This is my recollection of events that changed my family’s life.
It was in the fall of 2007 and my mom had been sick for months. Though, every time she was questioned about it, she always had a self-diagnosis ready. My dad had torn his rotator-cuff and needed surgery in Laramie, 200 miles to the east. I had just started a new job and wasn’t comfortable enough requesting time off which meant mom had to take him. I knew she wasn’t physically well but she insisted on being his driver. I prayed the whole time they were gone that they would have a safe trip.
A month or so later, my dad went for a walk. His arm was still in a sling from his surgery, but it was a brisk day. Those kinds of days summon my father for walks. While he was walking, he slipped on ice and because his balance was off with his arm in a sling, he fell on his opposite shoulder. He tore his other rotator-cuff and would need surgery as soon as his first shoulder healed.
Meanwhile, my mother became sicker and sicker. She refused to see a doctor hoping the focus would stay on dad’s well-being first. After he was taken care of she would go see a doctor. By Christmas it was apparent she was not going to get better on her own. Still she refused to go to a doctor. The week between Christmas and New Year’s was a tough one for me. I was the closest child geographically and I knew mom wasn’t well. Many times at work, I would break down and cry and would have to hide out in the restroom until my red splotchy face could clear up.
Dad’s second surgery was scheduled for the middle of January. Finally, the week before his surgery, I convinced mom to go to the doctor. He asked her what was wrong, and she told him she had a sinus infection. The doctor prescribed antibiotics and that was that. The trouble was, mom got worse, not better.
The week of dad’s second surgery, I had come down with a miserable cold. The only thing I wanted to do was to stay in bed and sleep. However, I was dad’s designated driver. Dad, being the trooper that he is, and not wanting to inconvenience anyone, offered to drive himself to Laramie and back. He even practiced driving with one hand. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work. I was going to have to drive him. I prayed that somebody would offer to take dad so that I wouldn’t have to go. By this time, mom looked awful and I was nervous to leave her by herself. I knew that if we left her as she was, I may not have a mother to come home to.
Finally, on the morning of dad’s surgery, we convinced mom to go back to the doctor. She wasn’t happy about it. As I helped her put on her shoes, I noticed her feet were round balls and I was surprised she could walk on them. I went in to work for a few hours and dad took mom to the doctor’s office. The doctor admitted her to the hospital thinking she might have pneumonia. I picked dad up and we were on our way to Laramie. Of course, dad had to drive because I felt miserable and I could barely keep my eyes open.
Just outside of Laramie, my brother, RH, called. He wanted us to pull over so that he could explain the situation. Dad wanted to know immediately, so RH proceeded to tell us. Mom didn’t have pneumonia. She had leukemia. Leukemia? Quickly I processed my mind’s database of what I knew about it. Which was not much. I knew it was serious. I knew it was not good. I knew it was deadly. Mom can’t have Leukemia, that doesn’t happen in our family, we’re all healthy. I wanted him to take back the words, or to say that there had been some kind of mistake. But we settled uneasily into a new truth and a new reality.
Mom was going to be taken by ambulance to Salt Lake (187 miles west of Rock Springs) that very night. RH advised us to go ahead with dad’s surgery since we were already in Laramie. Dad pragmatically agreed. His surgery was set for early the next morning. So we checked into the hotel and I spent the longest night of my life wide awake. Sleep wouldn’t come. After tossing and turning until early morning, I got up and went into the bathroom. I said a prayer for two things. One, I hated the fact that mom was going to have to travel alone to Utah. I asked that someone would hold her hand so that she wouldn’t be frightened or lonely. I’ve never asked her if this occurred. And two, I asked that the roads would be clear and dry so that I wouldn’t have to contend with wintry roads to get us home. The answer to that prayer was a bona-fide miracle considering the fact it was the middle of January and we had to travel around Elk Mountain.
Dad had his surgery and we made it home the next afternoon. He stayed the night in Rock Springs and then RH took him to Utah so that dad could be where he wanted to be, with his wife.
Mom was in the University of Utah’s ICU for over a week and then transferred to the Huntsman Center. She got to come home at the end of January. Her actual diagnosis is Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) which means it’s not curable but it can be controlled. It is part of her make-up now. Cancer is a thief that stole her good health and altered her life and by extension our family dynamic. But don’t think that I’m complaining because I’m not. I realize how fortunate we’ve been for the last three years. It’s just that things happen in life and how we process the events determines our overall well-being. Being able to write about it is my way to process the events, organize my thoughts, and hopefully come to some acceptance of this new road. It also helps me remember there is no discriminatory selection in trials, things just happen.