Home > looking the jabberwocky in the face, true stories > The Post I Didn’t Want to Write: Talking About My Mother’s Illness

The Post I Didn’t Want to Write: Talking About My Mother’s Illness

Sometimes, we do not want things to be true. With all the insistence of a child, we WILL it not to be real, not to be the hulking shadow-monster in our lives. We ignore it. We hide it under the rug. We don’t make eye contact.

And, certainly, we don’t write it down. We don’t spell it out. You see, there’s something about writing it out that gives it more power. No, that’s not quite right. It simply makes it feel more true, because…there it is. In black and white. You can’t ignore it. You’ve written it down, and now…it exists.

Congratulations, you’ve unleashed a monster. Up until now, it’s been the Jabberwocky hiding in the dark. Sure, you KNOW it’s out there. You KNOW it’s a living nightmare. But you can overlook it, because you haven’t faced it. Writing it down? That’s facing it. By doing so, you’ve dragged the Jabberwocky out of its hiding place.

There’s one thing in particular that I don’t really talk about. I don’t write about it. I don’t show or share it. I pretend as best as I can, because it’s the only defense mechanism I have. But here’s the thing no one tells you about defense mechanisms: they’re faulty as hell and they’re not meant for the long term. They crack, seep, leak, and dissolve – usually in the moment you are on your knees, wailing, you need it the most. Here’s the truth: it doesn’t help. It doesn’t heal.

And here’s the thing about me: I am a fixer.

If you need a friend, I’m it. Call me. Email me. If you live close enough, come over. There will be coffee and baked goods. If I can help, I will.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Libra. Or maybe I watched too many episodes of the CareBears growing up. But that is who I am: the person you can count on, when the shit hits the fan, and you’re covered in crap. If you need a break from your life, somewhere to hide – and someone to confide in – I’m your girl Friday. Nothing you say to me goes beyond the room. Ever. I don’t care if you’re the girl I knew in second grade or a movie star. If I care, I care. End of story.

So, I am a fixer – which is why being helpless really kills me, sometimes. For me, there are few things worse than seeing a problem, but being able to do nothing. I hate watching anyone suffer, especially someone I love. I hate not being able to make it better.

Which, I suppose, brings me to this admission: my mom has stage four metastatic breast cancer. She’s had it for a little over two years. There are very few people I talk to this about (but you guys? You know who you are – and thank you, in case I haven’t said it enough). At heart, I think, I’m a private person. Yes, I write stories about my life, but I rarely open a vein for the sake of spilling blood.

Here is what you should know about my mom: she is the strongest person I know. She is also one of the best people I know. She is a fighter. She is a four-foot and some odd inches fireball.

I watch her deal with one crazy thing after another, facing down things that would make other people hide under the bed. She is a hero. She is my hero. Even now, if you need something – she will help you in any way she can, even if she feels like hell. That, I suppose, is where I learned it from. My mother is a fixer, too.

Despite the myriad setbacks (trust me, there have been so many – who knew SO much could go SO wrong? Also, who knew that doctors could be so terrible, inhumane, and uncompassionate? Oh, the stories I could tell you), she doesn’t give up. She also tolerates my extreme level of fussing over her. That means not only is she sick, but she has the patience of a saint.

It’s taken me a long time to write this post. But I need to talk about it, to put the truth into words, to not hold this kind of thing in, despite that being my modus operandi. The other day, a relatively new friend asked what my “story” was – and I gave a vague answer. It wasn’t a lie…but it wasn’t everything it should’ve been. Because at this moment, a large part of my story is this. Except now you know.

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  1. Jim
    April 4, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I know that took a lot of courage to write. Very well said. You and your mother are lucky to have each other.

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      Jim, you are as sweet as ever. Thank you. 🙂

  2. Sean
    April 4, 2012 at 10:28 am

    When we write toward the thing that hurts and scares us, we gain stability and can face it with less fear. Thank you for this powerful post.

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      Sean, how is it you always know the perfect thing to say? Thank you for reading and commenting; it means a lot to me.

  3. April 4, 2012 at 10:29 am

    I feel pretty honored to be able to read this. And I admire you so much, because I know JUST what you mean about making things real by talking about them or writing about them. That takes guts. That you are a “fixer” is no surprise. Your empathy, kindness and compassion is evident every day.

    Much love to you and your mother…two amazing and heroic women. xoxox

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Dani, thank you so, so much. It’s wonderful to be understood, and I appreciate what you said. xoxox

  4. April 4, 2012 at 10:36 am

    A brave post, Alli. Yes, I know it was hard to write. I lost my mom to leukemia-related treatment infection and she wasn’t quite as strong. In fact, toward the end she started blaming herself because she should have known better and gone to other doctors and gotten other opinions. It’s tough to hear that angst and not be affected by it. The big C is scary and hard to talk about.

