Selfless (adj.) –
Concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own; unselfish.‘an act of selfless devotion’
“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors” – Tia Walker, author
When I got the phone call that Tuesday night, I was already nervous. I knew to expect a phone call from my mom because my parents had more news about her cancer diagnosis. Just the day before we were informed that she had Stage IV Breast Cancer.
What we knew so far in the past three weeks of doctor appointments:
- They found a mass on her breast. (3rd week of May 2016)
- The mass is cancerous. (4th week of May)
- She has cancer of the breast. (May 30th)
- It’s Stage IV Breast Cancer (May 31st)
We had follow-up questions:
- How bad was it?
- She’s in so much pain she can’t even sit up or stand. Has it spread? She was just walking last week.
- How aggressive was this cancer?
- How much time did she have?
- What can we do?
I answered the call. On the other line was my mom. She asked how Fil Grad was going. I said Rachel and John are coming. I was straight to the point. I asked her what they found out.
“It’s everywhere, Anak. I am so sorry.” – Momma
“What do you mean everywhere?” – Me
Sobbing, pain, moaning in the background. No response.
“What does this mean?” I asked differently.
Things started to get hazy for me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and sat down on the side of the Hall while the dinner was continuing on.
I think my dad was the one who told me and answered my questions.
This is what I learned:
- The cancer has metastasized. It has spread to other parts of the body.
- Aside from her breast, it spread to these areas:
- Her ribs
- Her lungs
- Her pelvis
- Her hips
- Her T7-T9 spine
- Basically her entire thoracic cavity.
F**K. It’s no wonder she can’t walk and she’s in agonizing pain.
After speaking with my Tita who was a nurse and from that point forward our medical translator, I made the decision to hold off on my Asia Adventure, turn down my post-grad job offer and instead spend that time home in LA, taking care of my mom.
I made the phone calls to Hong Kong and the Philippines to let my relatives know why I can no longer come.
My mom’s wishes were to keep this private and to pray for her. So they did. Thank you for supporting our family and respecting our privacy during that time. You know who you are. 🙂
That summer 2016 was grueling. It was so traumatizing and de-moralizing that I can barely remember what I did and what my mom went through. All I know is that we did it, with my family’s help and with the supportive of our close-knit community. You know who you are. Thank you so much for being there for her and for us. 🙂
I took care of my mom. I fulfilled my duties as a daughter and it had come full circle. After two months of non-stop chemo and 10 rounds of radiation, my mom was still alive thanks to modern medicine and those who cared for her—Her “angels” as she would call them.
The memories I do have are both painful and beautiful.
Growing up, I would visit family friends who owned care homes and I had an idea of what this would be like but never imagined that I would be doing what the caregivers did at age 22. I imagined I’d be doing it at 60! But I made the choice to be there for my mom.
I wiped her butt. I cleaned up her messes. I gave her baths. I fed her. I administered her medication. I would clean up the messes she’d make in public bathrooms. I kept her distracted. I told her it’s okay. I told her it’s just a little mess and wipes will clean it up.
I drove her to doctor’s appointments. I memorized the perfect routine to the different medical destinations so that we can drive with the smoothest roads and the least amount of potholes and bumps. I learned to be patient and drive at 30 mph when the limit was 45 mph so there was less of a chance for painful, abrupt stops.
I helped her get up from bed even though she would be screaming from the pain with every degree she gained as her tumor-filled body lifted from the mattress. I learned to drown that sound so I could concentrate on carefully lifting her with minimal pain. I asked the radiation nurses on what their techniques were for patients like my mom and on what medical products we should buy to ease the pressure on her broken spine.
With the help of my Ninang, we prepared meals that were healthy and were advised for cancer patients. She needed food high in iron because she was anemic. She needed protein because she could barely keep her food in even though she was hungry. She missed tasty Filipino food but I told her no. She can’t have it, but she loved me for being a hard ass.
There were good times too, though. I made her laugh. I gave her kisses. I told her she could do this. I made her believe that she’s a warrior–that she had dignity and purpose. I told her stories. I held her hand. She had hope.
In her better times, she’d allow others to visit her so long as they promised not to cry, not to wear perfume, and didn’t bring fragrant flowers. Eventually her best friends were notified of her condition and they even flew out to visit her. I learned what it meant to be best friends during those times I’d watch my mother spend time with her friends.
When she was able to get up from bed again, my brother and I took her for a short drive to a parking lot by the ocean. She wanted to smell fresh air but knew the beach was too far of a drive. As we sat in the car with the windows rolled down, we just sat there quietly as our mother closed her eyes and smelled the scenery around her.
My Ninang and I would switch shifts at night when I would sleep or she would sleep and someone would be near her door to answer when the bell rang so we knew she needed help so my dad can try to sleep. He always wanted to sleep next to my mom even though they could only hold hands and my mom was moaning in pain 70% of the time. My Ninang and I gave them that space. My dad would come home tired from work after being in the road for 12 hours and it gave my mom joy to be reunited with him after a hard day.
Almost everyday was a hard day.
Before bed, my mom would listen to a prayer series on her phone until she fell asleep. She looked to God for guidance and strength when she didn’t have any and it worked for her. People would come over and pray over her and she felt moved. So thank you to those who did that for her. You know who you are 🙂
When I woke up from my 6am alarm, I’d be lucky to have gotten 5-6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. My mom was in pain and she had so much fear for the future because of it. But damn that woman is strong and she got better, even for a little.
But honestly most of the time I was in LA, I was a freaking robot. It’s taken me two years to even begin remembering what transpired that summer. It was instinct and devotion that gave me the ability to care for my mom and stay sane.
There was one distinct beautiful memory I take with me whenever I think of my mom’s love and when I ask myself if I did enough after she died.
Around July 2016, after 10 rounds of back-to-back radiation and a few weeks of chemo, my mom was able to stand again and she was strong enough to hold herself up for a bath.
When I gave my mom a bath, a real bath in the shower and not with wet towels and wipes, she was so reinvigorated and happy. Her “ahhhhhs” and “ooohhhhs” made me laugh and she was in pure bliss. “I feel like I’m in a spa. Thank you, Anak!” She said.
As I helped her out of the shower and began to dry her fragile body, I was thinking “Wow, I can’t believe this is happening.”
I just gave my 50 year old mother a bath.
I avoided eye contact with her while drying her so I wouldn’t show emotion during this pivotal moment in our relationship. But I eventually made eye contact with her, seeing her gratitude while gently wiping her face dry with a towel.
She said, “Thank you Anak for taking care of me. I used to give you baths and now you’re giving me a bath. I didn’t want this to happen so soon when you’re so young.”
I replied, “Of course Momma. I’m your daughter, it’s my job to take care of you because you took care of me.” That’s all I could say back before I knew I would start to show emotion behind my eyes–something I kept from her to be strong for her.
She recognized my pain and my sacrifice and I am forever thankful for that.
Because of that moment I have no regrets on how things transpired with my mom and it gave me the strength to continue on for another year and half until I saw her very last breath and knew I couldn’t do anything more for her.
But that story is for later. I wanted to end with this memory.
This beautiful memory of parent and child. Hug your kids and tell your parents you love them.
Thank you Momma, for giving me the honor of caring for you. It’s the least I can do in return for raising and caring for me. Miss you everyday!
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 🙂