iamtheinvisiblehand

Posts Tagged ‘cancer

One year after she was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, and after months of unimaginable pain, my mother finally let go.

Upon her diagnosis, I would cry a lot, mostly because I was scared. After a few months, when the doctor finally told her there was nothing left to do, I would cry less frequently, but on the few occasions I did, the waterworks would last forever. I guess I believed that crying would make the whole thing more real. It meant accepting that there was no hope left. And now that all has been said and done, I find myself crying while I write these words.

I saw the cancer eat my mother – the strongest woman I’ve ever known – alive, and although it took a whole year to do so, when it was done there was nothing left but skin-wrapped bones and a severely swollen abdomen. Her mind, however, was untouched, which I think was even worse, because I can’t even begin to imagine what my mother must have felt when she saw herself in the mirror this last year.

And I still can’t believe that this happened to her. Or to me. This is the kind of story you hear about other people’s lives and sufferings, not your own. This is the kind of tragedy that happens to others. And yet it happened to me.

I know whoever is reading this must be thinking that I should be grateful that at least my mother stopped suffering and that in itself is a blessing. I know this is true. I saw her in pain almost every single day of this year and I am glad that this is all over. But still, I am selfish: I wish she was still here with me, nagging my ears off or constantly calling me about one thing or another, like she did while she still had the strength. I miss her more than I ever could have imagined. It’s so bad it hurts.

I find myself in her apartment expecting to hear her voice. Smell the lingering scent of her perfume. And yet I know that I’ll never get to hear her voice or smell her perfume ever again. I’ll just have to make do with whatever my memories can conjure up for me.

Why she held on for so long is a mystery to me. My sisters and I said our goodbyes many months ago and felt that she was in peace with all of us. And yet she hung on.

I guess that when you know you’re about to leave, you want to make sure that your life was worth something; that it made a difference, that you have left behind something worth remembering. Well, I am certain that my mother left an indelible impression on everyone she knew: I never knew or heard of anyone who disliked her.

Anyone who has suffered the loss of someone close knows that sometimes all you need is to say these things, get them out and sort of purge yourself of these thoughts and feelings, because they have a way of creeping up on you when you least expect it. I know this too. About 10 years ago, my dear uncle was killed in a bombing. A few months later, I was at the supermarket and came face to face with a wide variety of blue cheese, my uncle’s favorite.   All of a sudden, I found myself crying and couldn’t stop the tears from falling. Gushing, actually. Other shoppers passing by me would suddenly swerve their carts away from me. I must have terrified them, poor people. My husband had been choosing some vegetables and was quite alarmed when he saw me. I was crying so hard I couldn’t tell him what happened. My dear husband is a good man and knows me well, so he just hugged me and waited until I was done. No questions asked. I did tell him later and he didn’t get it. Go figure.

I’ve come to realize that even when you know what’s coming, you’re never fully prepared for the blow. I knew how this story was going to end, and yet when it did, I felt like a helpless, abandoned child. Now that I think about it, I realize that at the young age of 38 I have become an orphan. Sigh. I know people will say that I should be grateful that I had her for such a long time, when there are so many who’ve lost their parents before they even got to know them. I know this is true. But again, I am selfish. This was not supposed to happen to me. At least not like this.

I am grateful that she was an important part of my 38 years of existence. I am grateful that she was my mother – I could’ve done so much worse. I am grateful that my 7 year old daughter had the chance to meet her and make the most of their time together. I am grateful that my mother was such a loving and caring grandmother to my daughter. But most of all, I am grateful that I had the chance to say goodbye. To tell her how much I loved her. To thank her for all the sacrifices she made to give all of us a good life.

I’m behind the news as usual, but I was lucky enough (?)  to catch about 45 minutes of the interview Lance Armstrong gave Oprah a few weeks ago and even though it was just a tiny piece of the whole thing, I’m pretty sure I caught the gist of it.

Like everyone who has seen the news in recent years, I’d heard a lot about the accusations against Armstrong regarding the use of steroids that allowed him to win 7 Tour de France. I guess I was always a little suspicious, especially since he was a cancer survivor, and now that I’ve seen the toll cancer treatment takes on its victims,  for a while there I was truly impressed despite my doubts.

But after seeing his interview, if I had to say one thing is that although it was supposed to be some sort of act of contrition to come clean about his doping past, I have never seen more a more calculated and rehearsed speech in my life. And Oprah, with all her years of experience said that she had been surprised by his candour, or something like that. I may not be an expert journalist or have a degree in Psychology or in any field remotely related to human behavior. I am, however, a consummate introvert. I’m  the girl sitting in the corner quietly, paying attention to everyone else, observing their attempts to attract attention and be in the spotlight for a while. I may not have many personal or social skills, but I am definitely a good judge of character. And I can say, without any doubt, that Armstrong did a fine job at fooling everyone.

