Note: I’ve been working on this post for two days, trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to say, to describe how I was feeling about the situation. Debating whether or not all that I wanted to say was truly relevant.

And then today I found out that my grandmother experienced chest pains in the wee hours of this morning, which doctors are tentatively calling a heart attack. She’s in the hospital, and doing well, and that’s about all I know. Various aunts have promised to call me back when they can. I’m so thankful that my grandparents live down here now, just several miles away from relatives instead of a two-hour drive. Thankful, also, that if I’m needed, I can be there in just a few hours instead of waiting for a plane. So if you could keep my grandmother in your prayers, as well as my mom (see below), I’d be grateful.

Now here we go…

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My mom’s breast reconstruction surgery was moved from April to tomorrow. We found out Friday that someone else had backed out, and my mom felt she was ready. So she’ll be in surgery tomorrow for 10-12 hours, and in the hospital for 3-5 days, and then at home for 2-3 weeks. Good thing I hadn’t booked tickets home for April, right?

You all have been so good about wishing us well and everything for over a year now, and I can’t tell you how much I do and have appreciated that. It’s made a huge difference on the days when I was freaking-the-fuck-out, but it’s also made a huge difference even on the days when I knew she’d be okay.

For all of that, thank you. And if you could think of her tomorrow, and keep her in your prayers, then hopefully this will be the last chapter of this saga. There are no guarantees in this game, I know, but for now I’m hoping this is going to be the end.

My mom has made it through an amazing amount in the last year–finding out she had breast cancer, finding out it was likely metastatic and already in her bones, finding out that it was only (thank God) stage 3C (the last and worst stage before metastasis, but the before part was all that mattered), going through weekly chemo for 6 months, going through genetic testing and having to wait a month to find out the answers, going through physical sickness and lack of strength and energy, going through anemia that resulted in her need for a blood transfusion, going through a double mastectomy, going through 5 weeks of radiation, going through an additional 6 months of the “good” chemo drug herceptin (a miracle drug, if you ask me). Going through pain and worry and fighting against her own body for control, for life.

But through it all, she’s been relatively okay. She’s always faced it instead of hiding from it, and she’s done so with grace and serenity for the most part. She’s made jokes, she’s been pretty cheerful. She’s said that if she dies, she’ll get to see her mother again. My grandmother died fourteen years ago from colon cancer, less than two weeks after my grandfather died from brain cancer, and I know my mom misses them. To her, it was a comfort to think of seeing her parents again. And so, to her, even in the beginning when we thought we had maybe two years together, she was fairly serene about any outcome. Worried, but serene. Granted, she likely had her moments of weakness, of freaking out, of anger and helplessness, but overall, she was stronger than the cancer. She always said she was going to fight, and that anger wouldn’t solve anything. True, it doesn’t. The situation is, was, what it was. And so she fought.

Tomorrow, for her, marks the last step in this horrible journey. She’s chosen to go with the longest and most intense reconstructive option. Implants are painful to enlarge, the radiation probably makes the tissue on one side less stretchy and thus it may not accept an implant, and they tend to leak and require more surgery every 10 years or so. The other option was to have a implants made from her belly fat, either buried up along her rib cage, or completely removed and reattached via microvascular reconstructive surgery. The first option takes muscle, and means she likely wouldn’t be capable of doing a sit-up ever again. The second option is a long and intense surgery, but she thinks it’s what’s right for her. There’s a chance the tissue won’t take, that it will die, or that she’ll need a second surgery to reattach it again. But when you lay out all the pros and cons, to her, having one big surgery weighs out over many smaller ones, and health and physical fitness and being able to exercise weigh out over possible complications with the tissue.

I have to admit that I’d be perfectly okay with her simply using prosthetics and having no more surgery, but that’s not what she wants and so I’m going to stand behind her and her decision. I can’t tell you want I’d do in the same situation, so who am I to judge? It’s selfish of me to wish otherwise, simply to not go through the worry during the surgery.

And believe me, worry I will. This will be the second surgery she’s had that I’ve known about in advance, and I’m just about as nervous as I was last time during her mastectomy. Who wouldn’t worry about their mom?

I mean, she’s had plenty of surgeries and hospital stays in the last however-many years. Pulmonary embolism while on a plane to New Zealand, but we didn’t find out until she was already in the hospital. Emergency gall bladder removal, then an emergency appendix removal, but in both cases my dad couldn’t get ahold of my sister or me until the surgery was over. Those are quick little surgeries, believe me. By the time I got home to the “your mom is in the hospital” note, it was over. In all cases, we were basically informed post-fact. We didn’t have the worry to go through during the actual thing. Just the recovery, and the relief that it had been dealt with and that she was okay.

Here, now, I trust that my mom will be okay. She has to be. And I have to trust that. She’s strong, and she’s never had problems before in surgery. I liked her doctor. I trusted him. Even if it’s a tricky surgery, and long, I have faith that she’s going to be okay. That he’s going to do a good job.

I reserve the right to, as I said before, freak-the-fuck-out tomorrow, but I also know I’m strong enough to be strong for her. For myself. For whoever else might need it now, or in the future. I may not have shown or expressed that over the past year, but I know I am.

