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Mom got sick in the fall of 2010. She started to complain about stomach pain, how it hurt after she ate, how she was trying to determine if she had developed a food allergy or an ulcer. I’d tell her to make an appointment to see a doctor but she’d make excuses, tell me she was getting better, that the pain went away.

I was living in Hong Kong at the time so I could only hear her voice. I was planning on going back to the states for Christmas so I wasn’t too alarmed by her health complaints. Surely, it will pass. I’ll see her and she’ll be well.

By the time I did see her, she was frail and recently out of a two-week long stay at the hospital. The doctor had removed her cancerous ovaries, her appendix and part of her colon. I had never seen my mom like this before. She was gaunt, grey and skeletal. And when I embraced her, I was careful not to squeeze too hard.

The surgery and resulting medication had made her disoriented, forgetful and paranoid. She repeated herself often and accused my dad of wanting to leave her now that she was sick and damaged. To his credit, he didn’t let her words sting that badly. Or at least he didn’t show it.

Weeks past, her appetite returned and her skin became more supple, less grey. I was there to help cook, to make sure she ate well, to act as a son, friend, nurse and cheerleader. She refused to take her painkillers because she said that they made her feel loopy. Her wound hadn’t completely closed so a nurse would stop by once a week to tend to it. The nurse told her that not taking the painkillers would elevate her blood pressure and slow her recovery.

I saw a picture of my mom about a week before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was skinny, much thinner than she is normally. And this upset me. Hadn’t my dad noticed? Hadn’t my sister who routinely visited them not seen the change? Did they just assume that her body was just changing with age? I only asked my dad once. I was careful not to try to seem like I was blaming anyone for her illness. He said that in retrospect he should have noticed her weight loss sooner, should have made a doctor’s appointment for her, should have not listened to any of her excuses.

Mom is one of those people who doesn’t like doctors. “They’ll just find something wrong with you so that they can charge you more,” she says. But she was also scared that she was sick for real, that her symptoms were the result of something awful, something inoperable, something deadly. She is lucky they caught it before it spread to her vital organs. It was near the tissue lining of the liver. It could have been much worse.

It’s hard to tell someone they’re lucky when they’ve been diagnosed with cancer. I kept telling her stories of friends whose parents had not been so lucky. I would share stories of people who had beat the odds, had made a complete recovery after the Big C came knocking.

I was also angry at her for waiting so long to visit the doctor. She was lucky it hadn’t spread, yes. But she could have been “luckier” if she had gone to see what was wrong sooner. I vividly remember the call I received in Hong Kong after my parents had returned from the doctor’s office with the results. Both ovaries. Malignant. Surgery scheduled in a couple of days. It was BOOM. POW. SMACK. I didn’t cry until I hung up the phone. I stayed positive. I said that I was glad that they were taking them out, glad that they seemed to catch it in time, glad that they were able to operate so soon.

I was going to move my flight up to an earlier time but Dad said that Mom would be in the hospital for a couple of weeks and wouldn’t be in the best shape mentally and that I should instead stay longer so that I could help in her recovery and the lead up to her first chemo.

The doctor had already said that after surgery she was to take six rounds of chemo. I was going to be in town for that. Again, to be the cheerleader, the shoulder, the son. Her first chemo was about a month after she was released from the hospital. She blocked it out, pretended it wasn’t going to happen. She said she felt well and didn’t see the need for the treatment.

The day we went to see her oncologist to determine the chemo schedule was one of the hardest days of my life. It was fine in doctor’s office. It was just a schedule. I stayed strong. I reminded my mom that we knew the chemotherapy treatment was coming. The doctor had to be sure the cancer had been eradicated. It wasn’t until we were shown the chemotherapy treatment room that I lost it. I had to excuse myself and go to the men’s room. I didn’t want my parents to see me cry. I locked the door to the bathroom and sobbed uncontrollably. I slapped myself hard repeatedly, pinched my left palm with my right hand., threw water on my face and made sure I looked as presentable as possible before returning to the treatment room.

We had lunch God knows where, the elephant in the room screaming. We’re a family that talks a lot. I tried to make conversation but we were all just mentally and emotionally exhausted. When we got back to my parent’s home, I went up to my room and tried to nap.

My parents live in the San Antonio Hill Country. It used to be very peaceful but the city has crept up I-10 and now there are too many chain restaurants popping up, too many housing developments and a lack of city or state planning to accommodate all the resulting traffic. Still, on a nice day, you can look out at the hills, the blue skies and the trees and pretend it will last forever. I went out on the balcony and took it all in. “We’ll get through this. This will pass,” I said to myself.

