I discovered a few days ago a truth which I had long suspected but feared to verify: I'm not ready for this.
0700 telephone call; my mom is in the hospital, trouble breathing, not much else known. I was asked not to travel yet since they didn't know what hospital she would be in. She lives in a lightly-populated state, and her regional health care center wanted to transfer her to her primary care facility - the 'big hospital' across the state where her records and current physicians are.
"She was having trouble breathing. She's got fluid in her chest, and they're going to drain it. That's all we know."
I went through the day in denial.
When I couldn't find either of them at home or at the number I'd been given, I called her main hospital, but they didn't have a record of her. I decided to wait.
Later, I got a call from her directly. "Your father's gone to the motel. He needed to sleep. I'm at <the big hospital>. They finished testing the fluid. They found-" her voice cracked into a sob, which is not ever supposed to happen to her but she recovered - "they found cells that match the cancer I had removed a couple of years ago. Which means it's probably in my lung."
It was 2200 at that point; and I was a good 225 miles from the hospital. "Okay Mom. Hold on. I'm getting in the car now."
Departed 2245 after garaging the convertible in case of rain, getting home, packing; arrived at 0130 having managed to receive only one admonitory flash of high-beams from a parked Statie.
She was already starting into suppressive denial. I'd missed the window of real emotion. But that wasn't why I was there.
It's several days later now. They've done CT scans, and found a lesion on her right lung. They're testing it to make sure it's the same cancer from before rather than a primary lung cancer, which would mandate fairly different treatment. I'm not sure how to feel. The lung cancers are worse, but the recurrence of the UTCA has a fairly low response rate to chemotherapy and is in a place that makes surgical intervention difficult - whereas the lung cancers likely could be removed from this spot, I'm told. I don't know why. I presume it involves how deep in the tissue they're likely to have rooted. Of course, that would mean a whole new cancer.
So I'm back home for a couple of days to deal with obligations I backstacked. When they let her go home (which they likely will in a day or two, since she's not in any pain and draining the fluid perked her right up) I'll go back to be with her at home. She's got her five cats, my dad, and a coterie of friends in the village to back her up until then; she's declared that she's "of a mind to fight this" and started researching oncology centers and protocols. While part of me is admiring her and applauding, part of me is silently railing at her for walling off the emotional response to the situation which, I feel, the family desperately is going to need to experience all around in order for the whole thing to become real quickly enough for us to be able to support her.
But it's her life, and this is how she's handling it. I don't know what to do. Maybe I only want that for my own reasons, and that's not good enough.
One thing is for sure. I'm not ready. Can you ever be?