Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hangin' on for the ride

It's been a little while since I've written about my mom. We actually had great news two weeks ago that the second type of chemo agent is working. Her latest CAT scan showed that the tumors are shrinking and the tumor markers in her blood are coming down dramatically.

I was there with my folks when the oncology folks delivered the results. We all but jumped for joy, even the oncologist and the nurse practitioner. I had recently made reservations to celebrate mom's 80th birthday with just her immediate family (as she requested) on Feb. 5th at her favorite restaurant. So now, it will be quite the celebration.

The fact that she even made it to the holidays was a huge gift. Not many people with Stage IV pancreatic cancer live very long after they're diagnosed. She received her diagnosis in August and we were prepared to have just a couple of months left with her.

She says she doesn't "have an ache or a pain", as she puts it. And, when asked how she feels, she says everything is "hunky dory." My mom has always been an amazingly positive woman.

I remember a particularly miserable and long winter years ago when we had record snow in MA. She called me one day in March when I was in a funk and said, "Haven't you noticed that the sun is out longer?" I replied, "Well, ma, I would if I could see over the snow banks!" It was then that I told her she was a "terminal optimist." The glass is half full? No. To her, the glass is overflowing.

There are many times in my life where seeing a half-full glass is hard. By nature, I guess, I'm a realist. But, at the same time, I am also an optimist. I do think it's possible to be both.

I think mom is a realist too. And, even though the words aren't spoken, we both know that this is a reprieve, not a cure. Can people go into spontaneous remission? Sure. Does it happen often? No.

The chemo is doing its job on the cancer, but that doesn't mean she is home free. The chemo creates other conditions that the doctors are, at the moment, treating with supplements but those conditions can become serious. So, we monitor.

Because I'm an optimistic realist, I approach all of this with a sense of hope tinged with caution. Mom's attitude remains upbeat. I can't imagine a time when her outlook will change and I truly think that attitude makes a difference in your physical health.

So, for now, we all hang on to the rollercoaster called "cancer".

When I talked to my dad privately after the CAT scan results were delivered, he said, "But it just means more time." I told him that time is all any of us can ever hope for.

Today is a good day. And today is all we have. Frankly, I wouldn't want it any other way.

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