My mother passed away December 19, 2010 after a brutal three weeks of suffering from a serious fall. She broke the majority of her ribs in her back, leading to complications, including bleeding in her plural cavity, pneumonia, and finally became too weak to continue the fight.
I’ll never forget the look of complete confidence on her face as she told her Doctor she was not afraid to die, because she “knew where she was going”. I’ll never forget witnessing her Priest offering her the last rites and the smile on her face as she gazed in his eyes – so grateful he had arrived.
I was with her for so many X-rays, procedures, and through it all, her bravery was immense – her suffering filled with humor, dignity and grace. One procedure, in particular, was called a Thoracentesis where a needle was inserted between her lungs and chest wall to drain the fluid contributing to her pneumonia. I was emotionally scarred after watching her go through this, as it appeared so very painful and all I could do was hold her hand.
Fast forward nine years, I entered MD Anderson on October 29th, planning to undergo a T.A.C.E. procedure – also known as Chemo Embolization for the mass in my liver. I made it clear beforehand that I was believing for a “one and done”. Oftentimes, patients need several of these to kill – and hopefully shrink – their tumors. My tumor NEEDS to shrink for my surgeon to remove my right lobe.
What was suppose to be a 2-3 day hospital stay ended up being 12 days of PURE HELL. The opportunity was presented to my radiologist to hit my liver not just once, but twice with a large dose of chemo – exactly what he knew I would have wanted with my “one and done” mantra.
Unfortunately, the side-effects hit me quickly, and hit me HARD. Within a few hours of waking up, I suffered from fevers, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, mouth sores, and severe liver pain.
As the hours dragged on into days, the infectious disease team was brought in and I was tested for various strains of bacteria, when in reality, the cause of my shortness of breath was from my liver reacting to the chemo. It was extremely angry, inflamed, and was dumping loads of fluid into my plural cavity.
When they told me I needed a Thoracentesis, I was scared to death as I envisioned my Mom’s procedure. I prayed to God all the way to the procedure room. I kept thinking of my Mom, and asked her to help me. It was definitely painful, and I finally felt just a glimpse of what she endured.
As the night went on, I continued to struggle, and even with oxygen, had difficulty breathing. My fevers continued to spike, nausea and pain continued, and my liver kept dumping fluid. When I was told I needed a second Thoracentesis, I went through even more anxiety, knowing what was to come. Again, I begged my Mom to be with me – to help me be as brave and strong as she was.
Even after the second procedure, I was not able to breath without oxygen. I was weak. I had been in the hospital over a week by then, and instead of improving, I kept getting worse. There was a point where I was so exhausted from the fevers, inability to eat and the darkness of those long days and nights that I seriously thought I might die. My veins had all but given up, and every I.V. needed to be guided with an ultrasound machine because they couldn’t find my veins. It took dozens of lab techs to draw blood. I was so over it.
The interesting thing about it all was I was OK with the thought of dying. When I was first diagnosed on June 12th with Carcinoid Cancer, all I could think of was, “I can’t die! What will my family do? How will they go on without me? I have so much to experience yet” … the list goes on and on.
But when you’re in a position where you’re truly so exhausted from the suffering that you’re OK with dying, you don’t think about those things. It’s almost like a small gift you’re given not to worry about everyone else. That’s where I was. I remember thinking, “WOW…this is crazy that I’ve worried so much about the major surgeries, etc., and to think something like this will take me in the end”.
It was even documented in my medical records that just days prior to my procedure, I was hiking mountains in Sedona – they were stupefied as to why I was in the condition I was in.
They scheduled me for a 3rd Thoracentesis (this would have been three in three days), and by then, I was so weak and so exhausted, I didn’t have the energy to think about it. I was literally at their mercy. At God’s mercy. I don’t remember being scared. I never asked my Mom to be with me and I don’t remember even thinking about her like I did before.
I had surrendered… I truly had no resistance against the thought of dying. I had no expectation that I was going to live. I was essentially emotionally comatose.
But what happened next was the most beautiful experience. As they leaned me over the table and prepped my back for another procedure, I felt her presence over the table. There was no doubt in my mind it was my Mom and I truly believe she was with me, pouring strength into me, as if to say, “There’s no way in hell you’re going to die like I did”.
I felt peaceful. I could feel her warmth. Not beside me, not in front of me or behind me, but above me, as if she was watching his every move.
That was the last procedure I needed. From that point on, I started to need less and less oxygen. I started to force down some food. My fevers became more manageable. I got to shower and wash my hair (yay), and within a few short days I was released to go home.
Day six after arriving home, we got an eight-week old Goldendoodle. Days 9-10 I enjoyed an incredible visit from one of my very best friends from California and had the stamina to take her to some of my favorite places. Day eleven, I enjoyed a photo shoot gifted to me by my favorite boutique, The Lizard Thicket in Mesa. Looking at this picture, you’d never know that I could have died two weeks prior had it not been for the amazing doctors at MD Anderson who moved quickly to remove so much fluid from my chest. Every day was a gift to me and I was trying to seize each moment, never again to take life for granted.
This, my friends, is the power of prayer and the ability of God to heal us. The power of the Universe. The power of our angels rushing to our aid. I know my Mom is my angel.
Want to know the really cool thing, though? We have access to our loved ones all the time. They never truly leave us. Normally, I would be struggling through the holidays missing my Mom. This year is different after her visit in the hospital. She was so real that I realize in some ways I have access to her more now than I did when she was alive.
No, I can’t take her to Kohl’s, the dollar store, laugh, talk and enjoy all the things we enjoyed while she was here on earth, but knowing she is ALWAYS with me brings a peace to my soul like nothing else.
I share this with you now, because I know how difficult the holidays are for those who have lost loved ones.
THEY ARE BRUTAL – especially the first few years … I promise it gets a little easier, but they’re never really the same.
One thing I know for sure is that if you look for your loved ones – talk to them – search for signs from them – it will ease the pain. You’ll eventually feel their presence. Their warmth. Their peace. Their lack of suffering.
The last time I saw my Mom on earth, she was weak, tired and experiencing excruciating pain. When she visited me in the hospital, she was strong, determined and protective. I have never experienced anything like it.
May you all be blessed this Christmas Season. May you, too, find immeasurable peace knowing all is well in the spirit world. Suffering is part of this side of heaven, but if life were meant to be easy, we’d have nothing to look forward to.
There is no doubt in my mind that I’m going to continue to thrive no matter what comes my way. My faith, determination and spirit are stronger as a result of what I experienced during those 12 dark days. I’m actually grateful for the experience, because it proved to me just how strong I am and how willing my tribe of prayer warriors are to carry me when I can’t carry myself.
Whatever you’re going through, know this. You are FAR stronger than you give yourself credit for. GRAB HOLD of your inner strength … HOLD ON when you want to let go … And most of all, NEVER ever GIVE UP.
“Be brave, be kind, be bold, be fierce, be YOU”