I attended my mother while she was dying of cancer
, lung cancer
to be exact. She had the dubious honor of dying in the year more women died of lung cancer than breast cancer
. She lived almost exactly 18 months beyond her diagnosis
, when the life expectancy is less than a year.
She was quite aware it had been "50 years at a pack a day" that was killing her. But after the first month or so, she made her peace--I'm so grateful, otherwise I don't know how I could have continued.
As these things go, I think it was relatively easy for her. We got into the chemotherapy routine. The long, dull existence of going to 'daycare'--that's what they call it--at the clinic. The long wait until it was her turn. Then the drip in the arm.
She had such small veins, that they put in a permanent catheter to avoid the multiple sticks, often the worst part for her.
But the worst, was the time we couldn't get to the drugstore--stupid traffic--in time to get the anti-nausea medicine. It was the most helpless I've ever felt to hear her--she didn't want me to watch--puke her guts out.
She was a strong woman. She held up. I ran around between job, shopping, little else. Medicare provided some home care, visiting nurses and home-makers, and some neighbours helped out, but by the time she went into the hospice I weighed the least I have ever weighed as an adult.
Most of the decisions were made during the early part, when she could make all those necessary herself--besides, how could I make decisions for my mother?
But the horror for me was watching the person I had known all my life fade away. First, she began forgetting little things, like who phoned, and what they said. Our conversations, often long and involved, became shorter and shorter. By the time she entered the hospice, the relief I felt at relinquishing my care-giving, was met by the desolation of her final loss of the ability to speak.
They said her lung cancer had metastasized to her liver, and then micro-tumors had formed in her brain.
Though in the final weeks, it was pleasant just to sit with her, make tea.
The last 48 were unbearable. She had long lapsed into silence. My brother was there, but we had long since broken over the whole thing--so that was no help.
She was in a comatose state, helped by the sedative they gave her to ease the situation. It just went on and on and on. I took breaks for food, or just to go outside. But I didn't want to go home. It was obviously near the end--and I had received the call before, and I wanted to be there when it happened.
And the sound. Only her lungs were wrong. Everything else worked too well. They sounded like a screeching door. On and on and on it went until...the nurses asked us to leave, while they freshened her up. I am convinced she knew we were out of the room. She was a dignified woman, and wanted us not to suffer that last moment. When we returned--we were just outside the room--she was dead.
I do not regret anything I did during that time. I am glad I had the opportunity to return the care she gave me.
But I will never become involved with a woman who smokes. I will not go through this again.
My mother died seven years ago this month.