Another hot day. The asphalt is smoldering as I step out onto its hotness. If I stood long enough, I might go up in flames. My head is spinning, my heart banging inside the walls of my chest. The smell of sickness still lingering in my nostrils gives me a headache. Long hours, long walks in and out of the place we go to mend, or be mended.
The surgeon calls me into the waiting conference room. My belly is filled with anxiety, with questions, with what ifs. The tumor didn’t look good, he said. Wait, wasn’t I just here, in this same position a year ago, with my husband whom laid in the mending room? Weren’t those the same words? “Wake me up! Please.” The doctor continues with his details about what was taken, what was left, what might be, “CANCER.” His furrowed brow, deep and concentrated, described well what to expect. The doctor said during pre-op that on occasion he is surprised, but in my daughter’s case he didn’t expect, to be surprised. However, this was one of those unexpected, times. The doctor projected a benign tumor, clear of complications. But, this was not uncomplicated, this is going to be complicated.
My heart sank, like a long lingering teardrop falling into an endless pool of worries. I decided to hang on to the fifty percent chance the tumor was not a cancer. Fifty/fifty can go either way. My focus turned to the positive half of possibility. Though, in my gut, I seemed to already know the truth about the other half, of the half.
Out of recovery, I walked down the near silent cancer patient’s hall to where my girl would battle mending. I push the heavy door open, wash my hands as my eyes scan the room. She laid there, covered in a single sterile sheet; the person laying there with clear plastic tubes pushing life into her arm, and a tube down her nose sucking out sorrowful toxins, for a second was unrecognizable. No one warns you that the person who enters into surgery returns someone else. No one expected a radical surgery to begin with, or a stripping of womanhood, erasing the parts one is born with. I wanted to sling her over my back and get out of there. I wanted to take it all back, all of the surprises and make it all beautiful. But, instead, I sat anchored to the visiting person’s chair, helpless.
The pain! She shouted. The pain, it’s too much! Help me!!! Why is she in so much pain? I ask the nurses who were busy entering information into the computer. The cry of pain didn’t budge their fingers from keys typing madly. I had to control my urge to yell, or throw the keyboard onto the floor just to get the busy nurses attention. Once again I ask, why is my daughter in so much pain, - the epidural should be working, right? Finally a nurse spun on her heals and replied. The incision made is higher than was anticipated, so the epidural isn’t reaching that part. What? I thought. So, what will you do to ease that part of her pain? The nurse then explained that: “The surgeon is the only one who can prescribe additional medication.” Okay, I said in trapped frustration, then please do let the surgeon know that my daughter’s pain is not controlled as soon as possible.
Within the hour an additional pain medication was ordered. My daughter slept restlessly; her face grimacing from time to time. She woke from dreams that were still living, her eyes locked on images only she could see. Incoherently, and often questions fumbled out of her mouth, Do I have cancer Mom? Was it a cancer? Mom? Mom? Tell me please! Her questions would soften, easing into a drug induced slumber, sweeping her away into another place. I hoped the places she visited in her dreams were lovely, unlike the reality she would soon face.
The answer to those questions came two weeks later and a week after I had flown back home to Virginia. Montana is a long way away to learn that indeed my daughter had an ovarian cancerous tumor that ruptured into her body. Chemotherapy, port, and more medications, all came with that diagnosis. Though, I am here and she is there, we are together, there are only miles separating us. Phone calls, daily encouragement, tears, tears, and more tears are realities. The impact cancer has on families is different for each person. As a mother, I am heavy-hearted, but, I know no matter what happens, cancer can’t defeat love, it can’t take us, from each other.
Rhonda is retired and surviving MS. She has had her poetry published in a Chronogram, a New York arts and culture magazine in 2005 and 2012. Rhonda has had the pleasure of taking classes with Valley while living in Richmond in 2012 and 2016. In addition, she has taken poetry writing classes through the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, VA. Cancer impacts lives, slows lives down, takes a little goodness off the top, but can not crack love-bonds.