It was clear that he was mortified for getting caught, but not for what he’d done. That he’d lied over and over to everyone and that when anyone hinted at the possibility that he’d been doping himself he’d retaliate like a spoiled child who is denied the pretty shiny toy he wants and showed no mercy until he got his way, no matter what the cost might have been for others. And for that he showed no remorse, no regrets.

He mentioned his kids, and how he’d finally come clean because he saw that he could no longer have them defend him when all the accusations made against him were in fact true. And again, what I saw was that he was almost angry he’d had to tell them the truth, but not truly remorseful. And you know, now that I’m a mother, I’ve learned one thing that has guided me through a lot of situations, and it’s this: if you can’t tell your kid about it, or have to lie about it and risk them getting hurt as a result, it’s probably not a good idea. If we do something that we become ashamed of and can’t afford to let our kids know about it, then we’ve definitely done something wrong.

He also said it was impossible  to win the Tour de France without using steroids, or whatever it was he used to win. That was a hard slap in the face for all the others who have competed honestly and trained long and hard every year to win that competition. What would legendary cyclists like Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon think about that? For that matter, what about all the other cyclists who never had the chance to win the race while he was competing because he was on drugs and they were not? Furthermore, the other competitors still fought their way through the competition even though they knew they slim to no chances of winning while they had to race against Armstrong, and that is a tough psychological component to beat.

I’m not naive, and I’m sure doping has become more common in competitive sports than it used to be before. Nevertheless, Armstrong had no right to imply that everyone was doing it if he was not going to present proof to back his words. Actually, I’m kind of shocked no one from the race-cycling industry has come out yet to set the record straight, but I’m pretty sure they won’t – and can’t afford  to – stay quiet for much longer.

Anyway, after all has been said and done, I’ve concluded the many of us out there simply chose to believe that he was a hero, the kind of person everyone admires and wants to be like, because he is the ultimate survivor, living proof that if you put your mind to something you can accomplish anything. What’s really sad is that I’m sure that he would’ve been just as highly regarded and respected no matter what his ranking was at the end of these competitions, because he’d already accomplished su much and gone so far. It is definitely much easier to see a hero, even though we know deep down that there is nothing more than a liar there.

My mother has finally finished her preliminary 4 rounds of chemotherapy. There is now a 3-week wait before a full battery of tests is made to see if and how much the treatment has helped. And then, all the decisions that have to be made will be made.

I hadn’t realized just how scared and stressed out I’ve been over this until this week. I was flipping channels when I found the movie “My Girl”. I’d already seen it when it was originally released and I remembered I cried. That was the time when I’d go to see just any movie. I became more selective when my daughter was born not only because of the obvious time constraints, but also because I decided that life already provided enough drama every now and then, so why pay to see something sad on my already limited outings.

Under normal conditions, I would’ve kept on flipping or just switched off to read a book (it’s currently Ken Follett’s “A Dangerous Fortune”), and yet I just stopped and forced myself to watch the whole thing. Obviously, when the time came I cried, only this time it wasn’t just a few scattered tears, no. This time it was bawling until I had no more tears left. I felt a little like Emma Thompson’s Elinor Dashwood when she learns that Edward is not married – everything she had kept inside for so long just came gushing out, uncontrolled, something like a dam suddenly bursting and flooding everything around it.  Me being so pale, the just-cried puffy eyes and reddened nose finally cleared after a couple of hours, leaving me to wake up this morning with swollen eyelids as a souvenir of the previous day. But also, I felt incredibly relieved.

The thing is, it helped me realized that ever since my mother’s diagnosis I hadn’t found the time or the strength to admit my fear and anxiety, nor was I willing to do so either. I buried myself in my work so I would never have time to think about it, and just avoided anything that would make me feel upset. And while crying is supposed to be a healthy manifestation of our feelings, when other people need your support or you need to convince yourself that things are going to be alright, crying becomes the affirmation to the contrary: it means that things probably aren’t going the way they should and in all likelihood it’s not going to be ok. And now that I know that I had all this buried deep down inside, I’ve come to terms with the fact that regardless of the tests results, life will never be the same.

I mean, if all goes well, then I’ll probably adopt a new take on life and be more optimistic, which is fine, although in my case it’ll probably be temporary; if it doesn’t, well, no matter what my relationship my mother is like, seeing your own mother deteriorate and eventually let go of this world has to be one of life’s hardest trials.  

Seeing her, a rather tall and large woman shrivel into a helpless old lady has already been tough enough. She’s lost over 30 lbs. since October when the chemo started and rarely eats, goes out or does anything anymore. I know there’s a depression component there that worsens it all but still, there’s only so much the rest of us can do to improve her situation. My mother will have to fight this battle alone and if she doesn’t find the strength to kick the cancer, no one else can do it for her.

