For this anthology post on Sept 15 a story about cancer. We are trying for comical, uplifting, inspirational... Let's give cancer a big kick in the pants!
This post is dedicated to Mary, and for all those who fight the good fight for life.
Living Life Fully
Twenty years ago, I sat at a round, brown table in a kitchen filled with sunshine. My boyfriend’s mother, Mary, had a tea kettle coming to a boil on the stove. She had her back to me while she prepared two steaming mugs. I was rattling on about my day at work, waiting for my boyfriend to go out with me, and then, I asked her how her day had been.
“I’m dying. How do you think it’s been?” she snapped, as she turned to me with two tea mugs. Her jaw was tight, her eyes glistening.
I felt my stomach drop to the floor. I wanted to get up and hug her, but I couldn’t seem to move.
Mary sat across from me. “It isn’t just breast cancer again after years of remission. I had that second mastectomy, but it didn’t stop the cancer. It’s lymphoma. And they say they can’t treat it. I might only have a year to live.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, and the words felt too empty, too missing of any depth or comfort.
She pulled the tea bag out of her cup so she could use it for a second serving, setting it onto a small tea bag holder. “I haven’t told anyone yet. You can’t tell my children. They all have too much stress already.”
“But . . .” I couldn’t imagine why she had told me. Why was I the confidant in the matter of her possible death?
I think it may have been just that I was there at that moment when she couldn’t hold onto it any longer. We argued about the "secret," and she won . . . mostly.
A few weeks later, I told my boyfriend because I couldn’t hide it from him. It hurt too much.
Eventually, Mary told each of her children separately, and the burning pressure of that secret was gone.
Mary lived each day and each week like it might be her last. She took all of her children, including her son’s fiancé (me) to Broadway musicals in Seattle; she played tennis , basketball and golf, she went running and skiing; she watched as many tennis tournaments as she could find on various sports channels; and she re-read her favorite books.
One summer afternoon, another bright day filled with sunshine, we went to the nearest basketball court. My fiancé’s mom and dad, my fiancé’s niece, my fiancé, and I played three-on-three.
Mid-dash down the court, Mary paused and scooped up something from the ground, stuffed it into her bra, took the ball from her husband who was as surprised as the rest of us, and made a perfect bank shot. She looked around and laughed. “No reason to stop playing just because my falsies fall out,” she told us brightly, while patting her chest.
We all chuckled, slightly embarrassed, and kept playing.
Fifteen years later, our niece told that story at my in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary. She talked about how cool her grandma is, and how it is good to know that someone could have such an awesome attitude after two full mastectomies, chemotherapy, radiation, and several hospital stays.
Just a week ago, I called my mother-in-law on her 80th birthday. She told me, “I’ve had the best birthday: breakfast in bed, family members calling me all day, a good book, and a tennis tournament to watch with new blood in the finals.”
It turned out that the doctors had misdiagnosed her lymphoma. It was the treatable kind. Between these little scenes, Mary had some tough days and hospital stays, times of great doubt and great faith, and she continues to show us how to fight any illness and how to live life fully.