Mom’s Lessons


Cancer is nasty. It is an insidious, life-sucking, mentally challenging and exhausting disease that tests a family in ways they never dreamed possible. It tires you, and angers you, frightens you and saddens you.

How do I know this? Our family was recently blind-sided by a diagnosis that will take our mother from us far too soon. A woman who bowled weekly, golfed often, volunteered regularly, met with her friends, completed crossword puzzles and Sudoku challenges daily, walked outside or on her treadmill and never failed to cheer on her Jets, was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 glioblastoma (GBM), a very aggressive form of brain cancer.

How blindsided were we? On December 25th, she was up giggling and partying with her grandchildren, sipping on a beer while they threw jokes back and forth and kept the rest of us up until the wee hours of the morning. Their laughter was ringing through the house, and she was loving every minute of it. One week later, she was not able to walk without assistance, and one week after that, we are transporting her from bed to chair with a wheelchair. This vibrant woman has been given a life sentence of two months to a year, but as she has opted out of radiation therapy, a decision that we have to respect, the likelihood is that we will have less time than more. So, yes, I despise this disease.

The upside is that Mom is handling this diagnosis with her usual dose of humor, straightforwardness and class and continues to pass on life lessons even in the midst of this chaos.

Mom is a joke-teller, something that runs in her family. How she remembers all of the details is beyond me, but remember them she does. In her world, there isn’t anything that a good joke can’t make better, especially when she can’t get through the punchline because the joke is just too funny. As such, we laugh often and freely, even in the strangest of places or times. Case in point. Her first round of hospitalization ended up at the Health Science Centre, a teaching hospital with any number of medical students coming in and out of her room to discuss her prognosis. The first-year medical student assigned to her case had just finished her first rounds on a maternity ward, where she experienced life and all the joys that come with it. Then, her next term on a mid-level ICU involved telling people that they weren’t likely to see their next Christmas. So, she was a tad emotional and spent some time sobbing in Mom’s room because the experience was just so overwhelming for her. A little ironic that the caregiver was then cared for by the patient, but this is our life. Mom’s response was to pat her side of the bed, have the medical student sit down beside her and proceed to tell her a rather racy joke. We howled, the medical student included, in part because she was so shocked that these words would be coming from Mom’s mouth. With the laughter, her tears disappeared. She was then able to listen to Mom explain that sometimes, it’s okay to let the tears fall. And the dying part, well…that’s just a part of life, as much as it may suck, it isn’t something to be feared (although she did make the med student promise that she’d come up with a nice bevy of pain-relieving meds upon request). And once she dried her eyes, the student was able to carry on with the rest of her shift with much more self-confidence.

Mom’s Lesson: There is no shame in crying…sometimes, it is what you need to feel better. And it’s okay to laugh…even when you are pissed off at something beyond your control, sad, afraid or embarrassed. A good belly laugh makes it easier to deal with the hard stuff.  

Mom is also a very spiritual person. This is in part because of her close to 80 years of living life as a practicing Catholic, although I think that her faith goes deeper than her once weekly visits to church. As such, she doesn’t see death as a horrid event, but rather a beginning to something wonderful…in her words, her reward for a life that by all accounts is deserving of a big one! I won’t know whether she is right or not until my day comes, but I do know that she isn’t afraid to die, and because of her attitude, she is making it infinitely easier for those around her to process her diagnosis. The only caveat to this is that she is asking for whatever fabulous cocktail the medical profession has available to ensure that her journey over to the other side is as pain free as humanly possible. In the meantime, she is relishing in the company of friends and family, as she remembers their experiences together, the good, the bad and the hilarious. And based on the steady flow of people coming to see her, the reactions of these people to her diagnosis and the support that she is receiving, I would say that she has lived a life worthy of some major fanfare on the other side.

Mom’s Lesson: Have faith. Believe. And for as long as you are still able to breathe in oxygen, do your best to live your life and share your joy with those that you love. Those memories and that laughter will make your exit from this Earth a little easier for those that you leave behind.

Through all this, I know that with the time that we have left, we will enjoy Mom’s jokes, we will laugh with her and we will continue to believe that her impact on her family and friends will carry on in one way or another long past that moment when she takes her last breath. But most of all, I have faith that some day, somewhere, somebody is going to find a cure for this disease. This faith is a gift from my mother and very likely, my best lesson.


104 thoughts on “Mom’s Lessons

  1. This is such a wonderful message! Wonderfully written, and wonderfully inspired. My grandmother passed 4 years ago in a similar situation. She left me with the same type of lessons. I pray for you, your mom, and family during this tough time.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Wow! An amazing mother indeed. I know it’s a difficult time for you now but reading through this I know Mum lives on. Take heart and I have you in my prayers.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. My prayers are with you all as you go through this trying journey! My sister has just been informed that her lymphoma has returned and has gained two new spots, as well, on her liver. She just took her first 2 half-dosages of chemo. In times past, she was too weak to take the full dosage. It put her in the hospital with sepsis. We almost lost her that time. It’s a blessing that your family is able to share in your Mom’s sense of humor. And yes it’s more than ok to cry, on this emotional rollercoaster!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. A wonderful tribute to your mother! My mother taught me how to live and ultimately, how to die. Her last lesson was not one I wanted to learn from her, but learn I did. Thank you for sharing. Yours is a story full of grace.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This post really helped me tonight – well this morning now . We just found out my uncle has lung cancer . We’re praying and trying to deal. I give your mom credit and you as well for finding the courage to share this . I will pray for you and your family. I hope my saying that isn’t offensive in any way . 🙂 I just know all the prayers can help . It’s hard having sick family members but this post really
    did help me tonight. Thank you for sharing this with us .

    Liked by 2 people

  6. My wife lived triumphantly with a GBM for 4.5 yrs. Sometimes a potentially horrible diagnosis is just a wake up call to live life to the fullest. Two months after she passed I was diagnosed with stage IV non small cell lung cancer. Two-and-a- half years later and I’m remarried and living like there is no tomorrow. Life ain’t over till it’s over, enjoy every minute of it. Sure sounds like mom is!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for sharing this beautiful sentiment. I pray for strength and resilience as your family battles this terrible illness. I’ve had friends beat Stage 4 diagnoses and I pray your mom can be another miracle story of someone who looked cancer in the face with grace and an expletive. It’s the only time in life I believe they actually complement one another well!!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Absolutely heart-warming. There’s no right way to deal with this but it sounds like you’re all doing an amazing job.
    I’m currently studying cancer sciences in the hope that one day I can help people like you.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Enjoyed reading this heartfelt and honest expression of your feeling. I went through this when my dad died with lung cancer in 2003, and my mom has just recently been diagnosed with cancer as well. Just like you I also find some peace knowing that she will be in Heaven.

    Liked by 2 people

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