On the day of my mastectomy, my mom and I arrived at the hospital at 7am at the University of Washington hospital, and I wasn’t taken back for surgery until probably after noon. Let me just say that the anxiety was building all morning. To keep me calm, my mom gave me a box given to her from her friends which included handwritten notes from women at my parents’ church back home. Some of these women I know, and some I don’t. But I really appreciated that my mom’s friends, who I consider to be my friends as well, would do such a kind thing for me. This helped pass the time and I felt so blessed that so many people took the time to write notes to me. One note in particular stood out, quoting Friedrich Nietzsche, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Cancer has changed HOW I live my life, but my WHY will always be love. Love for my family. Love for my friends. Love for my Savior. And to share that love with others. That is my why.
While I was in surgery, my mom sat in the waiting room, and whipped out this TREASURE with pen and paper:
FALL LEAVES FROM A HOSPITAL WINDOW
Crimson and gold with browning edges,
Some clinging to a touch of green left over from the
Spring and summer of their lives.
Some brilliant in their last display before falling to the earth,
Some torn and disfigured by ill winds from which they refused to succumb.
Bare branches tell of those who fell long before their time
I am like these leaves – perhaps a crimson one.
Although I love gold, it was never my color.
I am so grateful I have been allowed to stay on the tree this long,
To enjoy the spring and summer.
You can tell which one I am,
With my crumpled, jagged edges and brown scars,
All of which I am quite proud of, because they tell of my surviving;
Of weathering a particular storm of life.
I see you as becoming the gold leaf,
It is a good color for you.
You are now a new spring green, with the rest of spring and summer to come.
You are experiencing a few storms, but you WILL successfully
Cling to life’s tree and become golden and a little crumpled with age.
I feel sorry for those leaves who are still brightly colored.
In their garish display they actually seem dull and uninteresting.
Where are the struggles?
The depth of character formed through surviving life’s challenges?
It is as if they have no story.
Life is all about having great stories to tell.
In your young life you already have great stories.
Write them down so you will not forget the details.
And when you are a beautiful golden fall leaf
You can tell them to your grandchildren
November 13, 2013
Last week, I asked her to describe the why of this poem, and here is what she said:
“I was in the hospital waiting room and they had just taken you in to have your cancerous breast removed. I was suddenly overcome with emotion thinking about all the agony and pain you had endured since being diagnosed with cancer a few months prior and I burst into tears, shaking and sobbing. When I composed myself, I looked out the window at the vibrant display of fall leaves and thought about how beautiful life is and how blessed I was to be able to help you through one of its trials. I continue to learn so many things from you concerning love, patience, gratitude, endurance, sacrifice and cherishing each moment.”
Does anyone see the irony in that last sentence?? If you know my mom, you do. My mom is the QUEEN of all of those things. ARE YOU KIDDING ME, MOM??!! I could write a book about my mom’s life and the underlining themes would be those exact things: love, patience, gratitude, endurance, sacrifice, and cherishing each moment. My mom has done nothing BUT patiently endured and sacrificed with love.
My mom contracted polio at age two and spent about two years in a hospital. Polio destroyed the nerves in her right leg muscles. Doctors stunted the growth in her left leg to keep her legs closer in length (she should actually be at least 3 inches taller). She can only slightly push her toes down. She has NEVER been able to run and play sports like the rest of us (she assures me she would’ve been a great basketball player. No doubt, she will be ballin’ in heaven. And I can be the one in the stands cheering HER on.) She wore leg braces, like Forrest Gump, as a child. But unfortunately, she didn’t experience the same miracle of running out of them as Forrest did. They fused her ankle when she was 13 and only then did she not have to wear braces anymore. She has endured pain her whole life. Additionally, post polio kicked in about 10 years ago causing a drastic increase in pain. I believe there is not a minute in the day she doesn’t experience severe pain, but she will never admit it. That is my mom. She endures. And she sacrifices, patiently and lovingly.
When Fletcher was a few weeks old, I came down with pneumonia. At the time, the kids and I lived with my parents in California while I finished chemo and radiation. I spent the nights awake off and on feeding Fletcher to… you know, keep him alive. But then my body couldn’t handle it any longer. I spent a few days in the hospital with a fever, delirious and sick with pneumonia. When I was coherent in my hospital bed, I felt so guilty that my mother, the one who already endures so much pain, was taking care of my kids all day and then staying up all night with my baby. When I was finally sent home, the doctors suggested that I no longer take care of Fletch during the night. My mom demanded that she take over. So my almost 70 year old mother is the one who nurtured my son the first few months of his life. She made bottles and changed diapers while the rest of the world was sleeping. That is my mom. The selfless one who sacrificed sleep and endured that trial with love.
Now, we are living together again. In Utah. The one place in which I could never imagine my parents living. But once again, my mom, and dad, sacrifice. My parents lived in Southern California for 27 years. Before that, they spent 20+ years in Washington, D.C. My dad is a Californian at heart. My mom is a lover of the east coast. The seasons. The fall leaves. The traditions. The rich history. The people. She is truly an easterner at heart. Just today on the phone, she went on and on about how much she loves it on the east coast. (She is currently visiting my brother in Raleigh, North Carolina). I’m not gonna lie, this makes me feel guilty. I know she wants to be on the east coast. I know my dad wants to be in Southern California. But yet, they are here in cold Utah, withstanding the snowstorms and non-diverse culture. All because of me. They sold their house and left their friends in California to help me. Because I have metastatic cancer. Which means that someday cancer will take me. And they are lightening this burden. They are helping me cope by assisting with my children. They are sacrificing their time to allow Preston and I to spend more time together. They are helping us in so many ways. They are sacrificing everything to be here, when I know their hearts are somewhere else. Just another example of how my mom has always lived her life for other people.
Now, back to that treasure of a poem my mom wrote. I have so much to say about it. But I just wanted to point out a few things. First off, my mom has weathered and survived so many storms in life. I want to be like my mom. I have a LONG way to go (I mean, she is 33 years older than me… jk mom 😉 But seriously, she is that much older than me). Second, I am so grateful for my struggles. They teach me. They give me patience. They help me become more like my mom. Lastly, my mom has always inspired me to go on adventures. Because the reward is a good story. I want to live a more adventurous life. And I can’t wait to tell my grandkids about it.