3.4.16 forever changed my life, the day my mom passed away from Stage 4 breast cancer. I can't wrap my head around today being the first "anniversary" and it's beyond any emotional rollercoaster I've experienced so far. The days leading up to every new "first" are almost harder than the actual day. The grief is always there, lurking in the background. But these days hurt even more. Waking up on the actual day to an overwhelming wave of emotion, crippling sobs that nearly knock the wind out of you. Then almost numbness. Similar to the numbness that came (along with denial) right after she passed away. But this numbness is more peaceful, as if you've given everything you could to that "first." Or maybe it's my mom hugging me and saying, "Enough." After all, when she was diagnosed and I started crying she responded with, "Blow your nose, girl. Chemo was pretty easy the first time, I'm hopeful this time around."
I don't intend to turn this blog into a diary (I promise), but it's important to me that those who visit HWC know that I've been where you are. And I know how awful it is not knowing how to help. Or what to say. So I'll be blunt, because cancer definitely isn't shy. Cancer destroys. So much so that retail companies have the tag line "f* cancer" - because anyone that's been affected by cancer in any way has definitely used an f bomb (or 400 in my case).
When my mom was moved to hospice, I started writing a blog of some sort. Things NOT to say, because everyone said them. With the purest heart, but it sometimes hurt more than it helped. I never knew how or if I'd share these words. At the time, I was selling my chemo care packages on Etsy, so I didn't have a formal blog to post to. But, thanks to a woman named Lauren from Etsy Marketplace Integrity that was born with a black heart, I had to close my Etsy shop. Exactly 11 months later, Handled with Care was born. So really, thanks Lauren!
Now that I have this website and a platform to share those words I wrote last year, I figured today, a day of reflection, is the right day to share.
****DISCLAIMER: I'm not a blogger, or a writer. There will be plenty of grammatical and punctual errors, and I'm totally OK with that!****
Let me preface by saying, I in no way want to imply that any type of support is not appreciated – it absolutely is. Nor do I want to appear ungrateful for the outpouring of love I received; there are no words to truly express my gratitude appropriately.
With that being said, there are also no words to accurately describe the emotions you feel when a loved one (in my case, my mom) is in the end stages of terminal cancer. Not just the range of emotions but the different levels and the all-consuming consistency of these emotions.
Often people start with “I cannot even imagine what you are going through” – which while I would never wish it on anyone, is kind of the point. Most cannot relate and therefore have no idea how to approach the subject or how to be there for someone. It’s awkward for both sides.
My mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer (it had spread to her bones, lung and eventually liver) in June of 2013. Imagine getting the wind knocked out of you 400x – all at once. After nearly two years of chemo, radiation and various other treatments, she was hospitalized for what we thought would be a couple days to treat dehydration and sepsis. Her kidneys began to shut down and she was given a week. One week. WAIT WHAT?!
Now I will not go into details there but instead, explain what that news meant to me. I was in essence given an expiration date for one of the most important people in my life. I was devastated, overwhelmed, anxious and SO ANGRY. I am “only” 34 years old and have to process the fact that I am losing my mother – before reaching many of my own life’s milestones (like marriage and kids) – milestones every girl wants her mom by her side through. For advice, support, love and the million other things your mom does for you.
I cannot even scratch the surface for how crippling that realization was for me. I ugly cried until I couldn’t breathe, would start choking and nearly vomit. Which for the record, I cry “and want my mom” whenever I throw up, so nearly vomiting while crying also made me cry harder because it reminded me why I was crying in the first place. Never. Ending. Cycle.
Question: How are you?
Answer: I wish I knew how to say “F-ING TERRIBLE” in 30 different languages so I could’ve gotten more creative. Or figured out how to accurately describe the emotional migraine that no amount of Advil (or wine) can make go away. Eventually, I came up with “like I’m stuck in a Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercial” – because anyone can relate to the horror of that. And it made people laugh – which made me feel a tiny bit human for a moment.
Question: How is your mom?
Answer: Still dying…
Question: How is your dad?
Answer: Um…well, pretty f-ing shitty.
Open Ended Statement: Let me know if you need anything!
The intent is fabulous and sincere, however, I didn’t even know what I needed besides to wake up from the nightmare. It’s such a broad and loaded question for someone who is endlessly overwhelmed – plus it requires them to reach out to you, which isn’t always easy. Instead try something specific like, “Pick a night I can send you and your family dinner” or “Can I run any errands for you? I’m free on Wednesday, does that work?” or “Can I come keep you company tonight?” Specific questions are much easier to address and also don’t put it back on the person to reach out to you when they need something.
This is where I stopped, almost exactly one year ago today. The grief was too intense to continue writing because writing made my mom's death more real than I was ready for it to be. I fully intended to pick back up again and finish what I started. But, I recently stumbled across this adorable boutique in Dallas (Read Between the Lines) and discovered the most incredible book I've ever laid eyes on. So, instead of continuing my ranting and rambling, I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of Emily McDowell's "THERE IS NO GOOD CARD FOR THIS: WHAT TO SAY and DO WHEN LIFE is SCARY, AWFUL, and UNFAIR TO PEOPLE YOU LOVE" - she so perfectly and eloquently explains how to be there for someone the best way you can. It's light, bright, funny and oh so perfectly honest. A must read for anyone who just doesn't know what to say.
Link to Emily McDowell's book: https://emilymcdowell.com/pages/there-is-no-good-card-for-this-book
I absolutely love Emily McDowell’s cards and work. She brought me such humor during treatment and I can relate so well to so much of what you wrote. Thank you for sharing your story and experience despite the pain I am sure it brings you. I am so sorry for your loss.
My sweet Mel, thanks for sharing this most beautiful outpouring of love, loss and reflection. You are a very special person and my daughter is very, very lucky to have had a friend like you enter into her life years ago. Know that we all will always share in the love, affection and devotion you have and will always have for your beautiful Mom….all Moms are truly a one-of-a-kind as yours surely will always be in your heart and mind as well as of all of those that knew her. We will always remain in your corner….love you lots and then “mucho mas”……Oscar, Mary, Valerie, David, Eric and Cason.