My Amazing Mom: The Inspirational Story of “Just Try”

First Dance with Mom

First Dance with Mom

“Son, I have lung cancer.”

I should have been shocked. Strangely, I wasn’t.

For the third time in six years, my amazing mom faces a life-threatening illness. What normally comes as shock has now come as commonplace.

My amazing mom was given a week to live the day after Christmas…six years ago. Hospice rushed in (sidebar – wonderful people doing wonderful work) and put everything in place and prepped us for a peaceful end to my amazing mom’s life. There was just one small problem: she wouldn’t die. After four months of sitting vigil, Hospice removed their bed and all their equipment. They gave up on her. So, with no where else to turn, we returned to the hospital. We needed help to manage, what I described to friends, this “low-lying state of life.”

My amazing mom received treatment at the hospital every four to seven days. Each visit the doctors removed 3000mL of fluid from her lungs (think giant 3 liter Coke). This was just so she could breathe. Otherwise, the simple act of breathing sounded like she was drowning. On every visit, she was offered a wheelchair at the front door. She refused. We’d walk down the hall and it would be offered again…and again…and again. It almost became comedy where people came rushing over to try and help. But, my amazing mom always refused. And, so we walked. Or, I should say, we shuffled. We shuffled very, very slowly…from the front doors to the outpatient check-in, to the elevators, to the seventh floor and all the way down to the last door on the right for treatment. And then back again…after treatment had truly wiped out her energy.

One day, while in a bit of a rush, I asked why she didn’t want a wheelchair. It was an answer I already knew given the values my amazing mom instilled in us. “Son,” she said in a matter of fact manner, “the day I stop doing for myself is the day I will die. So, I’m just not going to stop trying and doing.”

Fair enough. Fit my amazing mom’s positive perspective in life. Even on her weakest days, when I almost wished she would take a wheelchair, I made sure to hold her tight and make sure we made it without one. And, my selfless dad, who dropped everything and moved in to care for her stood as her other pillar. The fact they had been divorced some twenty years earlier was a fact that seemed to elude his consciousness.

My amazing mom lived. She lived in pain and frustration and humility. And, I shit you not, she never complained once. In fact, she was always a point of light and a moment of inspiration to every room she walked into every day. It was never about her. She spryly asked doctors how they were doing before they could ask her how she was doing. As a note, it never gets old or loses entertainment value to see doctors taken off guard by a sickly, frail woman who simply doesn’t surrender to acting sick.

Well, about four months into our weekly routine of getting that 3 liters of Ginger Ale looking fluid off her lungs, the Doctor who had sent her home for a week with no hope asked my amazing mom a simple question as he started her treatment:

“Sandy, I sent you home to die months ago. Now, the liver doesn’t just start working again. As a man of medicine and a man of God, I want to know: What is it that has kept you going?”

My amazing mom, with her head buried in a pillow and anticipating a ten inch needle to lance her in the back, sagely offered:

“My whole life I told my kids one thing. The very least you can do in life is try. If I didn’t try, what would I be teaching my kids in the last moments of life?”

My amazing mom made it seven months to a successful liver transplant. If anyone has made more out of their Willy Wonka’s “Golden Ticket” to life, then I want to meet that person.

Less than three months ago, I received a panicked call. My amazing mom had been sick, which I knew, but had been rushed to the hospital. She was having a heart attack and her body was failing in other mysterious ways. It took the hands of her liver transplant surgeon to uncover she had a bowel obstruction. The scar tissue in her stomach from her transplant grew around the bowel and it was ready to burst. Rushed into emergency surgery, Dr. Radomsky laid his deft hands upon my amazing mom again and saved her life…again. He removed twelve inches of dead bowel that was ready to rupture within hours and would have meant lights out.

Now, I was super-psyched. I mean, other than a cat, who gets more than one life…let alone second and third chances? But, there was a catch…

In forty days, sixty-one people, including my amazing mom, were all headed on vacation to Mexico. You see, I was (finally) getting married.

Rachel and I resigned ourselves to begin thinking of alternative plans. You don’t receive clearance to travel forty days after they cut you wide open on the operating table and after spending ten days in the hospital – six of them in ICU. A second ceremony? Stream the video over the internet? Cancel the celebration? I was ready to do whatever it took. My amazing mom was going to be at my wedding.

Ultimately, all unnecessary.

Forty days later, with the incredible help of my family, my amazing mom boarded a plane for Cancun, Mexico and left the country for the first time in her life. Forty-two days later, on 10/10/10, my amazing mom joined with friends and family members and walked down the aisle.

As you might imagine, I was a bit emotional when I had the honor of escorting my amazing mom to the dance floor for the mother/son dance. It took all my courage not to fall apart. I said, “Mom, it’s an honor to have this dance and to have you here. I was a little uncertain you were actually going to be able to make it.”

Her response? You guessed it. “Well, son, I knew I just had to try. And, if I tried my best, I knew I was going to make it.”

So, you see, I’m spoiled. God has knocked on Sandy Mac’s door twice before. She has rudely refused his invitation. Today, my amazing mother goes in for lung surgery to remove the cancer the doctors discovered during her bowel surgery. She does it with the bravest face and the staunchest confidence. Her energy is tireless. Her Sandy Mac spirit is strong and unmistakable. I know she will do great because she will just continue to try.

Good luck, mom. No matter what, I know you’ll just keep trying!

Originally written November 18, 2010

Random Quote

“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.”

— H Jackson Brown

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