One year ago today, my mother died after a long battle with ovarian cancer. She had dodged breast cancer bullets a couple of times … well, not really dodged so much as taken them in the chest. But this time the bullet was a shotgun shell to her abdomen full of twelve gauge tumor pellets. Her doctors performed surgery, but with so many tiny tumors the odds of getting all the cancer weren’t good.
After surgery, the chemotherapy made Mom’s life a waking nightmare of nausea and weakness and pain. This was her fourth round of chemo, and since it wasn’t working all that well — not buying her much time — she made the conscious choice to stop treatment.
We all knew that this decision meant her time was short, but we hoped that her quality of life would be higher during what remained. And she did have a few relatively ‘normal’ months before the deterioration overtook her.
I was not prepared for how heartbreaking it would be to see the shell of someone who had once been so vibrant and full of energy. But even so, I am grateful that I and the kids got the chance to see her several times at the end of her life, and to say goodbye.
Most healthy young people conceive of life as being constant until it ends abruptly. And sometimes it does, but sometimes a life withers away, and the older I get, the more I start thinking of how long I’ll be healthy enough to do the things I love.
I’ve started thinking of life in terms of quality time left, of how long I can stave off attrition. How long will I be able to play soccer? How many more times will I be able to go hiking with my kids? When will I lose my mental sharpness and become unable to write?
How much is three months of quality life worth? Or one month, or even a week?
I fully believe that Mom made the right decision. One year of vomiting isn’t better than three months of peace, but damn do I wish she’d had better choices.
Back in March of last year, Karawynn and the girls and I traveled to Yachats on the Oregon coast for Mom’s memorial service and the interment of her ashes. Even now, nearly a year later, I find it difficult to write about. I haven’t lost many people close to me, and I’m not sure I coped very well. But then again, does anyone?