When I found out my mother had cancer, I was staring at a picture of a drag queen in an artsy advertisement. She had pointy black eyelashes, like sharp black sticks. Eyebrows in a high arch. Bright blue and pink eyeshadow. Blonde coiffed hair, a wig.
My mom had a CAT scan and a PET Scan and several biopsies in the last few weeks. My mom really likes both pets and cats.
During those few weeks, we were in the DSW talking about her biopsies. Each of my questions had a different pair of shoes attached to it.
“What are they looking for?” as I sauntered in zebra striped high heels with a red spike.
“Those look hideous,” my mother said, sitting on one of those stools with the side mirrors. “Well they’re looking for a lot of things.”
“Yea they make my feet look huge!” I took them off and tried on black boots with metal studs. “Are they looking…are they looking for cancer?”
Things We’ve Learned
No activity anywhere except in abdominal area
Cancer cells eat more sugar
Lump on shoulder, signals metastasizing somewhere
Weird case, no other symptoms
My mother would be horrified if I shaved my head
“I told the doctor, I have my daughter’s wedding in July. I already bought my dress, it’s hanging in my closet. And no scars if I have surgery.”
Things We’ve Said
Well that’s concerning
What does it mean
Have you told the family
Yes I’ve told the family
Going to the gyno tomorrow
Don’t borrow trouble
What does she say?
Walking out in the rain, it’s gotten cold since the morning, it’s 8pm
Walking down into the L
Checking in with myself while talking to my mom- unsure of what to say, questioning, maybe I’m in shock right now.
Mom is a nurse
Mom doesn’t make a big deal of things
Nothing to make a big deal of right now
What else…I mean, I guess you’ve done everything you can right now, but what else can you do? I’m talking about health- stop drinking, eat extremely healthy, start exercising doing yoga, juicing- I’m planning a regiment for my mom. I’ll miss work. When is the soonest I can go out to the suburbs. Tomorrow? Have meetings tomorrow, and besides we haven’t found out anything, so is there a point until we find out something concrete?
“Would the PET Scan detect any cancer in your lymph nodes?” I can barely say cancer, I skirt around the word.
Waiting for the red line, I think, is it ok to talk about something else? She must want to talk about something else- the wedding.
“Dan and I made an appointment to try cakes in April. On a Sunday morning, so you could come and try them,”
“If you want me to?”
“Of course I want you to!”
Talking, talking, train is coming both ways, so loud. Mom I have to call you back later. Mom starts to say that we’ll talk tomorrow but is drowned out by the train, I yell over the trains, I love you! Mom, I love you! But I don’t think she hears me.
I get on the train, I only have one stop until Jackson where I’ll switch at the blue line. I’m on my own now, dealing with this information. I feel heavy.
The train stops at Jackson, I get off making my way through a medium crowd of people. I’m walking down the stairs behind a man with two guitar cases, something about his gait, bouncing like my thoughts. What am I going to do about my wedding?
Get to the blue line platform, waiting for the train. Things are distant, slightly surreal. There’s a musician playing music that turns into the Hava Nagila, a Jewish song traditionally played at weddings, which is odd because my fiancé is Jewish and we’ll definitely be dancing to the song.
Rat scurrying underneath the tracks, more Jewish music. Pull out my phone and text Dan, “I’m heading home now.” Wonder what I’m going to tell him, how I’m going to tell him. How long I’ll wait to say my mom has cancer.
Train comes, get on the train. Starting to feel more exhausted. Sit in seat. I look across the aisle at an advertisement posted on the traincar wall for a PhD program- American University of the Caribbean. Specialists doctors. Will one of them be treating my mom? Will she have a doctor from the Carribean? Thoughts have gone from Will my mom be at my wedding? to My mom has cancer. Repeating like a calming mantra. My mom has cancer. Echoing the tap of the train over the tracks. My mom has cancer. My mom has cancer.
I get off the train at my stop. My parents had told my brother, they said he was freaking out silently. That he may call me to talk about it. He hasn’t. No use worrying about something we don’t know yet. It may be ovarian or uterine, we don’t know yet. We’re not good at talking until something gets serious.
