Wednesday, January 6, 2010

a few thanks

Our thanks to Mrs. Eleanor Landgrabe, my former French teacher, for having written an absolutely beautiful tribute to Mom. Mrs. Landgrabe stopped by our house a little after 7PM (her husband, Dr. Ed Hayes, was in the car) and handed my father a small hard-bound book filled mostly with blank pages-- blank except for the first five or six pages, on which Madame had left her eloquent letter, which was addressed directly to Mom.

Since the rest of the book is blank, we've decided to use it at the reception following the memorial service. Our hope is that Madame's message to Mom might inspire others to write their own messages therein. The book is small; we might need to add an extra binder (with lots of paper) for others to write their messages.

Our thanks to the people who have been visiting Mom in the ICU. We're sorry that visitors have had to see Mom in such a broken state, but we're glad they made the effort to be there. One thing I've learned over these months is the importance of being there in a crisis.

Also: a big thank-you to my brother David. On his iPhone, he had a heart-warming photo of Mom and Dad. During our family's talk with the medical personnel, David felt that our interlocutors needed to be reminded that Mom isn't just a sack of dying flesh or a jumble of graphs and numbers: she was and is a person, someone whom, in better times, they would have gotten to know and love. David's picture showed Mom as we had known her: standing with Dad, glowing with life, happy as a clam. I hope the doctor, the social worker, and the chaplain understood David's wordless message.

Over the months, we've seen many medical professionals cut Mom apart analytically, using the language of statistics to measure the progress of her cancer, the probability that a certain treatment might delay tumor enhancement, and so on. I'm not against such language; I've relied on it myself. But too often, we've seen how the language of numbers can, when overused, create a psychological distance that makes the entire therapeutic/treatment process feel cold. Worse, such language (and the thinking behind it) can blind the medical professionals to the tangible personal reality sitting before them-- the frail living being in her wheelchair who has no choice but to accept whatever pronouncements and decisions are made by those around her. Even some social workers operate according to discernible rhetorical formulae, asking questions that shepherd the conversation along predetermined lines of thought.

Mom was never a set of statistics; if she had been, her initial MRSA infection would have been anticipated; the same would have been true for her allergy to vancomycin and the uselessness of carboplatin. But at every turn, Mom's battle with cancer veered-- always in a negative way-- from the statistical path. Most GBM sufferers don't experience rapid tumor enhancement within eight weeks; Mom did, as we saw with her second mass. Most people don't suffer near-lethal post-operative MRSA infection; Mom did. Most GBM patients are men; Mom's not. In the end, Mom didn't even come close to enjoying the mean life expectancy of the typical GBM patient (13 months; Mom barely made it through eight-and-a-half months). Statistically speaking, Mom should still be quite alive and more or less functional, with several months of life ahead of her. But many of the docs saw her through the lens of their stats, and that explains, in part, the failure of their treatment methods.

All the same, the medical community deserves thanks for what help it could give Mom since last April. Like Dad and myself-- Mom's 24/7 caregivers-- the docs weren't able to work miracles. But they did what they could, and for that, we're grateful.

As always, we're thankful to our fellow congregants for their compassion, presence, and help. Food, cards, flowers, phone calls, a wheelchair ramp, snow shoveling-- you name it, it's been done for us, and every member of Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church deserves our unreserved thanks. Dad constantly shakes his head in amazement at the gifts we've been given by the good people around us.

And not just MVPC: Mom's Korean and non-Korean friends, whether from her women's society or from her office, have been a wonderful support as well. From these groups, too, we've seen tremendous generosity in the form of cards, gifts, visits, and all manner of expressions and tokens of love.

Mom's relatives also deserve thanks: they've visited us, they've doted on Mom, and they've read this blog and cried about the news of Mom's progress. I'm especially moved by my cousin Ji-hyae's framed set of two photos of Mom and the rest of us. I've stared and stared at those pictures, which make for a heartbreaking contrast with what's happening now.

I know I've forgotten dozens, maybe hundreds, of people in this post. I apologize. There have been times when I thought I should create a cute animation of scrolling text-- like the ending credits of a movie-- to which I could add names as needed. But I never got around to doing that, and I'm sorry. In private, I've done my best to thank people as I see them: every time we've received food or some other form of face-to-face help, and every time I've received emails from both friends and strangers who have somehow found this blog.

So I feel I need to cover all the bases. To all and sundry, then: thank you.


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