“They said it’s cancer,” my mom said on the other line. I got up from the table where I was playing “Princesses” with the little girls I was babysitting and paced the hallway. “Oh?” I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking. “Yes,” mom continued. “Al amyloidosis with multiple myeloma. They said it’s usually found in people with Mediterranean descent, so maybe Nana [her mother] secretly slept with someone other than my father,” she laughed.
I backed up against a wall and slowly eased myself to the floor as I forced myself to laugh. “Oh, Nana,” I lamely said, ignoring the tears springing to my eyes.
I hung up the phone and resumed babysitting. I remember not being able to concentrate on the drive home, missing the highway exit and having to reroute. Seriously? Cancer? That doesn’t happen to my mom, or people I know. This happens in stories or movies where the main character has a bucket list or cheesy romance of some sort. Not in my family. Not with my mother.
I couldn’t even wholeheartedly enjoy the Heat Championship that night, one of my favorite teams.
I even remember thinking, “Well, shit. She’s handling it well. How can she even joke at a time like this?” I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that my mother could laugh despite such a horrendous setback. She is always able to keep it together, always. Whether it was concerning a messy divorce, raising five children, working four jobs or even attending to things I needed help with, like a collegiate term paper, she always seemed to make things work. How? Don’t ask me. I only admire what she does. I do, however, wish I could duplicate it.
I mean, come to think of it, my mother really does have an impressive rap sheet. Ph.D, daughter, mother, sister, teacher, friend, author, lover, she wears many hats. And she does it gracefully and with humor. The fact is, throughout this whole terrible ordeal, she STILL manages to give to others. Like how I come home at midnight after working two jobs and she tries to stay awake to say hi. Or how she sits down at the table to help my brothers with their homework with the absolute utmost patience and drives to see my sister for lunch, even if it’s only for half an hour.
People in her workplace are astonished by her. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen her get hugged and thanked by parents she works with, or how her students look at her in admiration. Even fellow coworkers have a big smile on their faces after a chat with my mom. “Claudia,” they say. “It’s Dr. Jones,” she playfully shoots back, grinning. It’s truly inspiring to see how many lives she touches and has touched.
I can set up and help out with a few fundraisers here or there. I can create a Facebook page and a fundraising site. I can make a binder to help her organize her various medications and doctor visits. But can I take cancer away? No. Can I take away the pain she’s feeling, the swelling in her ankles, the uncomfortable cathe in her chest, help her grow her hair back? No, but I wish. I wish it were me so she didn’t have to go through this. She doesn’t deserve this. She doesn’t need to be inflicted with this horrible disease. But you know what? The joke is on cancer. It really is, because cancer doesn’t affect people long term who are fighters or who have a strong spirit. My mother has all that and more. She’s a survivor. Years from now, this is going to be just a minor bump in the road. She’s going to be at our weddings, see my brothers graduate, see me and my sister excel in our careers. I can’t wait till she holds her grandkids and I can tell them what an amazing person she is. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without her and I thank her for everything but most importantly, the gift of life.