You ever have one of those weeks? One of those weeks when so much comes down all at once that the only choices are 1) fight or 2) curl-into-the-fetal-position-with-a-bottle-of-scotch-and-a-binkie? It was about to be one of those weeks.
Late on Saturday night, my sister, Lea, emails me from Maryland that my mother, who has been battling cancer fairly successfully for the past three years, has been taken to the hospital. The pain meds she’s on apparently are no longer doing the trick, and recently she’s had some mysterious abdominal swelling, so my sister and dad have taken her to the hospital for help. The theory is that the swelling and pain are from fluid buildup in her abdomen, so they’re going to try a procedure to drain the fluid. She’s undergone this once before and it helped a lot, so we’re hopeful it will again.
My mother’s history with cancer is a long one, with this round being her third bout over a 37-year period. Through it all there have been periods of illness, but they have always been followed by rebounds of health. In a way, the cancer has become like a bad cold, a recurring annoyance that along the way ceased to seem truly life-threatening. Perhaps because of this I have become spoiled, because I don’t think much of it when, four years into this third bout, Lea calls to say that mom is in the hospital. I saw my mother within months and talked to her within a week and have little reason to think this isn’t just another “cold.”
It’s a couple days before I’m finally able to talk to my mom, and though she sounds drugged, she has a positive outlook about what’s happening. She tells me that the surgery she’s scheduled to have the next day is a simple bedside endeavor and shouldn’t be that big a deal. In fact, mom refuses to call it a “surgery” at all, referring to it only as the more benign “procedure,” and insisting that it doesn’t warrant any more dramatic a term (which, I suppose, compared to the brain surgery she’s had, it doesn’t).
The next morning, I get a call from my dad. I expect it’s a call to fill me in a little more about the surg– ahem – procedure, however there’s an uneasiness in his voice that hasn’t been there before. Instead of an update, he says that that they’re about to have a conversation with a hospice social worker and I should be on that call in case I have any questions.
Hospice? Wait… What? Hospice means you have a life expectancy of less than 6 months. This can’t be right. I thought this was just a pain management thing. Just last night I was told it wasn’t a big deal.
Confused, I get on the call and listen as best as I can, but my brain is still reeling trying to figure out how and when we made the leap from no-big-deal pain management to 6 months to live. Unfortunately, I get no answers. In this conversation, the how, when and why don’t seem to matter so much as what’s next. And what’s next is… my sister is going to check out local hospice care centers, my dad is going to look into in-home options, my mom is going to prepare for her proce– screw it – surgery, and I’m going to go look for a bottle of scotch and my binkie.
I hang up the phone and tell Lyena the news. I’m still too stunned to even really understand it emotionally, let alone cry about it. As I whirl around this vortex of new information, my emotional reality simply can’t find a sturdy enough place to land. Mom is entering hospice, whether I’m ready or not. Six months.
Lyena’s phone rings, and as she goes to answer it I lay down on the bed and stare at the ceiling. I overhear Dr. VaJayjay’s name and suddenly remember… “Oh, that’s right. We’re trying to get pregnant.”
Lyena’s period is about a week late. She’s peed on three little sticks that have all said “no,” but since she hasn’t gotten her period yet, we decided to pop into VaJayjay’s for a blood test to be sure. He’s calling with the results.
Lyena is pregnant.
We are cautioned, however, that this is what’s called a “chemical pregnancy” and might not hold. Lyena’s hormone levels are low and if they don’t pick up, the pregnancy will likely fail. We’re supposed to go back in two days for another blood test, where we all hope that the hormone levels double. If they do, Lyena’s gotta start buying bigger bras.
Holy crap… We’re pregnant! And my mom is dying. And we’re pregnant! And my mom is dying. And… BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.
Lyena is fond of saying “the truth is a very big place,” and I’ve never found that to be more true than right now. My brain flatlines as I try to grasp the whole of the situation – my mom is struggling with the end of her life’s journey, while a new life’s journey is struggling to begin in my wife’s womb. As poetic as it may sound in theory, in reality I can’t seem to grasp it.
Later that evening we hear from my dad and are told that, unfortunately, the surgeon wasn’t able to do the procedure bedside as he thought. Her condition is more complicated than he expected and he’s going to have to book an operating room instead. He says it still should be a fairly simple process, but he doesn’t know for sure when he’ll be able to schedule it. The upside to mom being at John’s Hopkins is that she has the best surgeons in the world. The downside is that, since her condition is stable, she gets bumped so those “best surgeons” can perform things like transplants and open-heart surgeries. Hmm. I guess I can’t begrudge that.
As we wait for word about mom’s surgery, Lyena and I discuss whether or not we should tell anyone about our news. I don’t feel comfortable saying anything to my family right now – the timing’s just too weird and everything’s still too uncertain. We also decide to hold off on telling friends until we get the results of the blood test, however, Lyena is going to tell her mom and sisters – they would, simply, disown her if she didn’t.
As she makes the calls, I listen in with muted excitement. Though we’re truly excited and hoping for the best, we must take care not to let our hopes get so high that we’re completely crushed should the worst happen. All we can do is wait and walk this tenuous line as carefully as we can.
Thursday arrives with still no surgery for mom. Her swelling and pain continue to worsen, and, though the doctors are sympathetic, they’re bound by the rules of triage, so mom has to wait. I am beginning to begrudge.
Meanwhile, our two-day wait over, Lyena and I head back to Dr. VaJayjay’s for the blood test that will tell us if we are going to stay pregnant. Though it’s a simple blood test, in my head it’s become much more mythic. I’m quite sure that if I looked through the microscope, I would see her hormones in epic battle against womb-Dementors or something, fighting for their very survival. Unfortunately, they won’t let me look, so we’re back to the waiting game until morning, when results come in.
For now… HOLY CRAP! WE’RE PREGNANT!
Up next… Mommy Issues