Part One: Breathe In, Breathe Out
“Do you think he knew why we did that? Like he knows I’m at death’s door?” she asks as we walk out of the bank.
We’d just met with a Wells Fargo associate to add my name to her account, another dispiriting preemptive task. I look at her with eyes that beg her to stop alluding to the inevitable. “Do you really feel like you’re at death’s door?” I ask, knowing we are close, but tediously in denial, hoping and praying the pathway to that particular welcome mat is still long and winding.
“No! Not today,” she says, convincingly, and I sigh, relieved.
The last 2.5 years have been exactly like this — one minute, consumed by dread and doom, the next, respite and optimism. Your textbook cancer-diagnosis rollercoaster. And yet, I am grateful for the ups and downs, the wild turns, the hands in the air, the whiplash, because at the very least, it means we are still on this ride together.
Later that evening, she snores on the couch. It is a deep, rumbly, unpleasant noise — one that used to mean (especially when we’d travel) that I was on the brink of losing hours of sleep. But now? Now it is the most comforting sound in the world. It means she is still breathing, she is still with me, I am still with her. We are inhaling and exhaling the same air; I would listen to it forever, if I could.
In March 2020, when the world turned upside down with chaos and confusion, our little world did, too. My mom was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. The pandemic pandemonium meant I couldn’t be with her through the initial ugly parts, but as soon as it was safe and possible, I spent weeks and months at a time with her in her sweet little townhouse in Cary, North Carolina. She triumphed through two massive, invasive surgeries over the course of 2020 and 2021 — one to remove half a lung, the other to remove 70% of her liver, where the cancer metastasized. Throughout the hospital visits, rehabilitation facilities, doctors’ waiting rooms, chemo treatments and home sweet home, there were brutal days and there were beautiful days. Light and dark. Sweet and sour. Blue skies and thunderstorms. And that’s just how it goes — every moment divided into: she will be with me longer, longer, longer and how much longer do…