke up, it was from a terrible nightmare about losing her. I cried and cried alone in my bed and then sent a text to my Dad, telling him how much I wished that I could hug him then. I decided to slip back into my bed, in hopes of having better dreams, or perhaps, none at all.
Every day has not been this difficult, the days my Mom feels well, I can almost convince myself that she’s alright, that I’m here visiting, merely taking a vacation from my life and work in New York City, that we’re just going to wake up one of these days and realize it was all a terrible nightmare. The most difficult part of the day has consistently been waking up. For a brief moment I forget my grief and sadness, I compartmentalize my tremendous anger toward God for making my Mother go through this awful illness at the age of 53. She always told my sister and I that she believed she would die young, as her father had. After growing up with only her and my sister after my parents divorce, the mere thought of her prediction becoming reality was so daunting, I would cry at the mention or thought of the idea of losing her, losing my everything, my heart.
It’s still impossible for me to comprehend the news I’ve learned from my Mom, her oncologists, and radiologists in this past month. I cannot recall a time in my life that I was so upset I often found myself feeling sick to my stomach while crying, now, it’s become a weekly occurrence. Today has been one of those days. A month ago my Mom was happy, healthy, vivacious, and living every day with a great appreciation of the gift of life. She was never one of those people who find out they have cancer, or another life threatening illness, and start to “really live” every day, being thankful for being alive, understanding that life is so fragile and precious that it would be foolish to waste any of your timeA month ago, she was feeling short of breath and having pain in her chest, after going to the emergency room in the middle of the night and finding out it was imperative that she have emergency surgery to drain the copious amount of fluid which had accumulated in the area around her heart that was also present in her lungs, she learned of a very large mass which spanned across her chest, resting upon her heart and lungs. After further tests, she discovered that this mass was cancerous, and after a months worth of tests and procedures, we now know that the cancer is Thymus cancer, which is extremely rare, and the tumor is a very aggressive and invasive form called a Thynomic Carcinoma. This news was particularly heart breaking, as the doctors explained that even with the chemotherapy and radiation she would be undergoing in the weeks to come, in hopes of shrinking the mass which was far too large to make her a candidate for surgery, that the possibility of removing the tumor entirely was going far more difficult and dangerous than they had originally thought.
I have found it particularly challenging praying to my God this past month. I have sincerely, wholeheartedly, prayed every night and through out the days, in hopes that the prognosis would not be any worse than the original diagnosis. I prayed, in vain, with all my heart that we would get a call explaining that this was some sort of terrible mistake, and that her chances of being cured and of surviving would be much greater. I prayed that if nothing else, that God could ease her pain through out these treatments that she started August 23, 2012. I find it incredibly difficult to pray to God after the barrage of terribly negative news which we have been receiving since the tumor was first discovered. This causes great conflict in my heart and mind, knowing that I am doubting the God who will ultimately decide her fate, and if she does pull through this and continues to live, sharing her smile and ceaseless charm with everyone she meets, it will be solely because it is Gods will. The same God who has seemed to show no mercy on her, my sister and I through this horribly difficult time.
My Mom always told my sister Christine and I, “Life is uncertain girls, that’s why I eat dessert first” It is something she often did, that I didn’t really understand at the time, but it certainly makes plenty of sense now. She was always aware of the lack of guarantees in life, and lived life without worrying about what was out of her control, and encouraging my sister and I to do the same. She was nothing like any of my friends parents. I can’t think of a single time I ever saw her get embarrassed. I attribute my high self esteem and confidence in my ability to fulfill any dream entirely to her unrelenting positive spirit. From being around my Mom, you would have thought she had it better than anyone else in the room with her, which was often the farthest thing from the truth, especially after making the bold decisions, such as choosing to divorce my father, despite her knowledge of the numerous challenges she would face in the years to come. This is not the first time my mother has been very ill. In 1998, she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, and in hopes of saving herself from any additional stress which may have come from her difficult marital situation at the time, which could’ve negatively impacted her chances of survival, she left my father, with no college degree, living only on money from credit cards and what she eventually began to make from real estate after working tirelessly and finally getting her license. She never made it clear to my sister and I the financial difficulties she constantly struggled with. There were always things that she would have to say no to, things our other friends had, that at the time seemed like a big deal that we were missing out on. Looking back, she always did such a brilliant job protecting my sister and I from the stress she must have been battling constantly to support her two daughters entirely on her own. Leaving my father must have been the most terrifying move of her life, yet after growing up with her and watching her strength in every turbulent situation we went through as a family, I couldn’t imagine her making any other choice.
When my Mom did have money, she always made sure to spend it on things that were so special to my sister and I. The greatest things she bought were plane tickets and hotel rooms, to destinations like Grand Cayman Island. I’ll never forget that trip with my Mom and sister, we needed it, and she needed it more than anyone. I’ll never know how tight money was after such a huge expense, I only know that she didn’t show for a minute on that trip that money had even crossed her mind. We went parasailing, stayed at a brand new hotel right across from the beach, and ate amazing food the entire trip. The last few weeks I’ve had recurring dreams of memories from that trip, as if I was living it again. How terribly I wish I was.
Special moments with my Mom were not unique to family vacations or other special occasions… except for birthdays. Every birthday I’ve ever spent with my Mom is fresh and new in my memory, as if they had all happened consecutively in the past month. My Mom always loved birthdays, as did her Mother. She told me stories of how her Mom would toilet paper the trees in their front yard, and make the biggest deal out of every single birthday. My Mom continued this tradition in her own way, to the delight of my sister and I. Every birthday she would wake up early and blow up tons of balloons to fill our rooms with and the dining room, where we would have the breakfast of our choice, all of which were so wonderful, as she is the most amazing cook. As she would so many other days, she came into our rooms singing off key, often her own lyrics, doing crazy dance moves, to wake us up. We would correct the lyrics and she’d keep singing her own. I remember many times being annoyed by all the noise, and then the first year I went off to college, I remember crying in my dorm room, missing her songs in the morning, especially the ones on my birthdays. The party didn’t stop with her birthday songs. She would paint the windows of our house and draw balloons, she stacked our birthday presents in their beautifully colored wrapping paper in front of our plates. She always was terrible about keeping surprises, and would always be just as excited to see us unwrap our presents as we were to open them, which made the morning exponentially more fun. With every present unwrapped, her big, beautiful smile would be beaming at us from across the table, teeming with excitement, perfectly mirroring our own expression of supreme delight. I later realized I possessed the same trait of having an awful time keeping the secret of what present I had bought to myself. I remember multiple occasions in FedEx stores in New York City when I’d be on the phone with her as they were packaging her gifts and I’d be asking her “do you want to know what it is?” and she always said no, and I always remained so anxious and eager to hear from her after she had received my gift. I’d make her promise me to open it while we were on the phone together, and she always would. It was the best feeling being able to give her something that I knew she needed or that she would really enjoy, despite the gift often being the same- her favorite perfume, Chanel number 19. It was special for me to have her on the receiving end of something meaningful on her birthday.