My mother has a brain tumor.
She had been having some trouble with her right leg – unable to walk very smoothly – but we thought it was a muscle injury or the result of something off-kilter in her back. After no improvement and significant diminishment over a few months, she saw her doctor for a complete work up. In the end he said that she was perfectly healthy and since the only thing he hadn’t checked was her head, her leg trouble was likely the result of multiple sclerosis or a brain tumor.
An MRI the next day confirmed what our family already knew: Mom has a brain tumor.
When I was younger, my Dad and I would tease Mom when she forgot something, made a strange connection between subjects, or said something non-sensical. Which was a relatively frequent occurrence with her unique personality. Her pat reply to our teasing was always to jokingly attribute it to “the tumor” and point to her head. It might seem silly or superstitious, but that is how we were all fairly confident it was a tumor. Not because we thought she actually had a tumor all those years, just that it seemed to fit.
My parents, Joshua and I, and the children have all enjoyed (been blessed with) very good health over the years. In some ways that makes dealing with catastrophic health issues fairly challenging. While we are remarkably equipped by our faith to handle some of the implications, we are incredibly under-equipped to deal with the interpersonal dynamics and medical logistics. We just haven’t had much practice.
Mom’s basic reaction to hearing she had a brain tumor was to assure us that she had been prepared to die for years. Which is true. She loves her life, loves living; but she also loves God and has a full spiritual life. She was basically affirming that she is prepared to meet her Maker when the time comes.
The problem is, that while that is actually a very reassuring approach for Dad and me to hear from her – the last thing we would want is for her to feel afraid — it is not helpful for those of us she could be leaving behind.
Truth be told, the biggest concern that Mom and I shared when we learned of her diagnosis was my Dad. He and Mom were high school sweethearts. They have known each other since they were 16 years old. They have been married for 41 years. It is no stretch to say I am sure he cannot imagine his life without her. And likely would not want to live life without her. For an only child (me) that is a thought as scary as Mom having a brain tumor.
Providentially, Joshua and I had scheduled a two-week family vacation to my parents’ house for this summer. It was decided that Mom will undergo surgery early in the first week of our visit, so that we can all be around to help with her recovery and transition back home. Folks have said that it’s great we will be able to be there. But we are family — there is no place else I could possibly be.
(To be continued)