Second Chances

I remember staring out the window at the laughing children, sliding around on the giant 80′ Slip N’ Slide that my husband had constructed for Felicity’s sixth birthday. Blue skies, white fluffy clouds, 85 degrees, the smell of a freshly cut lawn, the sound of laughter, and a tub of beers and soda, already half gone.

I was holding back tears.

Not thirty minutes earlier, my mother was telling me in her it’s-not-a-big-deal voice that her cancer was back.

And it had spread.

And it was not good.

I stopped cutting the corn cobs, afraid the knife would go straight through my hand. When I looked at her, she was on the verge of tears.

My mom does not cry easily. And almost never in front of her kids.

It’s nothing to worry about. Don’t even give it a second thought.

These are things she has said over and over again since the first diagnosis in 1998. It was a blood cancer, something that would circulate in her blood, basically forevermore, emerging in locations like her intestines and her liver.

Neverthless, It’s nothing to worry about and Don’t even give it a second thought, were how she lived her life. Even when we didn’t believe her.

But shockingly, that advice has held up for time. Even after my father passed away, she kept on swimming. And if she felt sadness of anxiety, she never let it show.

And so to see her eyes filled with tears like that… That shook me.

I could hear “Young Blood” playing over the outdoor speakers as my husband pulled a long rope, held by a dozen tiny hands as they squealed in delight. I envisioned cancerous cells circulating in my mother’s blood and taking residence wherever they damn well pleased.

And all I could think was, There is never enough time, and I’m not ready, and but how much time do we have? and maybe we can start visiting every weekend, and Will there even be one more summer for Felicity to spend with her?

Through the window, I could see my two-and-a-half-year-old son, toddling through the giant bubbles of Dawn detergent until he fell backwards with glee. Tiny legs and arms sliding down the river of bubbles and water.

My sister came in through the back door and I fought my feelings with every shield that I had. Nothing’s wrong. Just don’t look at her. Talk about it later. You can’t talk about it right now. You have thirty people at your house. This is a fun event. It’s Felicity’s birthday. Don’t talk about it.

But when something this massive moves into your life, there isn’t enough armor to save you from feeling the full force of its crushing weight.

Our eyes met. And then we just walked toward each other, tears streaming down both of our faces.

And all I could say was,

There is never enough time.

But what I prayed was,

Please, God, don’t keep her here for me.

Keep her here for my kids.

***

That was August 2019.

We managed to get in two visits before my mother’s radiation treatments started. They lasted six months, so she would finish by February 2020. When we passed that milestone, I breathed a slow sigh of relief. At least that was done. We wouldn’t know how effective the treatments had been for perhaps another year, but at least the treatments were over.

And then March 2020 came, and with it, a new reason to panic.

My mom was still like, Well, what are you gonna do?

In October 2020, she got COVID and was hospitalized.

And when that news came, I felt that familiar sinking feeling of, There is never enough time and I’m not ready. I prepared myself again for what might be coming. If a truck is going to hit me, I’m the kind of person that would prefer to see it as it approaches, even if it doesn’t change the outcome. I just want to know. I want a few moments to think, “So this is how it happens.” I want to be alone with my thoughts for just a moment to say, “Okay, I’m ready.”

And then she recovered.

And after she got vaccinated, she was making plans to have my daughter stay at her farm for two weeks this summer.

***

I was sitting at my desk, working, when I received the text from my mother.

The malignant tumors are gone.

G-O-N-E, gone.

The long-standing, stubborn tumors remain. The ones she has lived with for over ten years.

I read the text from my mother with the news over and over again, shock keeping the emotion at bay.

But as I started talking about it with my husband that night, the dam burst. I turned into a slow stream of disbelieving, but grateful tears.

She’s going to live. For now. For how long? Will it come back? Probably. But not now. Do I deserve this? No, I don’t. But Mom does. I don’t want to go through this again. But we probably will. But she’s here for now. And that was my prayer. That she would be here for the kids. As long as it’s possible.

I couldn’t say any of these thoughts. They were too heavy for an already-heavy moment. But my mind drifted back to that moment in the living room, my sister and I holding each other as we cried.

We’re only young and naive still
We require certain skills
The mood it changes like the wind
Hard to control when it begins

The bittersweet between my teeth
Trying to find the in-between
Fall back in love eventually

“Young Blood” by The Naked and The Famous