Category Archives: Brain Cancer is a Bitch

In September of 2008 my beautiful, vibrant, independent mother was diagnosed out of the blue with a brain tumor. For eleven months my sister and I cared for her, fought for her, laughed with her and cried for her. We learned scary things about the state of healthcare (hint: no one is looking out for you but you), and got pissed off and frustrated a lot. We also learned a lot about ourselves. In these posts I documented some of the steps along the way. On August 6th of 2009, mom passed away, just short of her 65th birthday. Love your people every day, and never forget to tell them you do.



How can it be seven months already since my mother died? This is so hard for me to believe I can’t tell you. Of course, as everyone says when time has gone by quickly, it also feels as though it’s been years and years. I talked to my mother almost every day, either on the phone or by email. And since she lived here near me, we saw each other frequently as well.

There has been so much going on in the last seven months that I haven’t been able to talk to her about, and it hurts so much to realize that there will be many, many years’ worth of things coming that I won’t be able to share with her, rant about, celebrate… the loss is almost unbearable. I didn’t lose a mere parent, I lost my friend, advisor, business partner, and biggest cheerleader.

In the last six months, mom has missed:

  • The snowiest winter we’ve had in years – she loved snow, and would have taken countless pictures of it in her yard.
  • Her youngest son’s 40th birthday, the news that he’s been accepted into the U.S. Diplomat program, and his marriage.
  • My son’s first visit from the tooth fairy.
  • My oldest daughter’s 18th birthday.
  • Anticipation of my son’s first baseball and soccer games.
  • My 15 year old’s tales of learning to drive with her learner’s permit, and her first school dance with an actual date.

In addition, of course, there are so many things I would like to talk to her about… my belly dance class, my kids’ school work, plans for summer vacations, plans for my vegetable garden, my efforts to get published this year… I do talk to friends and others about these things, but I miss hearing her comments. Mom always had something to say, and the silence from her these last six months has been so difficult to bear. I have noticed that I am becoming very forgetful – more so than is typical – and wonder if I’m wiping my brain like an Etch-a-Sketch to keep from thinking about her absence, and at the same time wiping a lot of stuff I need to remember.

I know people mean well when they say “She knows even though she’s not here.” Or, “She’s here in spirit.” Thanks for that – I appreciate your attempts, but that’s really not comforting. If she IS here, then yay for her – I’m still suffering, and I still can’t talk to her and laugh with her and hear her sage advice (it matters not whether I would have taken it).


Obligatory Holiday Post


Obviously, the holiday season is going to be different this year. We won’t spend any time at mom’s house. Mom won’t making the candies she called Martha Washingtons like she did every year (like it or not!). But somehow, I didn’t really think things would be unbearably different. Naively, I didn’t think that this year would be that bad since we will be in Kansas City.

But of course it will be different. The whole thing will be different. My brothers aren’t coming to Arkansas, I’ll be away from home for the week of the 25th, and when I get home, mom still won’t be here. And thanks to the brilliant minds who program the holiday movie schedules, it seems that fact will be driven home on a regular basis this week.

I watched The Family Stone last night. I’d seen previews for it, so when I saw it was on television I settled in on the couch to watch. I was totally invested in the movie about a guy and a girl and the guy’s family who doesn’t like the girl much… and the family dynamics of the siblings during the holidays… when, in the last 15 minutes of the damn thing, the storyline reveals that the mom is dying of cancer. Of course I sat and sobbed as the fiance character, Sarah Jessica Parker, gave the family each a portrait of their mother that she had made from a snapshot that sat on her boyfriend’s desk. Then I sobbed more when, in the final scene, everyone gathered for Christmas the next year and the mother wasn’t there. What kind of happy holiday movie is that, exactly??? It sucked. They could have done the same exact movie, with the same exact lessons taught, without losing the mom.

Then tonight, when I saw that Big Fish was on – a movie I have wanted to see – I thought, oh great! But when, ten minutes in, we visit the main character’s dad as he convalesced at home with cancer, I decided that I wouldn’t put myself through it.The mom explains that the dad isn’t eating well, and is getting weaker due to his lack of appetite, then she gives the son a can of Ensure to see if the son can convince him to drink it. Serious flashback time. And when the son goes into the bedroom to see the dad, the dad wants a drink of water, and the cup has a bendy straw in it. More serious flashback. If the man had brown eyes and had been wearing a knit cap on a bald head, it would have been my mother. It was way too much.

So, hey all you television execs out there (I’m sure you’re all reading my blog…) Let’s find some happy stories to air during the holidays, how about? How about nothing with dead or dying parents. No sick or missing children. No soldiers who won’t come home. Those of us who have had these things happen to us recently REALLY don’t need to see the Hollywood version. I promise.

November 25


I promise you, my dear (and possibly imagined) readers – I will NOT be writing about my mother in every post. I truly do think about other things… but today is a special day.

Today is my mom’s birthday. That’s her in the picture with the Mary Tyler Moore vibe going on… the jowl-sporting infant would be moi. Mom would have been 65, and I’m sad to think about the things on her list of “to-do” items that didn’t get done. I won’t list them (those I know of) here, mostly because it would make me cry, but also because it would be a bit morbid, and a little silly.

