Saturday, May 23, 2009

after the second session

Many thanks to my relatives for being there when Mom had her second radiotherapy session on Friday afternoon. Mom didn't fall down this time, but when she left the session, she acted as if things had been, in some ways, worse than the first time around. Her radiotherapy mask apparently felt too tight, and the pressure of the mask on her scar (which may indeed be infected, as I saw later in the day upon close examination of Mom's scalp) probably caused her some pain. I'm sure it wasn't a pleasant ten minutes under the beams.

More worrisome, though, were Mom's balance problems after the session was over and Mom had gotten home. Although we had been warned that Mom would suffer certain ill effects from the combined regimen of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, it was disheartening to see these effects manifest themselves so soon. On a practical level, this means we have to be extra-vigilant around Mom, holding her hand whenever possible, or at least standing close by whenever she needs to walk anywhere.

After we got home, I elected to cook dinner for the family despite a very kind invitation from our relatives either to go out and eat, or to bring dinner to our house and eat together. We persuaded Mom to set about addressing her scabbing and phlegm issues by taking a hot, steamy shower (with ointment to clear her nasal and bronchial passages). We remain concerned about her cough, and I asked Dad to fix an appointment with the parents' physician, Dr. Royfe, to look more closely at her surgical scar, which appears to have some pus built up at one point along its length.

Sean and David both dropped by; Sean arrived at the same time we did, and David swooped in a bit later. Dinner was my chicken and shrimp curry, which Sean couldn't eat because it violated his Atkins regimen in several ways (carrots, potatoes, etc.). David couldn't abide the shrimp in the curry because he doesn't like anything that comes out of the water, and Mom plucked out her potatoes and avoided her rice, perhaps in solidarity with Sean and his no-carb approach to eating. Interestingly, Mom seems to be avoiding most of her favorite sources of carbs these days-- rice in particular. Dad and I were the only ones who ate the dish as it was. Nevertheless, the meal garnered compliments from all who ate it. This would have been reassuring in normal circumstances, but seeing Mom become so weak, so fast, was distressing. It was another item in a merciless litany of discouragement since April 16. I do my best to put a brave face on things, but these days...

These days, I watch my mother totter about like a child, unable to express complex thoughts or to appreciate anything more sophisticated than rudimentary forms of humor, often unable even to know how to react emotionally to what she sees on TV until someone else watching the same thing laughs or gasps. I'm left with the desolate sense that it is now too late to tell her whatever important things I should have told her long ago, because her capacity to appreciate such words has been largely stripped away. Mom still functions, but she is no longer who she was.

It's tempting to step back and think about all of this philosophically, to note that people, like all phenomena, are in process. Existence is transformation, after all, and reality is like water: it escapes your fist the more tightly you squeeze, which is why attachment to things and people is vain. The universe comes with no "pause" button; just as you can't hold on to a cherished moment forever, you can't hold on to people forever, no matter how hard you try.

Yes, such abstract cosmic thoughts have their place, but they wither in the glare of brain cancer's brute, concrete reality. It's not philosophy that fills my heart when I look up from chopping carrots and peeling potatoes to see Mom, this new Mom, on her couch in the living room, staring at me so quietly, so intently. I see her looking my way, perhaps out of childlike curiosity, perhaps out of love, or perhaps out of habit-- the hollow echo of years spent watching her children. Mom no longer has the words to tell me clearly what she's thinking, to express her state of mind. As a result, this new Mom's stare is a poignant, ineffable mystery to me, and that's what hurts the most.


1 comment:

Maven said...

None of my words or thoughts can even remotely bring you comfort or peace.

Let's just say, "I know. I care."

I hope this is sufficient, my friend.