We woke up early that morning. Earlier than we needed to. Nerves, wonder, fear, and raw emotion pulled us out of bed. We drank our coffee without tasting it. We pulled our shirts over our tired heads and we got into the car.
Once we got to the hospital, it felt like an eternity rolled into a single minute. Each tick of the second hand echoed loudly in the brightly lit room, and we knew that the pace of the day was set. It wasn’t long before the nurse called her name, and we all jumped to our feet. We jumped to attention.
The surgery could take as long as 9 hours, we were told. They were going to try to get it all, but there were no guarantees. It’s a delicate surgery, and there’s just no telling what complications they may run into.
And then they wheeled her off. She waved goodbye, and none of us tried to choke down our tears. “Mom”, I whispered. “See you on the other side.”
There’s no telling how long we were in there. There’s no way to recount the thoughts that ran through our heads. I can’t tell you how quickly time passed, or how slowly. I can’t tell you if it was hard or trying or a breeze. All that I can tell you is that I don’t remember a single moment from those hours until we were met by the surgeon.
“We did well,” She tells us. “We got most of it, and she is in recovery now.”
For all intents and purposes, the surgery was a success. They were able to remove the band of malignant tumor that spanned her peritoneum. They removed organs and tissue. They removed anxiety and fear.
“She’s going to have quite a long road ahead of her,” she said “I’m expecting chemo to be unpleasant, and it’s not clear how well she’ll react to the treatment. Now that we’ve removed such a large mass, we can expect that she’ll live a few more years.”
A few more years, she told us. Only a few more years.
When we found her in the recovery room, completely stoned, Mom said with all of her might “I knew I’d see you on the other side!” At that point, she still didn’t know if she had survived the surgery. Either way, she was the happiest that she had ever been. In that moment, she was with her family. She was home.
The following weeks were painful. Those painful weeks tuned into painful months. Chemo sucked. There is no break from chemo when it’s running through your body. There’s no break from yourself on chemo. We kept waiting for the low point, but each passing week, each passing treatment, was worse than the one before it.
Mentally. Emotionally. Physically. Those moments were dark ones, but like all dark moments, they’ve now passed.
The following few years, up until now, have been seeded with wins and losses. Cancer leaves and cancer returns. An amazing attitude, a default to optimism, and an incredible support system lead the way through the darkness. Mom has found herself. She has started to do less work and more soul searching. She follows her passions. She marries people. She buries people. She is a thought leader. She has come into her own. She travels. She laughs. She writes. She looks to the future as if the past doesn’t exist. She knows that her moments will create new moments.
She embraces life because life is precious. She excels at living in a way that none of us can comprehend.
4 years ago today she was wheeled away by the nurse. 4 years ago today we were told that she only had a few years. 4 is more than a few, and we are truly lucky.
Each moment that we have together is important. It’s so easy to take life for granted until you are faced with your own mortality. It’s easy to take your family for granted.
I’ve learned a lot from Mom about how to be alive. Moments are precious and if you don’t seize them, they leave you. If you don’t cherish them, they’re lost.
Being positive through the negative is important. If you’re not smiling, no one will know to smile with you. If you’re not bringing all of your passion to what you do, you’re not doing it right.
Mom has taught me that life is a privilege. Mom has taught me to speak my mind. To hug when I want to hug. Drink when I want to drink. Dance when I want to dance.
The world is better because of Mom and we’re all lucky to have her. I continue to learn from her. I continue to learn with her, each and every day.
Here’s to many more years of living the dream. L’chaim!