I will just say that I miss her, and I wish she were here to celebrate with us.

Happy birthday mom – I love you!

ah, well…


We went out to mom’s today for a check up. Rick wanted to bring the riding mower home, and I wanted to see if the fleas we were fighting all month in August (and into September…) were finally gone now that her cats have been in their new homes for a couple of months.

On our way over, my son asked if Nana was going to be there. I told him no, Nana isn’t with us anymore. Then, when we were pulling up, he asked where she lives now. I reminded him that Nana died, and that she lives in our hearts now. Finally, when we had been there a little while, he said “Mommy, I’m really sad that Nana died.”

Aren’t we all…

p.s. the fleas survived.

Remains of the day


My mom died in August after an eleven month battle with brain cancer. As most children do when a parent dies, I’ve been considering how to go about dividing up things of hers  amongst myself and my siblings. It’s going to be a chore, and will probably be pretty emotional at times, but my sister and I will be working together, so I think we’ll manage. And there will likely be a LOT of laughs as well…

Then there are the moments when something “big” happens… my kids’ milestones, my own celebrations of new jobs or whatever. I thought those might be difficult, but I have a seriously cool bunch of sibs who are just as giving and supportive as mom was about accomplishments, big and small. So, not a big problem so far.

But let me tell you what’s been difficult:

Finding mom’s contact info in my email account.

Scrolling through my phone contacts and seeing her name.

Looking for an old email and coming across the last ones I received from her.

These things are so painful. SOOOOOO PAINFUL!!! I can deal with the single moments. I can deal with sorting and putting away her favorite books or her photographs. The thing that is impossible, and that causes my breath to catch in my throat as I try not to sob, is not wanting to delete her name. Closing her cable account or turning off her internet connection is nothing really… but not having her name on my phone seems like it would be the end of the world. I cried the other night because I just wanted to call and chat with her.

I know the number on my sim card is not HER. Of course I do, I’m not delusional. But somehow, it is.

time is weird


A year ago yesterday my sister took my mom to the emergency room and after a couple of scans, found out mom had a mass in her brain. That was 365 days ago. 12 months. 52 weeks. You know the saying that time flies when you’re having fun? Well, the opposite is also absolutely true. Time DRAGS when life is falling apart around you.

Less than a year ago my mom was living with me as we tried to figure out what to do about her living arrangements for the long-term as she went through treatment and prepared for her surgery to remove the tumor. It would be hard to believe if I didn’t have the skid marks from her wheelchair side rails on my bathroom door.

It’s hard to believe that only two-and-a-half months ago she was living at home and drinking coffee from her favorite mug every morning. She was watching the hummingbirds that had just returned after I had filled their feeders outside her picture window.

It’s nearly impossible to believe that there is no reason to have her phone number on my new iPhone contact list. Her name will never pop up on my display to tell me she’s calling. I won’t get daily reports about the deer in her front yard or a request for Ensure from the supermarket. And I won’t be dialing her number to let her know what happened at work, or that I made some new bags to sell on Etsy…and yet,  her number IS in my contact list. And it’s still in my email contact list too.

365 days fly by in our lives so easily… we let days and weeks and months go by without finishing projects, or making contact with loved ones, or taking the steps to change our lives when we are in a rut. But if we choose, we can pack so much in to those days. I hear a quiet voice in my head (no, it doesn’t sound like my mother!) reminding me that I need to make the most of my time. I need to live the life that I will be okay about leaving someday.

My mother had a lot left to do and I am certain that she was pissed about not finishing it all… but I doubt she had many regrets. She lived her life her way, and made an impact on sooooo many people she came across. Would that I can be so fortunate.

When words fail…


For the last 11 or so months I have written sporadically about the challenges I have faced as my mother struggleMom on the squared with a brain tumor. There have been some days that were better than others, and for the most part I kept a positive attitude and assumed that we would be fighting the good fight for a few years as mom met the recurrences and physical setbacks head-on.

Unfortunately, mom lost her fight on August 6. She never wore any of the clothes I put labels into for her.

We had a wonderful memorial celebration for mom on the 22nd, and it was a perfect day. Weather, flowers, music, pictures, friends, family. All the things mom loved were a part of the day. In place of hymns we had friends of mom’s play some country/bluegrass. In place of tears, we laughed and smiled about the slideshow and stories we shared. No one spoke, no eulogies were offered – we just visited, and hugged, and remembered what mom meant to us.

My favorite thing was the memorial card. I can’t stand those little things you get at funerals that have the date of birth and death listed, and the pallbearers and family members… blah. You feel like we should keep them, because the person is someone you cared about, but it’s such a piece of crap that’s so impersonal and has the little ad on the back for the funeral home… you don’t want to keep it… So what do you do??

We printed 4×6 cards with mom’s name and birth and death dates and a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that I thought was fitting. Also, a little note thanking people for their support over the last year and their love for our mom. On the back, we pasted 4×6 photos that mom took in her garden. We made 100 out of 10 different photos – so people could pick their favorites. It was perfect.

Success:  To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is to have succeeded!

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The quote was so fitting for the legacy my mom left. I hope it inspires you to be a success in your life as well.