A Letter to my Grandmother

June 1, 2009
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Dear Grandma,

She has cancer.

It’s weird to write that down. My mother has cancer. She found out last week, but couldn’t bring herself to tell my brothers and me until today. On Tuesday, I found out my mother has bone cancer. I knew it was bad news when my father called my brothers and me down to our formal living room. I knew it was bad news when I saw that the box of tissues had been conspicuously relocated to the coffee table in front of the couch. I knew it was bad news when my father prefaced his speech by saying, “Your mother’s going to be okay.”
On Tuesday, I found out my mother has cancer. On Wednesday, the phone calls began. We have received dozens of phone calls from our relatives. Every time the phone rings, it’s someone on the other end spewing sugary words of encouragement, imploring my family to keep going, promising that everything’s going to be all right. My mother doesn’t answer the phone anymore. Ever since she told her sister, who told everyone else, she pretends that the phone does not exist, because that’s easier than pretending the cancer does not exist. The phone rings, and she sits there and stares. My mother has cancer and she won’t pick up the phone to hear the feeble attempts at cheer and optimism of family members and friends who have resolved to be strong for us in our time of need. My mother has cancer, so I answer the phone for her and pretend that my relatives are right; everything is going to be all right.

She looks the same. My mother looks the same as she did last week, before I knew she was cancerous. The tell tale signs of cancer that my doctor drama shows have conditioned me for are missing. There are no sunken eyes in this house, no waxy skin, no frail bodies, and no bones poking out from under a thin layer of crepe-like skin. There are no ghosts in this house, only five fully alive people. This part of cancer is never on TV, that part that consists only of sitting and sighing and breathing and waiting. My mother has cancer and I am waiting for something to look like it does on TV so then I will know how to act. My mother has cancer and I am preparing the lines I have heard said on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House” because I don’t know what else there is for me to do.

I found out today that cancer has a smell. Since the rest of the world found out about the cancer that has taken roost in my mother’s body, flowers have become constant. My mother has cancer and our neighbors think that a vase of tasteful calla lilies will somehow make this more bearable. Someone decided to put all of the calla lilies upstairs in my parent’s bedroom where my mother has taken up permanent residence. I am afraid to go upstairs because the whole upper level smells like calla lilies. The whole upstairs smells like cancer.

The air has changed in our house. Everyone holds their breath, tip toes around, trying their best to be as silent as possible. As if being quiet will make the cancer go away, as if it can hear every sound we make. My older brother has adopted the cancer vow of silence, like a monk praying for nirvana. He stands in my doorway at night, while I lay in bed reading cancer-free books. He stares and stares at me, until I invite him onto my bed and read to him excerpts of my book. My older brother does not speak, but sits on the flowered comforter that seems to joyful for our now cancerous lives. We listen earnestly to the gentle drones of the radio, allowing it to fill up the space between us. No words can be formed from this diagnosis. My mother has cancer and my brother is quiet.

My younger brother does not understand. The word “cancer” deflects off his shield of innocence and he continues watching cartoons as if this was last week, the week before we knew my mother had cancer. For him, my mother’s cancer means sugary cereals for dinner, and as many cookies as he wants. Cancer means jumping on the bed and not brushing his teeth because no one can tell the child whose mother has cancer to do anything. My mother has cancer and my little brother thinks this is vacation.
The normal activities of my family members have been replaced by one common activity: eating. As the cancer that grows in my mother’s bone eats her alive, my family eats the endless procession of baked goods, casseroles, soups, sandwich trays, and any other thoughtfully tasty items my neighbors have deemed appropriate for a family stricken my cancer, confusing our cancer-ridden silences for hunger. Someone took it upon themselves to create a schedule of meals to be delivered to my house, and I suddenly feel like a first grader being doled out pre-made meals with stunning regularity and precision. Except someone gave us meat loaf. My mother has cancer and no one else knows that I don’t like meat loaf.
My mother has cancer, and the sun still rises. My mother has cancer and the cars filled with people still race past our house on their way to work in the morning, and on their way home in the evening, like clockwork. My mother has cancer and the clock still has the audacity to tick and keep track of every moment that my mother has cancer. My mother has cancer and the world continues even though mine seems to have frozen over in this winter of cancer.
My mother has cancer.


Love,


Jane





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YoItsLauren! said...
Jun. 24, 2009 at 1:16 am
wow, this is amazing writting filled with emotion and feeling.
im so sorry about your mom, my family is also going through the same thing because she is fighting breast cancer.
just keep your head up and express yourself through writting.
(:
 
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