Thank you to everyone who follows this blog! Some new followers came on board and I felt guilty for not posting recently, so thank you for walking with me even when I’m going at a turtle’s pace.
Moms are kinds of like that – always there with you, supporting you even when you insist on doing things on your own. They are there to cheer on your attempts and victories and provide a shoulder to cry on when things go wrong. At least that describes my mom. I know not all moms are perfect, but I hope that sums up most.
I listen to Klove, a Christian rock station, and Moms, of course, are the subject of their listener participation questions. Two of those questions struck home with me: describe your mom in one word and what is the best advice your mother has given to you. Both answers I have stem from my experience with childhood cancer.
The one word that describes my mom is determination. When the doctor told her that I had cancer and the type of cancer it was, she told him, “I’m not losing this child.” Even when she told me about it she had her war face on, so I know she was a force of fierce determination at the time. And like most other things she has set her mind to, she was successful. Of course Dr. McRoberts was an incredibly gifted surgeon, as well!
My surgeries started just after I had turned 11 years old. I had medullary carcinoma (yes I had to Google that) of the thyroid. It’s a rare kind of thyroid cancer that usually forms in people in their 60s or 70s and which spreads to circulatory systems, resulting in death. A tumor grew on my thyroid, but the butterfly-shaped gland (that’s located in the base of your neck) was still working. It spread to the lymph glands and parathryroid glands, but never made it a circulatory system. Something made it stay in place and not wonder around. I believe to this day, that something was my mom’s unwavering determination that I would survive.
Mom is all of 5 foot nothing, but she is a giant when it comes to meeting challenges and goals. I’ve learned a lot from just watching her take on big challenges, whether it’s packing for a two-week camping trip in Idaho’s back country or being the executive assistant force behind a state organization or state politics. The number one thing she does is makes the initial determination to succeed. The second thing she does is organize – she is a list-maker like none other – and she sets about accomplishing the listed to-dos with amazing energy.
The best advice came after my first surgery. The initial tumor I had stuck out like a baseball, but had not raised red flags because it was on my Adam’s apple and, at 10- and 11-years of age, things are growing at different speeds and little weirdly anyway. It wasn’t until I turned my head around to ask my dad a question and the tumor didn’t move with my neck that we realized there was something wrong. In that first day-long surgery, Dr. McRoberts had to take out my thyroid, 3 3/4 of my parathyroids and lymph nodes.
In my memory it seems that I had just awoken from the anesthesia when mom, sitting by my bedside, explained I would have to take pills for the rest of my life. It may have been that soon, since at the time I had to take them four times a day. And most were huge 10-grain calcium pills. This would be disturbing news to any child, but I was the one who had trouble swallowing a baby aspirin in a tablespoon of jam. Now that I write this I wonder if the tumor had anything to do with that, because I didn’t have trouble afterwards. In fact, it wasn’t long before I could swallow a handful at a time.
The best advice my mom gave me was not the words themselves, but the delivery and philosophy behind the words that came with explaining to an 11-year-old, she had to take 40 pills a day to stay alive. Mom explained it without drama and it taught me to face things head-on with common sense. Mom told me, as she gave me my first pills, that I would have to take them for the rest of my life. Of course, I started to object and deny. She said, “You have to brush your hair everyday, don’t you? You have to brush your teeth. You have to drink water, every day, many times a day. Now when you drink water, you’ll take your pills.” No big deal. Do what you have to do.
I wish I could say I obediently took my pills every day, four times a day, without issue, but I can’t. While some mothers and daughters struggled over outfit choices or make-up application, my mother and I struggled over taking my pills. Mom would ask me “Have you taken your pills?” because, of course, she had to make sure I had. Because I had to take them four times, that was four “Have you taken your pills?” on a good day. On most days the “ya, I will,” answer resulted in several more “Have you taken your pills?” and my getting angry and snooty in response. To this day that question sparks a tightening in my jaw. That did not deter my determined mother who put her focus on me so that I may live.
Thank you, Mom.
All my love.