She whips down the narrow mountainside trail, pumping the hand brake, twisting around corners with precision and grace. At the base, she dismounts from the mud-specked mountain bike, her toned muscles rippling, sweat streaming over her popped-out veins, and an exhilarated smile on her face.
Meet my mom as she was four years ago. Physically impervious. Mentally determined. She ruled courtrooms as a lawyer, trails as a biker, roads as a traveler, classrooms as a teacher. Able to speak three languages and navigate any situation, there was nothing she couldn’t do. In my mind, she was a superhero. And then my every perception of her was challenged.
Late in the summer of 2013, I went somewhere I hadn’t been in 16 years. The hospital. I was going to visit my mom.
This was the oncology wing, where the nurses glanced at me with pitying smiles and sad puppy-dog eyes. One directed me to my mom’s room. I couldn’t bring myself to walk in right away, so I sat on the floor by her door. For a few minutes I felt overwhelmed by nausea. I needed to be strong for her; I couldn’t let her know how scared I was.
Finally I forced myself to go in. I saw, distorted by my tears, the tubes in her nose for oxygen and the IV lines pumping her full of morphine and blood. She looked so small. She had lost even more weight since she’d been put on hospice care earlier in the year. She had pulled through that time, but now she had gone downhill again. Her face was gaunt. Her skin, which had once been beautifully tan, was pale gray. She looked like death.
The cancer had taken over. Only a true miracle could save her now, and I’d pretty much lost faith in miracles. My mom was looking up at me with a smile, but her eyes were full of pain. Never had I seen her so broken.
All I wanted was to wrap my arms around her and cry into her shoulder like when I was little. But when I tried to give her a gentle hug, she cried in pain. I couldn’t comfort her.
It never got easier or any less painful to see my mom this way. She was in the hospital for over a month. She was told she would always need a wheelchair. They didn’t think she would ever get off painkillers. They didn’t think she would live much longer either.
Eventually she was moved to a nursing home. They fed her terrible food, she was surrounded by dying people at least 30 years her senior, and she was in pain. I thought she would be stuck in that horrible place until her death. It was infuriating that I couldn’t take her home, cook her wonderful meals, and talk to her every day.
But somehow she started walking short distances with a walker, and they let her go home. She found a little apartment by my school that suited her perfectly. The doors were wide enough for her wheelchair, and she had a porch where she could sit in the sun. The cancer was there, but she wasn’t dying anymore. She had cheated death a second time.
She has been living in the little blue apartment for months now. We had Thanksgiving there and Christmas too. Just this week we celebrated her 45th birthday. She walked with a cane to greet us, nearly pain-free and off painkillers.
The doctors are astounded by how well she is doing. They say that she’s a miracle. They say she will be healthy again. They say she will live.
After everything that has happened, I’m convinced that she may not be a superhero, but that she is much more. She’s my miracle and my inspiration.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.