    Doctors can be inhumane but it’s because of the job. If they cared, it would kill them. Some are better than others and show some empathy, but they have to be cold and keep distance because if they didn’t it would eat them up. Think about how much you bleed every time someone tells you of something that’s beating them up. Multiply that by a thousand and that’s what doctors have to deal with. GPs don’t have this problem as much but oncologists have one of the toughest disease to deal with. It would kill them.

    Your mom’s a fighter. That’s a good thing. Learn from her strength and realize that she needs the strength you’ve shown others now to help her keep her positiveness up. The survivors all share one thing: they don’t let the big C scare them into inaction. They deal with the treatments and fear and push against it because they know that life is more than the disease. Life is about the people around them and loving and holding and caring for one another. The big C sometimes gives them a gift that they didn’t realize they had before: the people around them. Be one of them for your mom and don’t let the monster eat you. Brandish the sword against the dragon!

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Julio, thank you so much for the comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to write a little bit about your experience. As far as the doctors go, what I’m talking about doesn’t refer to a poor bedside manner. There have been several instances of abject emotional cruelty. Perhaps I’ll write about that at some point, but trust me, it’s not just instances of callousness or distance.

      • April 4, 2012 at 4:18 pm

        No excuse for cruelty but I’m not surprised. I think that some doctors have a God complex so that they look at their failure as the fault of the patient. That was the impression I got when I was listening to my mom tell what she was going through. I was angry about that but decided, along with my siblings, not to pursue legal action because it would have just prolonged our anguish over mom’s death.

        I truly feel that the doctor who treated her had no clue and didn’t relate well with a woman who was scared and far too trusting.

  5. April 4, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Hey Honey,
    From one fixer to another, it helps to talk about it, even though it feels scary. Let others help you and your mom when you need it. It can be hard to accept help, but teach yourself to accept it. OK?
    XO

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm

      Barbara, you are so, so sweet. Seriously. I’m not always good at accepting help (okay, I pretty much suck at it). But I’m trying. 🙂 Thank you for your lovely comment. xo

  6. April 4, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Ali, I’m so sorry. That doesn’t seem the right thing to say in response to such a moving, powerful, brave post. My mom just watched her father wither away from liver cancer, and the pain and heartbreak in her eyes, that’s still in her eyes, brings tears to mine, just as your post did. If you ever, ever need to talk, I’m an email or tweet away. ❤

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      Adrienne, that is a fine thing to say, chica. I am sorry for your mom’s experience and loss; it is a terrible thing to witness. And thank you, for the offer to listen. I really appreciate that a lot. ❤ right back at ya.

  7. Nicola
    April 4, 2012 at 11:13 am

    You are one of the few strong people I have the pleasure of knowing. You can do this.

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      Nicola, thank you for always being in my corner. It means the world to me. ((((HUGS))))

  8. Lou
    April 4, 2012 at 11:41 am

    I am full of gratitude that you wrote this, Ali. It was brave, just as you are. And I second everything that Sean fellow had to say. 🙂 I’m always here if you need me.

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      Lou, it was really hard to write, but (I think) it was even harder NOT to write. And sheesh, that Sean guy’s pretty amazing, huh? *grin* Please know that I’m here for you, too; that is a standing offer. (((HUGS)))

  9. jstayrook
    April 4, 2012 at 11:46 am

    You’re stronger than you know. This was beautiful, Ali.

    “When you can’t run anymore, you crawl…And when you can’t do that, you find someone to carry you.”

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      Thank you, Jen. You are such a wonderful person, and I love that quote to pieces. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  10. April 4, 2012 at 11:52 am

    All I can give of use in this situation is recognition – even sympathy, if you want to call it that – and it’s yours if you want it.

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      Thank you, Ben. Sometimes, in moments like that, being heard makes all the difference.

  11. April 4, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    *cries* I know exactly what you mean. My mom, too, is losing her battle with the same disease. I have different approaches… at work, I’m stoic. I’m off the opinion that letting colleagues see me cry forever tarnishes my professional image.

    But I have to vent somewhere and frequently rant on Twitter about moronic receptionists in doctors’ offices who tell the woman who can’t walk to come in and pick up her records. Or the insurance companies who insist on extra red tape. And of course, the sister who presses every button I have and knows it.

    *blinks* Where was I? My point is I am filled to my eyebrows with rage over this disease and its cruelty and losing a woman who has been EVERYTHING to me. But I’m also suffering through another problem. I’m MAD AT HER. Absolutely furious.

    And I can’t tell her.

    I listen to her talk about her life and she is so full of regrets, it’s like she’s kicking me in the head. Her whole life, she’s been nothing but the victim. Nothing that ever happened was ever due to her choices or decisions. I spent damn near half my childhood hiding her cigarettes and begging her to quit. She didn’t until she was diagnosed. By then, it was too late.