Having said all this, I’m glad I had the chance to cry it out and acknowledge everything that’s happening. I know that difficult times are just around the corner and that I’ll probably have to allow myself to cry every once in a while if I don’t want to have another breakdown.

My mother was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma last week, after an endless month of tests, scans and appointments with the entire gamut of specialists.

For those who don’t know, cholangiocarcinoma is one of the most aggressive types of cancer. My mother’s is in the liver and metastasis was found in the peritoneum. It appears that the tumor that is in the liver is in the one place that makes it impossible to operate. Those in the peritoneum are rarely operated. So, chemotherapy it is. Starting today. The oncologist ordered 3 rounds of chemo and after that she’ll be tested again to check for improvement. If there is any, chemo will continue. If not, we’ll just have to let the cancer take over.

I know chemotherapy has come a long way and that nowadays, the treatment is a lot “milder” than it was a few years ago, but still, I can only imagine how she’s going to feel, being the person she is.

I’m not particularly attached to her, or my sisters for that matter, and I don’t feel that this has brought us closer, as many people in this same situation like to say.

My mother is as close as you can get to being Marie Barone (from Everybody Loves Raymond), so she enjoys feeling in control, having us all together at her disposal and being the center of attention. I don’t mean to sound nasty but it’s true. She has told every single relative, friend and acquaintance about her condition and although I can understand why she’s done it (besides being entitled to deal with this as she pleases), I truly wish she hadn’t, because now it means that she has made the cancer the main event of her life and has to rehash it every single time she’s with someone.

I’m not sure if she has come to terms with the fact that although this is a huge beast, half the task is becoming aware that she has the power to get rid of it by staying positive. Cancer survivors always say that a positive attitude can go a long way towards recovery. Of course, easier said than done, especially considering that my mother might be the most pessimistic person on the planet. It’s so bad that we’re always telling her to move her dark clouds away from us whenever she makes one of her ominous comments.

Our sisters and I have approached this from our unique perspectives and considering our own individual relation with our mother. My eldest sister feels quite dependent on her, so everything that has happened has affected her deeply. I can tell she’s truly scared. My other sister, the doctor, is approaching this like the doctor she is, meaning that she knows the facts better than we do, and she knows the outlook is grim, but she’s doing her part all the same. My youngest sister is probably the most affected, because she lives with my mother and is doing everything in her power to change my mother’s lifestyle into a healthier one, so if it doesn’t work I know she’ll be crushed. That, added to the fact that she is probably the closest to her.

Me? Hmmm. I haven’t really changed anything in my behavior or attitude. I’ve become weary of the manipulation, the phone calls every single day and the pleads for closeness, so although I hate that this is happening, I haven’t felt the need to come closer or reconcile or even mend our relationship.  I’ve come to terms with this.

I’ve been told repeatedly that I’ll regret this. But as I said, I came to terms with my relationship with my mother a long time ago. It’s far from perfect, but I’ve overcome the resentment, the anger and the disappointment I felt when I was younger and have settled for a cordial relationship. And I’m ok with it. She’s my mother and I love her and now that I’m a mother myself I know how hard it can be and I’m sure she did her best. But that is it.

Funny though, I never thought of myself as a selfish person, and yet all I can think about is how I’ll be affected if my mother dies. It kills me that my daughter won’t be able to enjoy her grandma for as long as she should have. It saddens me that my mother sacrificed so much for her own mother and that when she finally had the chance to do what she wanted she got diagnosed with cancer. That she had to put up with so much in her life already and not feel as appreciated as she thinks she should be.

I’m not a religious person, but I do have faith that my mother’s condition will improve. I refuse to believe that a person who has been deprived of living her own life for so long on account of others will now be deprived of it on account of cancer. Life’s not fair, I’m well aware of that, but that would be just plain horrific and would change our take on life radically. For the worse. Living with the knowledge that hope is useless would just make everyday a little more difficult.

All wake-up calls are harsh and abrupt, especially when they are received close to home. I’m taking this as a reminder not to let life get in the way of living it. To realize that it’s ok to strive for improvement while still appreciating the life I have. To leave my stuff in order so that no one will have to make any decision for me and my daughter will have everything she’ll ever need in my absence. To definitely take better care of myself and my family.



  • None
  • Carrie Rubin: I don't always remember names well, but I remember circumstances. I especially remembered yours because it's such a rare cancer, and you were the firs
  • iamtheinvisiblehand: Thank you for your kind words, but also thank you for remembering it was me....it's amazing that you'd remember this considering the endless stream of
  • Carrie Rubin: I am so sorry to hear about your mother. After you commented on my blog yesterday, I remembered that your mother was the one who had cholangiocarcinom

Categories