My first try at sharing my thoughts with the world wide web.
“The Unknown” — ford.
It’s taken me ten months to finally open up about the struggle of adjusting to a life where the woman who gave me life is no longer here.
A year ago today, on Monday, October 9th, 2017, I was in the ICU at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Carson, CA, trying to find a way to communicate with my mom through sound and touch. She was in a medically-induced coma following an emergency surgery the day before to remove a tumor the size of your palm from the left hemisphere of her brain.
Look at your hand. Isolate your palm. That’s the size of the tumor attached to the dura (lining that protects the brain) in my mom’s head. This small detail that it’s attached to the dura and not the brain, gave my family hope. Hope that she might be able to recover with minimal damage to the brain and live the life she wanted to live. Just a few weeks ago she had a thoracic x-ray done that showed only tiny tumors left from her metastatic breast cancer diagnosis from June 2016. We all had hope she was going to be the miracle case that doctors would talk about when telling their patients about survival rates after being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. She wanted to beat it so badly.
But at this point in time, we’ve been holding on to this word for almost a year and a half. This word hope. We’ve been attached to this word hope, thinking that it would make things better and help us deal with the tragedy in front of us. My mom was dying and the word hope didn’t give me comfort–instead it made my angry. It made me feel like I was living in a false reality where every good person lives to tell the tale of how they survived cancer. But I am a realist. I knew the chances, the risks, the hard future ahead no matter the outcome. After October 9, 2017, I didn’t use that word anymore to describe how I envisioned the future state of my mother and my family.
It got really dark after I left that ICU a year ago today.
I was scheduled to return Seattle on Wednesday, October 10th after taking an emergency flight to LA after hearing about my mom’s life-threatening condition.
Just two days before, on Sunday, October 8th, 2017, I was on a beautiful hike in the North Cascades with on my good friend from high school and her girlfriend. The day before the hike, on October 7th, I was told of the nasty tumor that invaded my mom’s head. Her condition was quickly deteriorating…we didn’t know how much time she had before the tumor in her head would kill her so she was scheduled for surgery on that Tuesday.
It was supposed to be on Tuesday, October 10th that she’d have the surgery to remove the nasty tumor. Instead, it was on Tuesday that I left the room that housed my mother and 5-6 other ICU patients fighting for their lives.
The scene I left behind was my dad trying to talk to my mom, telling her how strong she is, how she’s going to get through this, and how much my dad needs her to fight. It was her second time with cancer and the second time they were going through this together…they can get through anything. They’ve been together since they were 18. My mom just celebrated her 50th birthday that January 2017.
My mom was intubated, eyes swollen shut, head wrapped in inches of cotton and cloth to reduce the swelling of her brain. I took a photo if this heartbreaking scene and as much as I want to share this powerful image with you, I will keep it private so as to respect the intimacy between my mom and dad.
Around 8pm, just an hour before I left the ICU for the night (they were closed to visitors at 9pm), my mom communicated with me. I was with my Tita (aunt and godmother), my mom’s sister-in-law, when she communicated with me. I was talking to her telling her “Mom, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand or wiggle your toes for me.” I repeated this many times, waiting for the moment where her sedatives and pain medication would wear off just enough for her to regain consciousness and hear my voice.
For over 24 hours after the surgery she lay motionless, but on this night, she was moving so we knew she was aware and her brain was still functioning.
I repeated the task I gave her. “Mom, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand or wiggle your toes for me.”
For a year and a half, my immediate and extended family sacrificed everything to take of my mom. I sacrificed the summer I graduated from college to be her caregiver when I was supposed to travel through Asia for 6 weeks as a graduation present for myself and from my parents.
When I left to go back to Seattle, my Ninang (godmother), her older sister, stayed in LA to take care of her.
My Ninong (godfather), her older brother, would drive my mom to her countless appointments and chauffeur my little 17-year old brother to his extracurricular activities to relieve my Ninang.
My Tita would come over to give her shots before blood tests so she can be healthy enough for another infusion. My mom had infusions every three weeks since she was diagnosed up until the discovery of the brain tumor.
My dad was the sole provider, working 12 hour days, almost 7 days a week to provide for my mom and brother and keep a roof over their heads.
This was a night we gathered around her to make sure that she knows she is not alone. That we are there for her, no matter what. We were all a team, rooting for Levy.
My mom was fierce, but when she was weak, she would turn to me for strength and support. I was her best friend and though it took me awhile to accept this, she was mine. I had always been a daddy’s girl but my mom needed me and I needed her to be here for me to guide me through life.
Everyday, we’d say good morning and we’d say goodnight. She’d talk to me about her pain. I would tell her to keep moving and take her meds. She’d talk to me about her sadness. I would tell her that she has lots to look forward to like me getting married and my brother graduating from high school. She’d talk to me about her dreams. I would tell her to keep on fighting because she’s freaking superwoman and the world needs people like her. She’d talk to be about her fears. I would tell her that at the end, I’ll be there to make sure everything will be okay. She made me promise. I always promised and I intend to keep them. For her.
“Mom, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand or wiggle your toes for me.”
She moved her toes. My GOODNESS! Yes! She moved her toes! She can hear me! She knows that I am here! She’s conscious and she can understand my command!
“Do it again,” I told her. She did. Gosh, I was so proud of her. DAS MY MOMMA!
I started to tear up from the overwhelming relief. Then I stopped myself from forming actual tears, knowing that showing weakness in front of her was something she didn’t want to see from me. I needed to be strong for her. For my dad. For my brother. I need to keep it together.
Knowing that she could hear me, I knew that I could leave for Seattle and come back and she would be fine. At least for another week, maybe two. She’s alive and conscious and as long as she continues her recovery, she will be okay.
I wasn’t ready yet for her to be gone. She wasn’t ready yet to leave. Not today you aren’t, Momma!! You keep fighting.
I arrived back in my family home and prepared for my early 6am flight the next day. I booked my flight to come back to LA to visit her in two weeks. Then, I finally went to sleep. I woke up at 4am on Wednesday, October 11th, flew back to Seattle and continued on my seemingly great and normal 23-year old life.
Happy Wellness Wednesday!
I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.
This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.
This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.
We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.
Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂
2 thoughts on “Ten months // Oct 2018”
Your momma is smiling down on you from heaven with pride and love, my dear Raelene! Continue to honor her legacy by being the strong amazing woman she raised you to be! I love seeing her strength in you! ❤
I loved every bit you wrote here. Thank you for sharing a part of you, reading through gave me a sense of being with you and sharing the same emotions with you..love you our dear Rae. You got lots of Mommas! here rooting for you😘