    I saved up for two years to take her to Italy – her life’s dream. She said she was afraid to go.

    I constantly invited her to stay for weekends when my sons were babies. She made excuses. It was too far. She didn’t want to leave my grandmother alone. She was afraid to drive on the highways. She had to work. She had this, she had that… I stopped asking. My sons are 17 and 20 now and she hardly knows them.

    Regret after regret. The list is so long and it freakin’ kills me and in her eyes, I see the knowledge – she knows she wasted her life and anything I say to reassure her is just a lie because I agree. It is not fair, it is so fucking not fair, I can’t see through the fury.

    I wish I had something witty and comforting and lovely to tell you, but I can’t. All I can do is send hugs and tell you I am here for as you’ve been here for me and that beating the crap out of the heavy bag in the gym really helps.

    • April 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      Patty, it is so hard to be in a position like that. I don’t know how I’d handle that kind of anger, because it seems like she’s missed so much, not being there and not taking opportunities that were offered. Remember, chica, that you are a good daughter. And that your mom made mistakes. Nothing about the situation is fair, and that sucks beyond the telling of it. You know I’m here for you, always — and you know, it’s been a while since I’ve kicked the crap out of something. The heavy bag is a perfect idea.

  12. April 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    I’m so sorry, kiddo. You were right to write about it, to share it. In the New Testament days, people were fond of naming demons. They thought if you put a name on it, you could take away the fear and conquer it. Maybe ultimately we can’t conquer your mom’s illness, but at least the demon’s got a name. Maybe we can put it on a dartboard and throw projectiles at it.

    Here’s where I suppose I insert my own story, but I’m not going to, because I’m not going there.

    • April 5, 2012 at 7:22 am

      Gayle, a dartboard! I like that. *grin* No worries about sharing your own story — but I am sending you hugs, just in case. (((HUGS))) 🙂

  13. April 4, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Such a brave blog post and kudos to you for writing it. I’m a Libra too and always feel like you want to take on others’ problems and help and help while you sometimes forget to help yourself. I hope writing this was cathartic for you. Thank you for sharing.

    • April 5, 2012 at 7:26 am

      Jules, yes — that does happen sometimes. I’m not always good at helping myself — let alone asking for help. lol Thank you for reading and commenting. That means a lot to me. 🙂

  14. Mandy
    April 5, 2012 at 1:00 am

    You are your mothers daughter. Thays all you need to ever know, to get through this, to get through anything. You are your mothers daughter. A mother who I envied growing up. A mother who I think of everytime I eat nachos and cheese, play barbies with my daughter, and watch disney movies with. Hell, when my almost five year old asks me why seatbelts are important, I think of your mom ansering that same question to us 20 years ago. You are your mothers daughter, and I dont think she could ever imagine you better

    • April 5, 2012 at 7:24 am

      Mandy, your comment totally made my cry — but in a good way. Thank you for what you said (of course, now I want nachos, even thought it’s a little after seven in the morning, lol). I can’t tell you what your comment meant to me. Thank you. THat’s just the reminder I needed.

  15. Liz
    April 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Your mom is one of the kindest, quirkiest, awesomest ladies I know, and certainly one of the most inspirational. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. If anything, focus on the fantastic relationship you’re both lucky to have with one another.

    Sometimes, I wish I could do or say more… but you’re always in my thoughts, the both of you. You’re like my other family, in my own mind anyway. ^_^

    • April 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm

      Liz, you are truly wonderful. Thank you for what you said — seriously. As for wishing you could do more, I get that — but please know that your support has meant the world to me. And the feeling is quite mutual — I, and my family, love you to pieces. I had SUCH a wonderful time with you and yours. *big old hug*

  16. April 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Hang in there Ali. One thing I learned when my mom was sick was that it’s not over till it’s over. No matter how hopeless things appear to be, there is still some fighting left until the last minute. I think one of the reasons we lost my mom is that everyone just assumed that she wasn’t going to make it. I was the only person who refused to go with that, and was called selfish. I think she wanted to make it, and wish there was more good will toward her – because that could have given her the boost she needed.

    Don’t give up on your mom – I know you won’t. And we all of us here will be thinking good thoughts for you and for her.

  17. April 9, 2012 at 7:39 am

    So sorry dear Ali, that you and your mom have to go through this! Sending you all my good wishes for your mom’s speedy recovery! oxoxo

  18. April 13, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Suddenly your response to my post about my own mother makes perfect sense–I wondered. Hugs, love, and hope. ❤

    • April 14, 2012 at 9:29 am

      Christie, at the time, I pretty much avoided talking about it. But it wasn’t helping, you know? Hugs and love right back at you — thank you so much. ❤

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