On the first day of chemo, Mom had Ethel as a nurse. In the subsequent treatments, she requested and always got Ethel. My mom’s name is Lucy so she thought it was a sign. If you don’t know what I’m referring to then go youtube I Love Lucy immediately. You’re welcome.

I kept things cheerful during the first chemo. If you know me, or have read my blog, you know that I like to make jokes and laugh a lot. When Mom was finished with her first treatment, we went out to eat and were all very chatty. Mom had lots of energy. She said she felt great, was happy it didn’t hurt. I said, “Mom, you look great! Hell, we should all have chemo. Sign me up!”

The next morning, Dad took Mom for the shot to boost her white blood cell count. When they got back from the doctor’s office, Mom didn’t feel so well. She went to bed and stayed there for about five or six days. The side effects from both the chemo and shot were starting to kick in. My dad and I were on hand with water, popsicles, Ensure, Boost, iced water, blankets. If you’ve been through this, you know the drill.

Mom had one treatment every three weeks. She was down for the first week and then fully recovered by the third before “they poison me again.”

I can see that I get my drama from my mama.

I returned to Hong Kong and my partner. I missed him and the routine of our life but we were now in the process of moving to London. There was a lot to get done. I phoned my parents regularly, phoned my sister to make sure she was heading over to San Antonio as much as possible during her weekends.

I flew back to Texas to celebrate the last chemo a few weeks after it was administered. We went to a nice restaurant and mom was rocking the Burberry scarf I got her with a chic pair of Chanel sunglasses. Mom is not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination but she wanted to cover her bald head and mask her eyebrow-less eyes with something. I guess she figured, “Hey, why not go for broke?”

Mom’s hair eventually grew back. Her straight, long black hair replaced by curly, black locks that reminded me of Barbra Streisand do in the mid ’70s. I have the album to prove it.

Soon things returned to normal. Christmas in London. Then the following December, Mom came back to the UK on her own so that we could celebrate her continued health on her birthday by taking her to Paris. We had a great time. Four days and nights walking the city streets. My partner and I took Mom to all of our favorite haunts. We visited a few of the main sights too but this trip was more about walking, exploring. I took this one picture of my mom on the bridge connecting Ile de la Cite to Ile Saint-Louis. It was on her birthday, a gorgeous, crisp, cloudless early December.

Mom must have known something was wrong on that trip. She must have noticed the lump or felt out of sorts again. When she got back to Texas she went to her quarterly visit with the doctor. Her numbers were up. Something was wrong. More tests. The lump that magically appeared. Mom must have known it was there. How could you not notice some strange mass near your navel?

The oncologist removed two masses and again part of her colon. She was released from the hospital a few days early. I flew back to Texas to be the cheerleader, the shoulder, the son. Ethel was still working as a nurse in the chemo treatment room. I brought her a couple of tins of tea and coffee from Harrods.

Mom’s treatment had been altered due to a study out of Japan. Eighteen rounds of chemo but at a lower dose and spread out over eighteen weeks. And because my mom’s health was good overall, no damn shot to boost her white blood cell count. She was still down after the chemo but only for a few days. Her hair fell out in patches but she was spared her eyebrows. I got her another scarf.

During Mom’s second chemotherapy treatment I saw a guy in his 30s coming out of an office with tears streaked across his face. He walked quickly towards the exit of the treatment room. I remembered the time I excused myself to visit the men’s room, knowing I was going to lose it, three years ago and in the very same room. My parents didn’t see him and I didn’t say anything about it.

Mom’s last chemo was a few weeks ago. She sees her oncologist tomorrow so that he can assess her health. Her numbers have been good and she has been active, her taste buds only recently returning to normal, somewhat. She has a CT scan later this week. We’re all hoping for continued good news.

I’m thankful I still have my mom. I’m thankful that new research effects treatment even within a three year time span. I’m thankful the doctor caught the cancer’s return before it spread to any vital organs. I’m thankful that when I call my parents later this afternoon, I’ll be able to hear my mom’s voice. I’m thankful for the time we have to spend together enjoying and celebrating life. When your life has been touched, slapped, by cancer, you’re thankful for the time you have because you never know if and when it will return.

I’ve spent a long time hoping, praying it would never return. Every time I pick up a leaflet about ovarian cancer or start to read something about it online, I stop. I just can’t. It’s too daunting, too upsetting. There are a lot of cancers you can get. This is not one of the better ones. That much I know. I choose to remain hopeful in my ignorance, to be the cheerleader, the shoulder, the son.