I think that’s something that’s occurred to me only recently. I’ve expressed my anger and fear and helplessness when I’ve felt them, and again, I thank all of you who were there for me, but I’ve never really talked about the times when it all felt okay. When I knew we were all going to come out the other side, changed a bit but together nonetheless. At those times, there didn’t seem much to say other than “She’s fine.” She was, and I was fine, too, after all, and not consumed by fear. At that moment. So mostly all people heard about was when it wasn’t fine, when I wasn’t fine.

I think that that lack made me appear weak to some people, and the end result was that they didn’t trust me to be strong enough for them and for our friendship when they needed it, in spite of what fear and pain I might be feeling. They may have thought they were protecting me in the beginning, but when they threw it in my face, it became just another way that, to them, I’d failed them. And without ever having been given the chance to prove that I might have been capable, that I had the strength. That lack of faith and trust hurts a lot, much more than I’ve been able to put into words until now, but maybe it’s somewhat justified when the only face I’ve presented was the one when I was been scared. However, friends should, above all else, have faith in each other, right? I’d like to think so.

I was so astounded and hurt at the time by the accusations, all of them, that at the time I couldn’t put it into words, that I could only say what needed to be heard and not what needed to be said. It was fairly clear after a few moments that defending or explaining myself wasn’t going to be listened to–I’m not saying the accusations were completely unfounded, but it would have been nice to have my side listened to instead of spoken over or dismissed. So I just said the only words I could, that I was sorry. And really, I am. As much as I’ve longed to have that conversation back to redo, to express my side, my case, my hurt, it wouldn’t change anything, so I’ve tried to move on. In many ways, I think that the lack of faith and trust said all that needed to be said. I’ll admit to feeling better just to say this much, to get this much off my chest, so I can stop rehearsing what I’d like to have said. What I wish I’d been strong enough to say at the time. Instead I walked away, and my brain at times has mocked me as being cowardly for not having my say. It was a great friendship, and maybe worth fighting for, but this kind of incident also seemed to be a cycle we couldn’t break out of and which only lead to pain for both of us.

Being strong, I’m discovering, is a constant growing process. And being strong in some ways doesn’t translate to all situations. Maybe the strength to fight against cancer with my mom is different from the strength to stand up for myself against someone I thought I could trust. What I was strong enough to do, I suppose, was to philosophical shrug and walk away from a relationship that, although valued, clearly wasn’t healthy for the two people in it. It may have been cowardly, but I think it also took a lot courage to just let it go without making the situation worse by forcing my need to have my say.

And strength and health, both mental and physical, seems to have been a common theme in my life lately. Strength is something I’m working on, and I’m channeling it elsewhere now. Into a healthier outlook on life, into healthier relationship with those that do have faith in me, into relationships with those in whom I have faith. Into the strength to make it through 10-12 hours of waiting for word to come tomorrow.

In any case, I’ve worked through all this with many other people supporting me, worked through the fear and helplessness and anger, and I am and we are about come out the other side. In many ways, stronger together than we were before. I’ve had faith in myself to be strong for myself, for my sister, for my dad, for my mom, and I’ve had faith in my mom to be even stronger. I’ve been supported by many good friends, family and a wonderful, wonderful husband who has gone through a similar process with his mother and also lost his dad to cancer. In turn, I hope I’ve supported my family whenever they’ve needed it, and even when they haven’t.

And my mom? My mom has been incredibly strong, despite the weakness her body has caused her. She’s fought this terrible thing whereby her body is threatening her life, where the most outward sign of her femininity, where she nursed my sister and I, is turning against her. I can’t imagine how hard it’s been, but I’m sure it’s magnitudes harder than what I’ve been going through. There are no words to express how amazed and proud and happy I am to have her in my life, to have received this lesson in how to live from her.

And so, at the end of every freak-out, at the end of each day, I know that if she can be that strong for herself, as well as for me and my sister and everyone else, if she can appear to get through this as gracefully as she has, then aren’t I strong enough to stand by and watch and help how I can? Even if it’s as simple as sitting with her through a chemo session, or making dinner to give my dad a break? And though I sometimes need to cry or scream or eat chocolate or drink or cope how I can, I know I’m strong enough to see this thing through. Strong enough to believe that tomorrow, despite it’s scariness, will bring an end to this chapter and journey of my mom’s bout with cancer. I hope there’s not another one, but if there is, I’ll be strong for that, too.

And so, tomorrow, I’m going to be strong enough to go about my day, to hopefully not freak out, to simply wait for the phone call telling me she’s out of surgery and safely installed in intensive care, that she’s doing okay. Because if she can fight this, I can too. If she can be strong enough to chose surgery, and specifically this surgery, who am I to not be strong enough to simply wait 10-12 hours for her on the other end? After all, my waiting tomorrow is going to be the easy part. The hard work is hers in the recovery, and I’ll be there for her however I can.

But your thoughts and prayers would be greatly, greatly appreciated tomorrow and in the coming days.

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