Surgery #1

My mom has her first surgery two days after her MRI. I begged and pleaded to be there in the waiting room but was turned away by my stepfather with a controlling hell no every time. Nothing upset me more than knowing that I was NOT ALLOWED to be by my mother’s side. I bit my tongue. I wasn’t going to be a selfish asshole and make the situation worse so I let my friends know what was going on and my stepbrother and longtime friend came over to spend the day with me and my newborn baby for the 8 hour procedure. 

Biting my nails and cuticles until there was nothing left, I anxiously paced back and forth all day. I welcomed the distraction of my daughter and having friends to keep my mind busy but the entire time I stared at my phone waiting to hear something, anything. 

Finally I got a call. She was out of surgery and I could talk to her when she woke up. “Everything went well” was all the information I got. What the hell does that even mean? 

I strapped on my baby Bjorn, grabbed my husband and babe and we went to see my mom the next night. She was in a neurology recovery wing sharing a room with an addict who screamed and threw things the entire time. She was miserable, hardly got any sleep with a headache like no other. 31 staples in her head and the lemon-sized tumor was removed. Doctors assured her that this was “the type of brain tumor you want to have” and that this was a one-time thing. Life would go back to the way it was once she healed. 

A follow up MRI said otherwise. The tumor came back and brought friends. They were growing in groups now and needed to be slowed down or removed. On to planning surgery number two. 

“That Must Be Hard”

Recently I was asked how my mom is doing. It’s always a really hard question to answer because I don’t really have an answer other than “she’s still truckin!”, or something lame like that. All so I can avoid the conversation altogether because it’s torturous. 

So how is she? 

Which mom….

I have been fortunate to complete graduate school and learn how to accept my new mother and mourn the loss of the mom I used to have. Answering this question honestly kills me inside every time I have to speak about (thus validating) this loss. And every time I get the same response “that must be hard”. 

Let’s talk about hard. This is what has been really really hard-Difficult, borderline impossible and soul crushing all at the same time. 

My mom has completely changed after seven surgeries. She now struggles using a smartphone. We used to text and talk on the phone all day. She knew everything about my life, she was my best friend. If I had a question about anything at all my mom was the first person I knew I could go to.

 But now her texts are mostly a jumble of letters, intended to communicate a message that I can barely understand. She sometimes sends them more than once, maybe three or four times. Or more. When she calls and I don’t answer, I find missed call after call until she’s calling while I’m checking my phone. When I return her call it’s for nothing, or she doesn’t remember why. And her voice is not hers anymore. Each surgery and breathing tube took it from her, little by little. What was once something I took for granted is gone. I hear her raspy, slurred language when she calls and it’s a constant reminder that she’s different. She’s not the same anymore. 

There was one day when her voice came back-just for a day though. I was so happy I was yelling to her “MOM! YOUR VOICE CAME BACK!” 

She hadn’t even realized it changed. But I did. And still do. 

The beginning.

Hello. This is my story. I am ready to share what I have been going through with others. I’m ready to be heard. This is what it’s like for a woman to watch her daughter and mother battle cancer at the same time.

I want to start from the beginning, so let’s go back to 1984…
I was born in October, a month earlier than scheduled which explains the anxiety I’ve always had. I grew up with my mom, dad, and younger brother in a small and extremely rural town, 100 kids in my grade, that sort of thing. It was an easy childhood, stuck in a bubble of farmland we grew up outdoors playing kickball in the street and helping the local farmer round up his runaway cows. I kept busy by reading and drawing, my brother stuck to baseball cards and street hockey with the neighbor boys. My parents are both from large immigrant families, proud first generation Italians. We were always well fed and it was always noisy. That’s what love feels like.

When I was in fourth grade my parents separated and began the divorce process. This was in 1994. It was pretty messy for a while now that I look back, but my brother and I came out alright. My dad moved in with my grandfather in the next town over and we began the joint custody schedule: dads house Tuesday and Thursday nights and every other weekend. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that this seems to be the trending custody arrangement. I’ve always wondered what the rationality is behind that.

Anyway, my brother and I were shuffled back and forth for a couple of years before my mom moved in with her boyfriend (now stepdad) and we switched schools in 1996. It was a culture shock for me, going from tiny cow town to yuppie rich kid world. I struggled to fit in and eventually found my way through a terrible awkward phase full of bad haircuts and tacky clothes. I am so thankful that Facebook wasn’t around back then!

I was diagnosed with depression my freshman year of high school, 1999. My first heartbreak contributed to my breakdown but it was always there, I’ve always worn a happy mask for the world and hid my pain inside. High school was hard, there was no anti-bullying initiative, the girls were brutal and relentless. I attempted suicide twice to try to escape them and the torment but luckily I survived and began seeing a therapist that I still see today. By my senior year of high school I had been diagnosed with depression and ADHD, finally found the right cocktail of medication to stabilize my crazy, and had secured an incredible group of friends. I was going to make it out of high school after all! I kept busy with dance and musicals, reading anything I could and filling journals as fast as I could write. I applied to college and selected a school in New York. I was ready for the real world, or so I thought.

Arriving in New York I was ready to have the college experience while seeing the big city. Instead it was a year and a half of drinking, drugging, and debauchery that I didn’t need. I was arrested once and attempted suicide again. I was hospitalized and went home after getting kicked out of school for not going to class. I wasted way too much of my parent’s money on a downward spiral. Looking back on it I can laugh now, but for years it killed me to think of the dark place I was in, and almost never came out of.

I came back home in 2004 and worked at a day care center. I met a guy and we followed Phish around for a few summers before breaking it off, he broke my heart and moved across the country. Did I mention he got me pregnant and left the day after I had an abortion? Oh yeah so that happened.

I started working at a private school for children with autism when I met some of the most incredible people in my life today. I worked there for 3 years, during that time one of these people committed suicide. I’ll save that for another post. I’m scarred but I survived.

After the suicide, I worked in a public school with 7th and 8th graders and applied to school. In began a loooooong journey in 2008, and I graduated with my bachelors degree in 2012 and my masters degree in 2015! I did it!

While I was in school I dated and broke up with a complete psycho and then met my now husband. We had been friends for a while and both had condos in the same complex. Walking our dogs and smoking butts together for a year or so, I finally agreed to go out with him and from there we took off.

I got pregnant with my daughter unexpectedly in 2009. It was hard on me, I had to go off of all my medication and suffered intense withdrawal symptoms while my body decided to become a kidney stone factory and make a baby at the same time. It was hard on me, I was exhausted all the time. Working and going to school and having a boyfriend-turned fiancé took everything out of me not to mention being pregnant. I fainted and threw up almost daily. If you can’t guess by now, I did not enjoy pregnancy one bit.

My little lady came two weeks early, 24 hours of labor later her tiny little body appeared and I became a mother on April 30,2010. She was prefect. Covered in thick black hair we laughed and called her a monkey, and the name stuck. She’s still my little monkey. She was a happy baby, sleeping through the night at 8 weeks and wanted to see everything. We all fell in love.

When little lady was just two months old, I got a call from my stepdad on a Saturday morning. He never called me unless my mom lost her phone, and when I answered he told me to sit down.

My mom had been complaining of a migraine for a few weeks, and the day prior her doctor sent her for an MRI after lots of other options were exhausted. My mother had a brain tumor and would be having surgery Monday to try to remove it.

My vision blurred, I became numb all over as I tried to process the information I was just given. I had a thousand questions yet couldn’t say one word. I sat on my couch and cried while I handed the phone to my husband. What was going to happen?