One of my favorite movies is Parenthood. You know, that old one with Steve Martin, Dianne Wiest and the delicious Keanu? Anyway, near the end of the movie, old grandma takes Steve Martin aside and tells him that when she went to the fair as a child, she liked the roller coaster. The merry-go-round just goes around the track, but the roller coaster gives you highs and lows. In the next scene, everything is going wrong and Steve's about to lose it when, all of a sudden, he chills out and realizes he's just on the roller coaster. It's a low. Then a high. Then twists, turns, drops, screams, laughter, tears and when it's over, you get in line to do it all over again.
When I graduated high school, Mom wrote me a poem. In it, she describes parenting: "just love and hang on." Now, maybe she was describing parenting me, which of course was a challenge, but I think that's really the best analogy to describe family. It's all we can do. Everything along this ride has been a roller coaster, but no one has ever considered getting off for even one moment. People have told my brother and dad and I that we are admirable for doing what we're doing. What on earth is our choice? Mom can't stand up on her own, of course we'll be there to help her up. No one signs up for this role, you are assigned it at random and you rise to the occasion. It's love. Just hang on.
I've learned a lot about family; that it's not defined by blood, it's defined by unconditional love. It's defined by choosing who you're going to support and show up for and how so so blessed I am to have so many people happily show up for me. All 50 of the people at Mom's birthday party offered to take Gary to the airport on a Monday afternoon and were disappointed when I told them I was going to do it.
I've learned about hope and how fragile and fluid it can seem, but how contagious it is. Every person who has emailed a story of remission or living with cancer seems to somehow sense that I need it right then: I've had a number of "losing it" moments derailed by my inbox signaling yet another beautiful story of life triumphing. I have watched my mom's faith falter, watched her slowly begin to accept this reality, watched her mourn her previous, healthy existence and feel fear. But she never lets the fear take root. She never doubts that she is doing the right thing, that fighting with everything she has is the only option, living is the only choice.
And fight she does. This morning she insisted on eating breakfast sitting up on the side of the bed, which is a great (and difficult) endurance exercise for her. She ate her entire bowl of cereal that had been mixed with protein powder, plus some bites of croissant and hard boiled egg this way. And then she went walking. 90 feet today, almost double what she did yesterday. The physical therapist kept giving her rest options and she wouldn't take them, she kept standing instead of sitting, did 12 squats instead of 10 and a second set of the dreaded calf raises. After the session, she slept. Lunch wasn't too tasty to her today, so she just had a few bites of snacks for the rest of the day. Then occupational therapy, where they worked on feeding herself and general upper body strength. Tomorrow's OT session is set for lunch time so they can work in depth on self feeding and get her some practical applications. I love the therapy staff here-they are amazing. So talented and caring and generous and wonderful.
Chemo is making its presence known. Mom is definitely tired-she slept a lot today, around working hard in her therapy sessions. She also vomited up the few bites of dinner she managed to eat (again, sitting up on the side of the bed) before nausea overtook her. She is on anti-nausea medication, but she's probably going to need to up the dosage or be more diligent about taking it at regular intervals. The good news is that after she was sick, she felt better. She didn't eat anything after that, but her mood was good and her pain was negligible. Oh, and I didn't faint. But we're gearing up for a long haul of chemo symptoms and know she'll probably get worse before she gets better. I keep reminding her that any time she wants a break, any time she wants to stop a treatment, if it gets uncomfortable or she just can't deal anymore, it's okay and we'll all support her. I'll be her advocate in anything she chooses. It's all I know how to do. Just love and hang on.