Around February 1995 I received a dreadful call from my mother. She gave me the news that her doctor “thought that she had pancreatic cancer.”
My first response to her was “What do you mean he thinks you have cancer?” She then told me that her doctor would have to perform a biopsy to be sure. So I asked her if she was going to get the procedure. Her answer indicated to me that she was uninterested.
“Don’t you want to know for sure?” I asked. She still seemed ambivalent towards this invasive procedure. I then got my youngest brother on the phone (who was living with her at the time) and said that we had to convince mom that she should get the biopsy. He agreed.
It took both of us a period of two months to finally convince our mother to get the biopsy. I was relieved.
So the next time I talked to her on the phone I asked how things went. She replied, saying that the doctor somehow missed the tumor and would have to do it all over again.
I was pissed to hear this.
How could such a thing happen? After having twisted my mother’s arm to get the biopsy in the first place I knew there would be no way to convince her to have a second procedure performed on her. My heart sank.
I was confused as to why she did not want to know exactly what her status was. I was about to learn that she had accepted her fate and that she would tough it out. She refused all treatment, even though she had good healthcare insurance.
I visited her that spring. She acted normally but had some trouble eating. While taking a shower I developed a severe nosebleed. I suspect it was part sinus infection and part strained emotions. I ended up going to the emergency room to stop the bleeding. For the next few days it was my mom who was looking after me! How could this be?
I returned home, still alarmed at her condition. However, knowing that my brother was there to look over her brought a degree of calm to the situation. I had heard that pancreatic cancer was painful and assumed that she would seek treatment when the pain grew unbearable.
But she continued to tough it out. She suffered greatly, yet consciously.
That December I got a call from my brother that mom had finally said “It is time to take me to the hospital.” This did not mean she was ready for treatment, but ready to die.
By the time I was able to fly into New York from St. Louis, she was lying in her hospice bed, unconscious. Mom’s face was startlingly shrunken. I knew that her life force was receding from her corporeal body. What really caught my attention was her labored breathing—with each breath she gave out a straining sound as if she were punched in the stomach.
I asked my brother if she was on any painkillers. He said that in the hospital she had finally agreed to painkillers but that they gave her nightmares. She died in less than a week at the hospital. She simply had embraced a belief system that was different from most others. My mom did not see it as important to cling to this world. She had lived a full life and accepted God’s providence.
She died as a truly liberated woman.
I would gladly give up every post on this blog (and my two books) to be able to prove I had an equally strong inner constitution.