I always steel myself when I take my mom to the oncologist to hear results of another round of scans.
I hope for the best, but before each visit, I also do extensive mental work to be prepared for potentially hard news.
My aging parents do not need me to go falling apart in the doctor’s office, after all. I need to be there, writing down information, advocating. Asking questions. Reminding the doctors of my mom’s history. Her previous responses to treatment. Her wishes.
Usually, I over-steel myself for these visits.
News after each round of radiation treatments seems to be mixed.
Something shrinks a bit – and I rejoice mightily in these small victories, hoping that they will buy us some time. But while one concerning spot shrinks, another might pop up. There is an alarming new wheezing sound. A mystery pain. Clouds on the scan may be inflammation but also might be another cancer spot.
It is a mixed bag. Always.
I am consistently calm when the doctor is with us. I ask questions in a way that probably sounds overly clinical. I write things down, circle back to previous notes that I have made about different spots that have been seen on prior scans.
After we finish with the doctor, I get my mom settled in for her immunotherapy – something she is still choosing to do every three weeks, in part because it probably can’t hurt and in part because she really finds it empowering to think of her own cells being revved up, equipped to fight this cancerous invasion on her behalf.
“Natural is always the best way,” she tells me with certainty. “Your cells know things.”
Somehow, I consistently remain calm as I make my way out of the office and to the elevator. I smile bravely at cancer patients and their families as they make their way to radiology or oncology. We are in this awful mess together, and there is no need to go openly losing our minds.
I go downstairs and sit on a bench outside. If the weather is nice, I take a minute to think about the mercy in that. The sky is falling, but the sun still shines brightly! (What is that? HOW is that?)
Then, I pull my phone out, review my notes from the latest visit one more time.
And every time – every single time – this is when I briefly fall apart.
My right hand trembles predictably, as I start to text the people closest to me – people who have said, “Yes. Please let me know how your mom is doing. Please continue to take me on this journey with you. I am here for you and I want to know, whatever the news is.”
I confess I usually send the same copy and pasted message to most of them. But it’s still personal – these people who are on this journey with me.
Some are extended family. Others are current or former co-workers. Friends from church. High school and college classmates. Neighbors from old neighborhoods and my current one. However the relationship started, they are all friends now – people who choose to keep me in their life, beyond just a sense of obligation.
As the messages start to be returned, I cry just a bit. These are tears, often, of sadness, but there is comfort mixed in, too. I have people who notice my pain and are willing to ride this emotional rollercoaster with me.
Soon, my original messages start being returned. People call – and even though I send them to voicemail because I can’t talk just yet, I appreciate the calls.
In it all, I hear God whispering, quietly. This is hard but you are not alone.
And in that, there is great mercy. The sky is falling, yes, but the sun also shines. What a mystery.