November 17, 2012

What Blessings Can Look Like...

Blessings: how do you define them? Count them? Experience them?  

One year ago today, November 17th 2011, it could have been much different. It could have been a day much like any other day. But if it was, it would have made a day not long after it a terrible day.

Confused yet? Just stay with me.

It had been an odd week leading up to November 17th. There were mounting concerns that my mum’s vision was failing, leading to headaches and other things. And on November 17th, a very odd thing happened indeed. My mother in law showed up at my office.That's the type of thing that could only mean bad news!

The sense of unease that had been building through the past few days came to a head: My mother in law was there to tell me my mum had undergone some emergency MRI scans, and the results yielded unwelcome news: brain tumours, one of them potentially life threatening without near-immediate surgical intervention.

So now, maybe you have begun to understand. Without November 17th being the day that it was, a few days later would have been much worse. As terrible as it felt to have that lightning bolt realization that your mum is in trouble, it’s a lot more pleasant a thing than finding out a week later that your mother died on her feet in her kitchen, or something like that. So I am thankful that November 17th played out like it did. Without the action that was taken, an even more traumatic scene was the only likely outcome. So mum was unwell, but still alive.

That's Blessing # 1.

November 2011. Lots of questions! Lots.
The week that followed was still torturous, as family came to grips with the current situation, and did it’s best to tear away at the layers now in our hands, which were still not well understood. Post surgery, past the initial trauma, the conversations inevitably turned to ‘how much time is there?’. The surgery was a success, you see. The large tumour that could well have killed mum was removed. Symptoms almost immediately reversed. But two more tumours, smaller, in other areas of the brain, were deemed inoperable. So again, the question of ‘how much time’. The answer always came back the same: “no one can tell for certain, but presume a year.”

A year, by anyone’s calendar, is better than no time: Blessing # 2.

Fast forward through intense radiation. A Christmas season unlike any other. Months of suffering for mum through the after effects of having one’s brain radiated intensively. Quarterly re-scans to see if the brain was “behaving” itself following treatment. And, of course all the highs and lows that can come with travelling such a stormy sea,

Doctors were thrilled with her results. Come the Fall of 2012, we hadn’t initially been sure really sure if mum was still going to be her old self, but she was. She was great, in fact. She had lost weight—a peculiar side effect of all she had been through, but with the result of making her more mobile. The dark veil of most of the symptoms of treatment had been lifted, and we were seeing Wendy for who Wendy was and is.

Through all of that time, no matter what was going on, no matter the latest opinion or projection, mum did manage and has managed to maintain something: an unbelievably positive attitude. As far as I’m concerned, a key to her survival.

Let’s call that Blessing #3.

And let’s just bring it right up to Blessing #4. November 17th, a full trip around the sun since “that day”, and mum is still here, and she’s got more time yet projected to stick around. Yes, she has had another check up recently that confirmed the brain cancer is progressing again, and yes, she has had another bout of low-dose radiation...which is actually Blessing #5, as many in the same situation as her had progressions much earlier on, were not able to take a second round of radiation to the brain, and were, by this point, gone. But not mum.

Ahoy there! Wendy aboard 'Boomer' with Jamie, Fall 2012
A year ago, none of us had any idea what Nov. 17th would bring, though we were told time and time again that this day would not be for my mother. How pleased I am, for all of us and for mum, that Nov. 17th this year will pass, perhaps largely unnoticed; just another day on the calendar, and that mum can live it. She’s got a trip lined up in the very near future, and we’re all looking forward to another Christmas together this year.

Mum, you’re a bloody miracle. Thank you for your spirit and perseverance in the face of all that the last year has thrown at you. We are so proud of you, and stand amazed as each day, you manage to beat down more and more of the odds: Happy November 17th.

sunshine, reading books, and watching your grandkids play in the grass... these are the good things in life. summer 2012