Up on the street, I feel the cold wind across my face. My hood has been on this whole time. Walk to the corner to cross, waiting for the light. I go before it when I see there are no cars turning. What do I care anyway. A bus honks, I think at me, maybe warning me of an oncoming car I didn’t see, my hood is kind of in the way, but no, the driver is honking at a friend. I round the corner and am confronted by 3 kids and a dad. Dad is saying, Now be careful.
I realize at some point I’ve wanted to hit someone with my bike helmet.
I start to have conversations in my head. Hi, how are you? Good, my mom has cancer. What would you like for dinner? I don’t know, but my mom has cancer. Would you like fries with that? Fries give you cancer.
I get to my bike, take off the plastic bag that’s protected my seat from the rain. Which way am I going to go home. The wind is strong, so I head south on the neighborhood streets. It’s freezing, but it doesn’t matter- I don’t have cancer, my mother does. This cold shouldn’t sink into my skin or bother me. Stop being such a wimp.
Think about the moments before I found out my mom has cancer: I was at work, listening to a teacher give a presentation on probability, how to teach it to anyone, but really elementary school kids. Used a game show as an example, Let’s Make a Deal- pick three doors, figure out the ratio- what’s the probability that you’ll win if you switch doors or stay with your first pick? He told us that people make decisions by probability all the time- they’ll go to a restaurant three times and it’ll be really good, so they won’t go a 4th time because it can’t possibly be good that many times in a row. I said it was probability plus cynicism. Thinking the bad thing will happen if there’s 3 good things in front of it. Or the opposite where something bad just happens so the karma’s kind of neutral so nothing else bad can actually happen in a certain yet indeterminable amount of time. And when the next bad thing happens you know your karma’s run out.
I ride down the shitty, pothole ridden roads, zoom through a couple stop signs without really looking. My hood is still up now with my helmet on, my bike lights are dimly blinking against the dark- what’s the probability that I’ll get hit? What’s the probability that after I find out my mom has cancer, a car will slam into me? That the driver won’t see me as I turn back onto a main road, because of the slight drizzle, my black coat, or just their negligence? Can two bad things happen in a row like that? One to the mother, one to the daughter? What did the teacher say about independent and dependent probability? In an independent circumstance, the two events are separate, they do not influence each other and therefore have separate probabilities. While I am an independent force, I am dependent on my mother- how does this affect the probability concerning my mortality?
I reach home, my fingers are frozen. Fumble with my keys to open the gate and lift my bike down the stairs. Dan is home. How am I going to tell him? I’m hungry and I have to go to the bathroom. Say hi, he’s made dinner, drop my stuff. Pee. Want to eat. Dan wants to finish watching the last 5 minutes of Walking Dead. So I eat in silence, thinking, coming out of the cold in my head. We had a fight the other night- not a fight, but one of those intense conversations where someone cries because the other one has said something to make them doubt the relationship. Surely you can guess who did what. So we’re both tired.
He asks if I’ve been thinking about us today, and I say no though I feel badly about saying it. I don’t want to lie.
I was in meetings all day. Have you? No, he says, a little, but I had 6 walk-ins. I think he might be lying. He says something to make me laugh and I do in a small way. Then I say, um…my mom has cancer. He says Oh my god, that’s awful news, I’m so sorry honey, and comes to hug me. Then he asks what kind and I say maybe ovarian or uterine.
Dan calls my dad and my dad gives him his version of the cancer story. My dad– I only thought of him while waiting at Jackson, while I was thinking of what would happen if my mom died, and he was left alone. What if we were left alone.
Dan gets off the phone and starts typing on our laptop. Looking things up on the internet. Don’t do that, I say, we don’t know anything yet, there’s no use. I don’t want to see the information but I do. Facts about cancer open next to a Pinterest tab with wedding ideas. Worlds clash on the screen, the titans of happiness and despair.
I go to bed. The next day, I order groomsmen suits and give the baker our cake tasting preferences. I don’t cry for a week. I don’t borrow trouble. I don’t tell anyone else. I just wait.