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My Hardest Stages
"But there's a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother's story, because hers is where yours began."
— Mitch Albom (For One More Day)
June of 2008 was just the beginning; the inability to drive me to work or where I needed to be, not being able to attend her classes, missing the little negligible things. It was just a sinus infection, a minor post nasal drip. I was constantly reassured that it was nothing whenever I became a little concerned.
It had stretched all the way to August; she was missing out on the first marvelous week of the Jersey Shore, a tradition that was rarely skipped. Still we were told it was nothing, even through the hospital visits, and the nervous stomach aches. She came for my seventeenth birthday, so it of course could not have been that bad.
She was my mother, it couldn’t be serious. Mommy’s are super heroes and they are not allowed to have more than a routine cold. Everything would fall apart without her.
On September 23rd, 2008 my father brought me into the living room and asked me to sit down. My leg began to shake and this immense ball was created in my throat. I wished that I could have swallowed it down and while doing that make what I was about to hear disappear. My father looked up at me with the saddest eyes I had ever seen on his face. He so calmly uttered the most earth shattering, god awful statement some one will ever hear.
“Mommy has cancer.”
My father went on explaining what kind of cancer she had and the treatment that would soon follow. I did not hear a single word he was saying; I was numb to the world. The curtains were closing on the most important person in my life. Everything I had ever known was falling to pieces slowly around me; walls began to close in on the person who meant the most to me in my life. Those tiny grains of sand in her hour glass of life slowly disappeared. She was slipping through my fingers and all I could do was watch.
For months I tried to hide the fact that I was screaming on the inside. I stopped doing everything I enjoyed and I slept all the time. In my dreams my mom didn’t have cancer and the world was once again absolutely perfect.
My father and I were partners through her cancer; it felt as if we had our own shifts. In the mornings I would set her up for the day before school, when I came home from school I took care of her and the house, when my dad came home, he took on the duties. On weekends he would let me sleep in, and through the day we worked as a tag team.
I remember when I was younger; I used to hate waking up early for nursery school. I used to lie in my mom’s bed and she would dress me as I tried to stay asleep. It was a game we played every morning. These days, my mom lies in bed as I tried to put her socks on for her. It was too difficult for her to bend down; she also didn’t have the strength to do it herself.
On occasion my brothers would come home; they would help out a little. My relationship with my brothers had gone bad. I resented them for not having to be there every day to watch their mother go through this awful disease. They were not there to sweep her hair up off the floor. They were not there taking on all of the household responsibilities. But, worst of all, they were not there to help me.
My boyfriend, Brendan, saved me. If he were not by my side everyday last year I would have gone insane. When I needed to get out of the house for a minute he would take me. He did anything I asked of him. My mother used to joke and call him her guardian angel, him and I used to drive her to her doctor’s appointments. He kept me from falling even deeper into a black hole than I already had. He knew whenever I thought of my mother and her disease; he constantly reassured me that everything was going to be okay. He had enough faith, hope, and positivity for the both of us.
October of 2008 I played in the puff bowl. The puff bowl is the Sunday of homecoming weekend. All the senior girls sign up to play against each other in a football game. Each team of girls is coached by a group of senior boys. I had waited four years to play in this game. I was quite the athlete and I was a first round draft pick for the yellow team.
My mother had never missed one of my events, whether it was academic or athletic, she was there front and center. When game day rolled around my boyfriend Brendan drove me. My team was scheduled to play in the first game. I kept looking around, not a single person from my family was there yet. I got a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach
The day progressed, and my team made it to the championship game. Between every game tears would slip out of my eyes and fall down my cheek. I tried my hardest not to let anyone see me cry. The championship game went into overtime. I scored the winning touchdown for my team.
Still no member of my family was there. My mother wasn’t there to share in my moment.
I went home after the games to see my entire family sitting in the living room. No one knew what that day meant to me. Except for my mother, she told me that even if she had to sit in the car the entire time, she would be there. I told her she didn’t have to come, but I didn’t really mean it. I wanted her to be there, I needed her to be there.
I stood there with my boyfriend standing next to me, and blood dripping from my war wounds that day, looking into my mother’s sad little eyes. I knew it hurt her that she wasn’t there. Her body couldn’t handle standing there from 9AM until 1PM in the afternoon.
How could I stay mad at her?
My mom always cooked dinner for us, my brothers and I would help but she was always the head chef. Each of us had our duties and the responsibility of those jobs came with age. My oldest brother, Michael, was always in charge of the stove; next in line, Danny, always got to do the slicing and dicing; I, was allowed to set the table. My mom prepared the entire dinner and over saw us in the kitchen. Even in our adult years we’re still in the kitchen with her, blasting the song “Hey Baby” by Dj Otzi and dancing around like fools. It was terribly strange for her not to be in the kitchen when dinner was being cooked.
That November, my dad was on his way home from work, and my older brothers no longer lived at home. I was cooking dinner for my family. I was trying to manage my homework, cooking dinner, setting the table, and emptying the dishwasher all at once. My mom was lying in her bed upstairs; I could hear her throwing up in the bucket at her bedside. I closed my eyes in hopes of escaping the situation I was in. I was searching for a silence that could never be found, a moment where I wasn’t dealing with all the stresses of finding the right college, taking the SAT’s and taking care of a home. Not to mention, trying to rationalize why my mother was sick, why this had to happen to her. That moment never came.
I prayed to God to make it all stop, to give my mom a second chance and to make her sickness go away. I promised to give up anything and everything to have her be healthy again.
July of 2009 I walked into a child psychologist’s office. I sat down on the couch and uttered “My mom was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma last September, and I can’t deal with it anymore.”
For two months I sat with this psychologist as she helped me make sense of what the past year did to me. We figured out that I had previous issues with cancer, due to the fact that three other women close to me were all diagnosed and had passed away from it. The survival rates of women with cancer in my family were slim to none. I was not by any means prepared to lose my mom. She needed to see me graduate high school and college, she needed to help me put on my wedding dress on my wedding day, and she definitely needed to teach me how to be an amazing mother, so that I could one day follow in her footsteps.
Through out my mother’s disease I had difficulties letting people in and allowing them to help me deal with it. I closed myself off to the world, and I rarely showed my emotions. My therapist helped me break through the wall I had put up. For two months we worked on letting out all the bottled up emotions. She tried to get me to cry in her office ever session, I never allowed myself to. After one of our very last sessions, I came home ran up the stairs went into my room and looked at a picture of my mother and I. It was at an award ceremony of mine. My mom was holding up my award. We both had the biggest smiles on our faces. She had been in remission for two months. I stared at that picture of my mom and I, her head was covered in peach fuzz. I started hysterically crying. Everything I held in came rushing out like a tidal wave. I finally reached the goal I had been fighting for.
In August of 2009 I was at the Jersey Shore for our annual summer trip. I was standing at the shoreline with my toes in the sand as the ocean touched my feet. My eighteenth birthday is the next day. A voice next to me says, “This is one of the best beach days I’ve seen in a while.” This voice is my mother’s. We’re standing next to each other silently enjoying the fact that she’s there with me and that she’s healthy. I replied, “Yeah, it’s kind of beautiful.”